August 28, 2014

SHATZMAN | National League Playoff Thoughts

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On Tuesday I wrote up my predictions for the teams that would come out on top of the American League. Here are my thoughts about the National League’s playoff picture as October approaches.

NL East

The NL East is the weakest division in baseball. It comes as no surprise though; the only teams with any real talent are the Nationals and Braves, who, as expected, sit atop the division. The weak offenses of the Marlins, Mets and Phillies left the three clubs with little chance to do anything this season. What is a bit surprising, though, is that the Nats currently lead the Braves by eight games. Every year it seems like the Braves will finally break through and make a run, and heading into this season it looked like that was the case. But frankly, Atlanta’s offense has been a total disappointment. With big names like Freddie Freeman, the Upton brothers, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis, one would expect them to be among the top hitting clubs in the league, but they are currently 25th in runs scored, and 23rd in batting average — and it all comes in the weakest division in the league. They are only one game out of a wild card spot, though, so there is time to get the offense going. The Nationals have it all: pitching, power, speed, depth and experience. With their potent offense and deep pitching staff, the Nats are among the favorites to win the NL pennant. Will this be the year they finally break through?

Prediction: Nationals win division, Braves miss playoffs.

NL Central

Rarely is the NL Central decided before the final few days of the regular season, and the race almost always consists of more than two teams. This season has proven to follow a similar storyline. The first place Milwaukee Brewers lead the second place St. Louis Cardinals by 1.5 games, while the Pirates trail the Brew Crew by five games. The Brewers have been quite a surprise, after finishing well below .500 last season and fourth in the division. Their powerful offense led by Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy has the Brewers 7th in the MLB in runs, and they have received consistent pitching from their solid rotation (Gallardo, Garza, Lohse, Peralta). Mike Fiers (ERA 1.54) has started of late and has given the Brewers several quality starts. The Cardinals are forever nipping at their heels, though, and have just as good a pitching rotation, but a less powerful offense. The loss of All-Star catcher Yadier Molina has hurt the Cards on both sides of the ball, but they have remained close to the division lead. They acquired veteran pitchers John Lackey and Justin Masterson from the Red Sox and Indians respectively, but the two have yet to deliver like the front office had hoped they would. The Cardinals lack of power is concerning, but they constantly deliver clutch hits, and the defending NL champions are as dangerous as ever this season. The Pirates have faltered throughout the second half of the season due to inconsistent pitching, but with the return of Gerrit Cole’s superb arm combined with a lethal offense, the Pirates are bound to make a push for the postseason.

Prediction: Brewers win division, Cardinals get Wild Card berth, Pirates miss playoffs.

NL West

The Dodgers dominated the West last season behind Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw’s unbelievable year and a consistent, run-producing offense. This year has not been as easy, but the Dodgers currently sit atop the West, leading by four and a half games over the Giants in what is a two team race for the division. The Dodgers boast an offense that is 4th in the MLB in on base percentage, led by Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez. Their leadoff man, Dee Gordon, currently has a league-leading 57 stolen bases. Their rotation features four spectacular arms in Kershaw (1.82 ERA), Zach Greinke (2.79 ERA), Josh Beckett (2.88 ERA) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (3.28 ERA). The Dodgers are as dangerous of a team as any in the league today. The Giants aren’t so bad, either, but even with their big-name offensive players like Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco is 18th in the league in runs. Clearly dangerous, if they sneak into the playoffs their regular season run total becomes moot. They, too, have a good pitching staff, led by veteran Tim Hudson (2.99 ERA), Madison Bumgarner (3.17 ERA) and Ryan Vogelsong (3.78 ERA). Former Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum (4.64 ERA) has failed to put up the same kind of numbers as in years past, but did hand his team a no-hitter in June. The Dodgers will be a tough team to catch, but the Giants are one of the better teams in the league, so a wild card berth may be in order for San Fran.

Prediction: Dodgers win division, Giants get Wild Card berth.