Today we look at the National League Divisional Series. The National League bracket is an interesting one. I truly think a legitimate case can be made for each team to win the pennant. It’ll all come down to what team can pitch the best. Yes, that’s very cliche and probably obvious but it really rings true with these four NL teams. Each team has elite offensive weapons. Each team has elite, front line starters. But each team has also had streaks this season where their pitching has been inconsistent. Some of those inconsistencies are indeed due to injury, but some of those injuries are still healing. Who’s going to catch fire at the right time?
Like the ALDS Preview yesterday, I’ll give you a story line for each team as well as some players to watch.
Cubs vs Nationals
Can the Nationals Get Over the Hump? This is a team that people have been expecting to compete for a National League Pennant for the last four or five years. They’ve made the playoffs three of the last five years and in the two years they didn’t (2013 and 2015) they were deemed to have under performed. In the three seasons they have made it to the post season, they have made it out of the Divisional Series exactly zero times. Coming into this year, they were again a sexy pick to not just win the NL, but possibly the World Series. Can they finally make it past the first round? Or will the Nats go home a disappointment yet again.
Repeat? This is pretty simple, but can the Cubs run it back? They had a slow start this season. People were saying “what’s wrong with the Cubs?” “Are the Cubs dead?” But you know what the Cubbies turned it on in the second half and kind of ran away with the Central. They even had the best record in baseball in September (19-10). Their pitching has been inconsistent, but will the figure it out and get back to the World Series and win?
Players to Watch
For Washington, one of the most underappreciated players in baseball is Anthony Rendon. Funny story: At the beginning of the season, I was trying to work out a trade with our friend Miller so that I could land Daniel Murphy in our fantasy league. Anthony Rendon was a piece of that trade. At the time, Miller said he wasn’t going to trade Murphy for “Anthony fucking Rendon” is the name I believe he used. In retrospect, I’m very okay that that trade was never accepted. Who was it that led the Nats position players in WAR? Harper? Murphy? Zimmerman? Nope. Anthony Rendon with a whopping 5.9 WAR. He won’t win, but Rendon should absolutely get some MVP votes. Trea Turner is another guy to watch. He’s one of the best young shortstops in the league and has been overshadowed by guys like Francisco Lindor and Corey Seager. He was a .280 hitter this year, but the dude can absolutely fly on the bases. If he gets on, look for him to run. If you like pitchers, look at Gio Gonzalez who will be starting Game 2 for the Nats. The lefty is having the best season of his career. Gonzalez threw over 200 innings and finished with a 2.96 ERA and a WHIP of 1.17. Strasburg and Scherzer, the guys everyone knows, are also two of the most exciting pitchers to watch. They’re 3 and 4 respectively in Fielding Independent ERA.
A lot of people know the Cubs horses. Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber (even though he sucked this year), Russell, etc. One guy though, you probably don’t hear too much about is center fielder Albert Almora. He platooned a lot of the year, but he’s a really solid player that I think could be the guy to make a bit of a name for himself this October. Almora can hit a little bit too as he hovered right around .300 this year and finished with a respectable .782 OPS (better than guys like Zobrist and Heyward, by the way). Also, while everyone knows Kris Bryant, I feel like a lot of people forget how fucking good he is. He had a .946 OPS this year, hit 29 homers and played really good defense at third base. As far as pitchers go, Wade Davis out of the bullpen just continues to do his thing and close out games for the Cubs. Carl Edwards Jr is another guy that I personally love watching pitch. He’s about 6’2″ and 100 pounds soaking wet. Basically, he’s just this tall wiry guy that throws gas. He struck out 94 batters in 66 and a third innings. Goddamn. He is susceptible to the long ball, but finished the year with a fantastic 1.01 WHIP.
My Pick: I think it’ll be a good series and Scherzer’s health will be key for the Nats as he’ll go Game 3 in Wrigley. On paper, I think the Nationals are the better team, but in October, and the way the Cubs finished the season, I’m going to take the Cubs in 4.
Diamondbacks vs Dodgers
Will The Dodgers’ Pitching Hold Up? The Dodgers are going to hit. They have one of, if not the best offense in the game. At times, it’s looked like they’ve had the best starting rotation in the league as well. You got Kershaw who is arguably the best pitcher in baseball and Alex Wood who’s quietly had a great season, but after that? A big bag of inconsistency. At times Rich Hill has looked unhittable (in fact, he was unhittable one game this season for 9 innings, but lost his no hitter in the tenth inning). The big fat Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu also has shown flashes of brilliance and dismay. Even Kershaw was banged up this year and looked a little shaky coming off the DL, though he seems to have straightened everything out. But that’s what it’s going to come down to; can they pitch?
Torey-iffic Turnaround Yeah that’s my attempt at something witty. In Torey Lovullo’s first season as D-Backs manager, he took a team that lost 100 games last year and turned them into a serious contender with mostly the same guys. It’s hard to argue against giving Lovullo the NL Manager of the Year. People forget that Lovullo was the Red Sox bench coach prior to this season and coached the shitty 2015 Red Sox to one of the best records in baseball over the last month of the season while John Farrell had to take a leave due to his cancer. The Red Sox saw they had something good there and even tried to hold on to Lovullo so they could make him manager when they fire Farrell. Don’t get me wrong, the D-Backs are a serious World Series contender, but out of all eight teams, they are probably the most “happy to be there” team as I don’t think anybody expected them to be this good.
Players to Watch
The Dodgers are similar to the Astros in that their entire team is filled with “players to watch.” But I take my job very seriously here at Water Cooler Sports so I will give you a couple players to watch. The first is Corey Seager. Yes, people know who Corey Seager is, but if he was on the East Coast, he would be an absolute superstar. This season the 23 year old hit .295 with 22 homers, an .854 OPS, and a 5.7 WAR- the highest among all shortstops. Justin Turner, the former Mets’ utility guy has done nothing but hit since he came to LA and is yet another reason why all Mets fans are miserable and want to kill themselves. I just want to throw one stat at you real quick: Justin Turner has struck out 56 times in 457 at bats. That is un-fucking real. FIFTY SIX TIMES. THAT’S IT. Needless to say, Turner is a tough out. One more offensive player to watch is a guy named Chris Taylor. He’s another one of those super utility players that are becoming so popular, as he appeared at second, third, shortstop, right field, center field, and spends most his time in left field. This has been a breakout year for him as he’s been the Dodgers’ primary leadoff man and hit 21 homers, drove in 71 and hit for a .850 OPS. As always, Kershaw is a fascinating figure in post season baseball. He’s struggled in the past, but did put together a couple good starts last year. And the last guy I’d like to bring your attention to is the Dodger closer Kenley Jansen. The former catcher throws absolute cheddar cheese and look at this K to walk ratio: 102 to 7. ONE HUNDRED AND TWO STRIKEOUTS TO SEVEN WALKS.
I kind of talked about their players to watch for the D-Backs on Wednesday’s episode of the After School Special (I know you all listen to the After School Special, right? RIGHT?), but the one guy you have to watch is Paul Goldschmidt. People know his name, but they don’t know how good he is. Goldy has been one of the four or five best players in baseball over the last few years. Again, he hasn’t been one of the four or five best hitters. Or one of the four or five best first basemen. No, he’s been one of the four or five best players. He hits, he fields and he runs the bases extremely well. This year was no different as he slashed .297/.404/.563, hit 36 homers and drove in 120 runs, while compiling a 5.8 WAR. He’s yet again an MVP candidate, and if I had I vote, it’d be for him. He also now has 3 home runs in 5 post season games. AJ Pollock is another guy to watch. He plays great defense in center field and if it wasn’t for some injuries he’d probably be at about 25 homers and 75-80 runs batted in. Jake Lamb, the young all star third baseman has tons of power and plays a good third base. Then there’s JD Martinez who came over from the Tigers at the trade deadline. What’s he done? Oh just had the quietest 45 home run season in the history of baseball. Seriously! He hit 45 homers this year! His OPS is trending upwards over the last three seasons (it was 1.066 this year) and he is primed to make a lot of money this off season as he’s a free agent. A D-Backs pitcher that I personally love is Robbie Ray. He was used in the Andrew Miller role the other night in the Wild Card game, but he’s emerged as a bonafide frontline starter. The lefty throws 95-97 with some nasty breaking stuff. He went 15-5 this season with a 2.86 ERA and led the National League in K/9 (12.111).
My Pick: I personally want to see the D-Backs win. I think they’re an exciting team, they’re an underdog and they have awesome uniforms. In fact, the D-Backs took 11 of 19 from the Dodgers this season. However, as much as I want to say the Diamondbacks win, I think I’m going to go with Dodgers in 5. This could honestly be the best first round series.
Before I finish up, I want to give a couple corrections from my ALDS blog yesterday:
- Bradley Zimmer is not on the Indians post-season roster. My bad. Jason Kipnis is playing centerfield. They tried him out there when he came off the DL and he has adapted pretty well. In fact he even made a great diving catch in last night’s game.
- Luis Severino is not pitching Game 2 or 3 for the Yankees. A bit surprising if you ask me, but whatever.
- The Red Sox looked like shit and are starting Doug Fister in Game 3. I just need someone to light a fire under their asses. Please just not another sweep.
Other than that, enjoy October baseball!