National League Playoff Preview

By JUSTIN FITZGERALD

162 down. Only 11 wins separate five teams from their next World Series rings. Traditional powerhouses like the Cardinals against new school powers like the Cubs set up the National League for an intense October.  Who can forget David Freeses’ game tying triple and walk off homerun in Game 6 in 2011? Or David Ortiz’s utter dominance in 2013? Or Madison Bumgarner’s masterful pitching performance? This postseason is sure to be filled with incredible moments, and here I will be focusing on the playoff teams from the National League, why they have the potential to win the World Series, and what will keep them from making it to the Fall Classic.

Cardinals starter John Lackey. Courtesy of Google Images
Cardinals starter John Lackey. Courtesy of Redbird Rants
  1. St. Louis Cardinals (100-62, NL Central Champion)

Why They Will Win the World Series:

The Cardinals have the best record in baseball this year, and that starts with their great starting pitching. Cardinals starters have a league best 2.94 ERA and have gotten the third most innings pitched as a team with 1464.2. The rotation is led by a resurgent 36-year-old John Lackey (13-9, 2.69 ERA), who is having his best season since 2007.  Michael Wacha (17-7, 3.38) and Lance Lynn (12-10, 3.06) have postseason experience. Lefty Jaime Garcia (10-5, 2.36) is another great option, and has recovered well after missing most of the last two seasons with shoulder problems.

The Cardinals bullpen has shutdown potential, featuring a stellar 8th and 9th inning combination of Kevin Siegrist (2.20 ERA) and Trevor Rosenthal (48 saves, 2.10 ERA). This tandem will make the game much shorter for opponents.

Why They Won’t Win the World Series:

The Cardinals own winning records against both the Pirates and Cubs, but a 3.56 ERA and 3.93 ERA against those respective teams in the regular season, well above their league leading 2.92 ERA. Some Cardinals starters have struggled against these teams, with Lynn going 0-5 record with a 6.29 ERA against both teams this season, and Michael Wacha also has a 6.86 ERA against the Cubs. With these pitchers anchoring the back end of the rotation, it will be much harder for the Cardinals to win series if they don’t take the first two games.

The offense has provided enough run support for a great pitching staff, but has struggled with runners in scoring position, hitting just .245 this season. In the postseason runs are hard to come by, and teams tend to struggle if they can’t produce with runners in scoring position.

The Cardinals have won over 100 games four times since 1969, and none of those teams have won the World Series.

Dodgers pitchers Clayton Kershaw (left) and Zack Greinke. Photo courtesy of Google Images.
Dodgers pitchers Clayton Kershaw (left) and Zack Greinke. Courtesy of Cartoon Network.
  1. Los Angeles Dodgers (90-70, NL West Champion)

Why They’ll win the World Series:

A meeting of the 2015 Dodgers pitching staff and the 1927 Yankees would forever decide whether good hitting or pitching is all a team needs to win.

The Dodgers have the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball with Zack Greinke (18-3, 1.68 ERA) and Clayton Kershaw (16-7, 2.16 ERA). Kenley Jansen is a solid closer and J.P. Howell is one of the best left handed relievers in all of baseball. Their offense has been productive as well, with a .326 team on base percentage that is tied with for the third best in baseball. They have four players with a .350 OBP or higher, and steady bats in Adrian Gonzalez (.276, 28, 90), Howie Kendrick (.295, 9, 54), and Justin Turner (.291, 15, 59).

Why They Won’t Win the World Series:

The Dodgers have won the NL West the past two seasons, but have been eliminated both times by the St. Louis Cardinals. If the Dodgers get past the Mets in the division series, it is more than likely they will see the Cardinals again. This could be bad news for Clayton Kershaw, who is not his usual dominant self in the postseason, owning a 5.12 ERA postseason ERA, more than double his ERA during the regular season. In his past two postseason series (both of which have been against the Cardinals), he is 0-4 with a 7.14 ERA in four starts.

The Dodgers will face the Mets in the NLDS, which is bad news for Dodger hitters, who hit just .210 in seven games against the Mets. Although Kershaw and Greinke had a combined 0.90 ERA against the Mets, all other Dodgers pitchers have a combined 8.35 ERA against the Mets. The back of the rotation has question marks, as Brett Anderson (10-9, 3.69 ERA) is a decent number 3 but the team does not have a consistent no.4 starter, which could lead to Greinke or Kershaw having to start a potential do-or-die game 4 on short rest.

Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Photo courtesy of nypost.com.
Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Courtesy of New York Post.
  1. New York Mets (89-70, NL East Champion)

Why They’ll Win the World Series:

Since acquiring Yoenis Cespedes on July 31, the Mets have gone 36-19, with Cespedes contending for the NL MVP. Cespedes (.287 17 HR, 44 RBI, .336 OBP, .610 SLG) ranks third in WAR among Mets hitters. Since his arrival, the Mets have scored 5.7 runs a game, up from 3.5 before acquiring Cespedes.

Before Cespedes, the Mets stayed in the playoff hunt with great starting pitching, including three great young arms. Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.60), Matt Harvey (13-7, 2.80), and Noah Syndergaard (9-7, 3.34) are three of the best young pitchers in baseball and will be the core of the Mets rotation for years to come. The Mets have also benefited from a great closer in Jeurys Familia who has 42 saves and a 1.87 ERA.

Why They Won’t:

The Mets haven’t been to the postseason since 2006, and the only player left from that roster is David Wright. Inexperienced teams can either crash and burn in the postseason (see the 2012 Orioles), or can get hot and make a deep run (see 2014 Royals).

Also, if Cespedes goes cold, the rest of the team will follow.

Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen. Photo courtesy of Google Images.
Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen. Courtesy of WhatProsWear.com.
  1. Pittsburgh Pirates (97-63, NL Wild Card)

Why They’ll Win the World Series:

The Pirates are back in the postseason for the third straight year under Clint Hurdle, whose been an incredible manager in rescuing the franchise after 20 consecutive losing seasons from 1993-2012. They have been led by a consistent offense this season, with a team batting average of .260 and 692 runs scored, which are fourth best in the NL. They have plenty of solid contributors, led by annual MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen and leftfielder Starling Marte, who stole 30 bases this season.

They also feature workhorse Gerritt Cole (19-8, 2.60 ERA, 208 innings), who is really starting to make his mark on the organization after being selected No.1 overall in 2011. The bullpen has been stellar this year with an MLB leading 2.67 ERA. Closer Mark Melancon had 51 saves, anchoring a bullpen that can pick up the slack from a poor start.

Why They Won’t Win the World Series:

This Pirates teams is the best they’ve had under Hurdle, but the Pirates are in the NL Central, a division that owns the teams with the three best records in baseball. If the Pirates played in the American League, they would’ve already clinched home field advantage throughout the postseason.

But since the Pirates play in the NL Central, they will be playing the Cubs in the wild card playoff next Tuesday, where they will face Jake Arrieta (22-5, 1.77 ERA), who has had one of the best second halves in MLB history.

The team will also play the postseason without rookie third baseman Jung Ho Kang (.287, 15, 58, .355 OBP), who is better offensively than both his replacements, Sean Rodriguez and Aramis Ramirez.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Photo courtesy of Google Images.
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
  1. Chicago Cubs (95-65, NL Wild Card)

Why They’ll Win the World Series:

Joe Maddon has revived a hapless franchise before, taking the Rays from worst to first in 2008. Although the Cubs did not win the NL Central, Maddon has improved this team by 22 wins over last season, making him a leading NL Manager of the Year candidate. This team has luck on their side, with 13 walk off wins and 33 wins in one-run games.

The resurgence on the North side was led by young talent. North side millennials  Anthony Rizzo led the offense with more than 100 RBI’s this season, with Kris Bryant , Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber (.248, 16, 43 in 68 games) providing Rizzo with opportunities throughout the season.

The Cubs also have two outstanding pitchers in Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. Arrieta has been unbelievable in the second half, going 12-1 with a 0.75 ERA, making him a bona fide Cy Young candidate.

Why They Won’t Win the World Series:

As every baseball fan knows, the Cubs are cursed. The team hasn’t won a World Series since 1908 or a pennant since 1945, and in their last two postseason appearances were three game sweeps in the NLDS.

This team is filled with rookies and young players, with only two of their everyday players having postseason experience. Many of their hitters could be intimidated by the bright lights and elevated pressure that comes with playing in the postseason.

Just like the Pirates, the Cubs could be the number one team in the AL, but both have to battle it out in the NL Wild Card playoff. In that game the Cubs will face Gerritt Cole, possibly the best pitcher in baseball not named Greinke, Arrieta, or Kershaw.

Or the Cubs could prove us all wrong and win their first world series in 107 years, while proving the prediction in Back to the Future Part II right. The Cubs will not have Steve Bartman to blame this time if they can’t win.

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