NL: What's important in September

We looked at the American League earlier, so here's a quick look at what's important in September for the 16 National League teams.

Philadelphia Phillies: The most important September objective for the Phillies is to keep their rotation healthy. Philadelphia has hitched its World Series hopes to the arms of its aces, and thus far, that’s been a good bet. As a side effect to their success, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are all quickly approaching 200 innings pitched. It is imperative that Charlie Manuel finds a way to keep the aces fresh, while preventing them from getting rusty, as they prepare for a postseason run. --Jeff Barnes, Crashburn Alley

Atlanta Braves: Much like the Yankees, the Braves need to get their playoff rotation in order. As it stands, Tim Hudson is the only starter guaranteed to start in the playoffs. Derek Lowe has had a bit of a rough season, but has pitched well of late. Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson have battled injuries and ineffectiveness since the All-Star break. Brandon Beachy has impressed, but could be the odd man out if the other four are healthy and pitching well. This will certainly be something to watch for as the Braves look to lock up the wild card. --Ben Duronio, Capitol Avenue Club

New York Mets: The Mets are looking at meaningless games in September so the main focus is ascertaining who can contribute in 2012. In particular, they need to see what they have with Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada, Bobby Parnell and Pedro Beato. Duda has been on a tear since his most recent promotion, handling right field and the cleanup spot -- he needs to continue mashing and prove he can play the outfield capably. The Mets would like to see if Tejada will hit enough to be an everyday middle infielder, since he could either step in for a possibly departing Jose Reyes at shortstop or win the second-base job over Justin Turner. Parnell and Beato are going to be given ample opportunities to set up and close out games in September; how they do will affect what kind of bullpen help the Mets go after in the winter. --Joe Janish, Mets Today

Washington Nationals: Keep Stephen Strasburg healthy. Outside of that, the Nationals need to evaluate their young players. Specifically they need to figure out what kind of impact Tom Milone and Brad Peacock will have on next year's rotation and if Steve Lombardozzi could (and should) replace Ian Desmond in the middle infield. The Nationals seemingly need one big bat and another starter to take the next step up, but what kind of starter (top of rotation or innings eater) and where that bat needs to play (CF, SS, 1B?) will be based on how these kids look in the next month. --Harper Gordek, Nationals Baseball

Florida Marlins: Evaluating all of their loose pieces should be a necessity for the Marlins over the final month. Really seeing what they have in guys like Bryan Petersen and Ozzie Martinez could be beneficial, especially considering the Marlins aren't playing for much of anything. In addition, preparing for the offseason, even in September, couldn't hurt. The Marlins always seem befuddled when signings and trades start to flurry, thus getting a leg up on the whole situation could end up being quite useful. When the Marlins' brass gets creative, it often results in question marks from fans. But with an extra month at hand they have a chance to fix that. --Dave Gershman, Marlins Daily

Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers need to get healthy and stay healthy. They've managed to beat up on a relatively weak schedule without Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez, but to beat the Braves, Phillies, Diamondbacks and whoever comes out of the AL (should it get that far), they'll need those two players back. And they obviously can't afford any sort of injury to any of their other key players -- Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, Nyjer Morgan and the pitching staff must stay healthy. --Jack Moore, Disciples of Uecker

St. Louis Cardinals: Though not technically eliminated, the Cardinals have already begun looking past this season. The problem is, the view beyond 2011 is almost as daunting as Hurricane Irene. They'll churn through September assessing their roster to see if they have enough payroll flexibility to make Albert Pujols a free-agent offer he won't refuse. And if they're honest, they'll have to consider whether Tony La Russa, who has a mutual option for 2012, still can motivate the team. --Matt Philip, fungoes.net

Cincinnati Reds: September will be most useful in determining what the young guys can do. Uber-prospect Devin Mesoraco, a highly-regarded catcher, has been called up, along with guys like Yonder Alonso and Todd Frazier. Unfortunately, Dusty Baker believes that the most important thing for Cincinnati to accomplish is saving his own job. Thus, the youngsters are likely to sit in favor of Dusty's Veteran Brigade. --Chad Dotson, Redleg Nation

Pittsburgh Pirates: September will be about chasing down both a .500 mark and the Cincinnati Reds for third place. Getting youngsters Alex Presley and Josh Harrison, who are already with the team, and minor leaguers Matt Hague, Gorkys Hernandez and Jeff Locke some major league burn will be essential to get an idea of what is there with these five. It wouldn’t a terrible idea to bump Starling Marte and Andrew Lambo up from Double-A to get them the proverbial cup of coffee, too. This season won’t end how many dreamed back in July, but it cannot be labeled a disappointment, either. They are pacing toward 74 wins, a 17-win improvement. Very few teams can claim that kind of improvement in a single season, especially when there weren’t major changes made to the roster through free agency or trade. --Paul Sporer, Pitt Plank

Chicago Cubs: The fact Rodrigo Lopez and Casey Coleman are current members of the rotation tells you the Cubs don't have much in the way of young pitching to look at. The interesting recall would be center fielder Brett Jackson, the team's top prospect who has played well at Triple-A since his promotion from Double-A. But with a new GM taking over in the offseason, Mike Quade will want a strong finish to help keep his job, so Jackson may not get much playing time. --David Schoenfield

Houston Astros: When you have the league's worst record, the only goal that makes sense is ensuring you give young players the chance to gain experience and to prove themselves. They've recently given significant playing time to rookies like J.D. Martinez, J.B. Shuck, Jimmy Paredes, Jose Altuve and Henry Sosa, with some pretty impressive results so far. They also get their first look Thursday at 26-year-old Lucas Harrell, whom they acquired off waivers from the White Sox. Giving these young players a chance to prepare for the future is vital for the Astros to figure out what they still need when (or maybe if) the sale of the club is ever approved. Austin Swafford, Austin's Astros 290 Blog

Arizona Diamondbacks: The last time the D-backs held a division lead going into September was in 2008. They led the Dodgers by 2.5 games. By the end of the month, Los Angeles claimed the NL West by two games after sweeping the D-backs earlier in the month. Now Arizona carries an even bigger lead into the final month of the season. With the D-backs and San Francisco meeting six times over the last four weeks, the pressure rests on Cinderella's shoulders to close out the World Champions. --Tyler Emerick, Snakes on Jefferson

San Francisco Giants: The Giants are in an awkward position of being too far out to have a great shot at the playoffs and too close to just punt and use September for development and evaluation. The most important thing is to play the young players that give them the best chance to win. A month worth of at-bats for Brandon Belt may be the best thing for both the 2011 Giants and the 2012 Giants. Eric Surkamp may be their best option at the back of the rotation now, and it would be nice to know a bit more about how he fares against MLB hitters before next year arrives. --Otis Anderson, Bay City Ball

Los Angeles Dodgers: Though a .500 record and a second-place finish in the NL West have suddenly become realistic goals, their fans will be most interested in how Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp do in the home stretches of their Cy Young and MVP campaigns (and for Kemp, pursuit of a 40/40 season and the Triple Crown). If we're wishing on a star, however, it would be for a long-awaited breakthrough toward resolving the McCourt ownership crisis. --Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts

Colorado Rockies: After being swept by the Diamondbacks, the Rockies are officially done. It's important that they do some evaluation in September. Top catching prospect Wilin Rosario has taken a step back offensively this year, but it sounds like he has been terrific in the field. He's been impressive enough that the Rockies refused to deal him for Wandy Rodriguez. Chris Iannetta has been solid, but it would still be nice to see Rosario get some time at the big league level. --Logan Burdine, Blake Street Bulletin

San Diego Padres: Having comfortably entrenched themselves in last place, the Padres need to let the kids play. Make sure Kyle Blanks, Logan Forsythe and Anthony Rizzo get their plate appearances. Give Anthony Bass a couple of starts to see if he might be an option for next year's rotation. Building a better future is the Padres' top priority, and preparing their youngsters for 2012 is one way to do that. --Geoff Young, Ducksnorts