In my vaunted opinion, the MLB playoffs start this afternoon with Pittsburgh visiting St. Louis at 5:07 PM. Of course, with last year’s addition to the wild card round and a one game playoff, the postseason technically began several days ago. Below, you’ll find my predictions for the NLDS of the major league baseball playoffs, with some expert analysis sprinkled in.
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Cardinals are the #1 seed in the National League, and for pretty good reason. They are probably the best team in baseball over the past ten years, with a squad that consistently plays at a higher level. Although they’re missing the big names of Pujols and Berkman, this team plays such solid ball that those big names don’t terribly matter. With four starters batting .300 or over, and seven of the starting nine hitting over .275, this team gets hits and spreads them around. Although the non-avilability of Allen Craig will inevitably hurt, the offense should be fine without him. As far as pitching goes, when you have Adam Wainwright available to pitch at two games of a division series, finding the third game to win to close it out shouldn’t be all that hard. Both Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller are solid, if playoff untested, second and third options to take the mound, with Edward Mujica anchoring the bullpen with a solid 2.78 ERA as a closer.
The Pirates on the other hand, came into the playoffs as the #4 seed, after losing out on winning the division to the Cardinals. In the Wild Card round, they defeated a sorely unprepared and inferior Cincinnati Reds team, using their signature long balls and solid starting pitching. Third in baseball with a 3.25 team ERA, the hodge-podge of starters that the Pirates have thrown together has worked wonders, with castoffs such as Francisco Liriano and AJ Burnett finally putting together good seasons. Their main weakness is their hitting, which only compiled a .245 team average for the year, which puts them in the lower 25% of MLB teams. They also had the third most strikeouts, compiling lots of big swings and misses. Only Andrew McCutchen hit over .300 on the year, with Pedro Alvarez, their biggest power hitter, posting a weak .233 BA. But, they have the fire and the team unity and motivation to win, and although they’re not playing ridiculously hot baseball, they may have enough moxie on their side to stage an upset.
Overall, with St Louis having home field advantage and two of those games at home probably being pitched by Adam Wainwright (if the series goes to five), the Cardinals have the advantage in this series. If Wainwright can produce those swings and misses, and St Louis can play small ball and just string together hits like they have all season, Pittsburgh doesn’t stand a chance. Even though the Pirates had the advantage over the Cards in the season series, posting a 10-9 record against them, the Cardinals swept the most recent series, a four game set in September. Pittsburgh will win one at home, but overall will fall to St Louis in four games. St. Louis Cardinals in 4
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves
This series will start tonight after the first NLDS game, at 8:07 EST. The Dodgers will send probable 2013 Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw to the mound, and it doesn’t really matter who you put up against him (as good as Kris Medlen really is). With a dominating 1.83 ERA on the season Kershaw is just part of the buzzsaw called the Dodgers pitching rotation, with Kershaw, Zack Greinke, rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Ricky Nolasco (probably the dullest blade on the saw). Kenley Jansen and Brian Wilson create a duo in the bullpen that if any starter can go 7 innings (which Kershaw and Greinke should do easily), the game might as well be over. As far as offense goes, with the second highest payroll in all of baseball, one would hope that the Dodgers could at least score some runs for their potent pitchers. Even with such a slow start to the season, they managed to come in fifth in all of baseball in team batting average, although phenom Yasiel Puig has come down to the level of mere mortals as the season has progressed. Still, with Puig, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, and Adrian Gonzalez, this playoff lineup is poised to score some runs. Unfortunately, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are both injured, with Ethier limited to pinch-hitting and Kemp completely out, hindering this offense from reaching their true potential. The Dodgers also haven’t been to the playoffs since 2009, and the majority of their team outside of reliever Brian Wilson is very green as far as postseason experience goes.
For the Braves, it’s all been about pitching (sense a trend in the NL playoff teams?). With a MLB best team 3.18 ERA, even without staff ace Tim Hudson this rotation has been dominant with Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, and Juilo Teheran. Even though their ‘pen is missing the absence of Johnny Venters, Craig Kimbrell is one of the best, if not the best fireballing closer in baseball. The one thing the Braves do not have going for them is the fact that their team is rather playoff untested, as is their franchise as a whole, since they have not won a postseason series since 2001. Their hitting, very much like the Pirates, relies rather much on home runs, generating a metric ton of swings and misses, striking out the second most in all of baseball. Dan Uggla and BJ Upton have been disasters, both supposed to be quality starting position players and producing averages under the Mendoza line, and as such are riding the bench for the playoffs. Both Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson are actually good hitters, as are Brian McCann and Jason Heyward who simply haven’t produced other than the longball this year. This Braves team can hit, let there be no doubt, but will they? They also had the benefit of playing in the softest division by far this year, as the NL East is mostly hapless and pathetic.
Just like in the other NLDS matchup, anticipate swings and misses from the Braves at the hands of Kershaw and Greinke. I don’t think the Dodgers will pile on a ton of runs, but scoring two or three off the Atlanta rotation should be good enough to win. The only way that Atlanta has a chance is if they can produce timely home runs that aren’t solo shots. The trouble with slim leads and a team like the Braves is that they can close the gap in a lead pretty darn quick. Will they though? I think not. The Dodgers will win this series once it heads back to SoCal. Los Angeles Dodgers in 4
Down the Road……….
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. St. Louis Cardinals
This might be the best series of the entire playoffs when it comes to fruition, as the Cardinals are the more experienced and better hitting club as well as having Wainwright, but the Dodgers have a deeper rotation and bullpen, along with the big names in the lineup. In the end, Kershaw and Greinke will be too much for St Louis…….but it’ll be close. Los Angeles Dodgers in 7