National League Division Series Previews
With yesterday’s controversial St. Louis Cardinals victory over the Atlanta Braves in the Wild Card play-in, the stage is set for the first round of the National League Division Series. Out of the 4 remaining NL playoff teams, only one of them is in unfamiliar territory. The inexperienced Washington Nationals are looking to continue their magical run under the supervision of seasoned manager, Davey Johnson. As for the San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds, each of these teams have been in this position within the past few years and they all know what the playoff hot seat feels like. Here is my previews and predictions on how I feel these divisional games will go down, and who will be battling it out for the NLCS.
Perennial bottom dwellers of the NL East, the Washington Nationals have changed their reputation by not only winning their division, but finishing with the best record in all of baseball (98-64). I want to start by apologizing for predicting, before the season started, that the Nats would continue their past trends by finishing with a reverse record of what they actually ended up with. The Nationals are in extremely unfamiliar territory as they have never made the playoffs since moving from Montreal to Washington in 2005. While there were a lot of analysts that predicted the Nats to be a competitive team this year, not one of them thought they would finish with the best record in baseball. The Nationals finished in the top 10 in the National League in pretty much every offensive category, but what brought them to the playoffs was their stellar pitching. Washington finished with the 2nd best ERA, BAA and WHIP in the NL and were lights out from the beginning of the season till the end. One problem with the amazing pitching that propelled the Nats all season long is that their Ace, Stephen Strasburg, is no longer active. That is why the team will rely heavily on Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman and Edwin Jackson. Gio is looking like the best Free Agent signing of the last off-season as he has remained in the NL Cy Young talks all season long. Even with the great pitching, we all know that Washington is going to have to find some help in the batting category, so they are hoping that the career year from Adam LaRoche (33 HR 100 RBI) continues through the playoffs.
I still can’t believe that the St. Louis Cardinals are even in the playoffs. After losing their franchise’s greatest player ever, Albert Pujols, and also one of the baseball’s best ever managers, Tony LaRussa, everyone thought that the Cardinals reign as a perennial NL contender would be over. Not so fast. While the Nationals did finish with the best record in baseball, I can guarantee that the Cards prefer this matchup over the other two teams in the NL mainly because of Washington’s inexperience in the playoffs. Let’s not forget that the Cardinals are the defending World Series Champions, so they would have to be the team to beat in the playoffs this year. Even without Pujols, the Cardinals were a fantastic offensive team this year. They led the entire NL in OBP (.338) and made sure to bring those runners in by having the 5th most runs scored in the league (765). Most of the Cardinals starting lineup are relatively young so veterans Yadier Molina, Matt Holiday and Carlos Beltran are all going to have to step up big time against these tough pitchers that the Nats will be throwing at them. Outside of Kyle Lohse, the Cards pitching staff has been pretty inconsistent, especially their Ace, Adam Wainwright. Rookie manager and former Cardinals player, Mike Matheny, should be in the talks for NL Manager of the year, but I think that Davey Johnson will win that honor because of what he did with Washington.
Prediction: There really isn’t much history between these two teams for me to base my predictions on, so I will go solely on my analysis of each team. The Nationals story has been an amazing one all season long and since they are representing my NL East I will definitely be secretly cheering for them. Unfortunately, I am a firm believer, especially in MLB, that experience in the playoffs gives your respective team a huge advantage. That being said, I have to pick the Cardinals pesky bats and playoff bred team to squeak by the Nationals in what I believe will be the most exciting of all 4 division series matchups. Cardinals in 5
This series has got to be Dusty Baker’s biggest nightmare. The former San Fran manager and current Reds skipper came so close to winning the World Series nearly a decade ago while leading the Giants. Now in the opposite dugout, Dusty hopes to have his team finally win that coveted World Series trophy. The Reds had a great season this year and easily won the NL Central. Cincinnati went about their winning ways with exceptional pitching and some good old-fashioned defense. Their offense was pretty abysmal for the majority of the season and their offensive woes weren’t helped by their best hitter, Joey Votto, being sidelined with an injury for an extended period of time. Entering this divisional series, the Reds are completely healthy and ready to take on the 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. Led by NL Cy Young candidate, Johnny Cueto, the Reds will rely heavily on their pitching to help them to the next level. Veterans, Brandon Philipps and Scott Rolen, will need to use their experience to help the young Reds stay focused and continue to play the smart baseball that has pushed them to success all season long.
The San Francisco Giants are in very familiar territory having just won it all two seasons ago. The Giants found success all season long with a steady balance of offense and defense. The Giants coach, Bruce Bochy, stated that he was thrilled when his team clinched their division early so he could rest the players he wanted to and make sure he was at full strength entering the playoffs. While I agree with Bochy’s attitude, his 2010 winning Giants hadn’t clinched their playoff position until the final game of that season…hmmmm. The Giants had a tough battle all year with the Los Angeles Dodgers biting at their heals until the final month of the season when the Giants eventually pulled away. The NL West rivalry reached epic heights when both teams attacked the trade deadline like it was win or die this season. The Giants acquired Hunter Pence, who has been a solid position player for them since. San Fran is really going to need some of their bats to step up and fill the shoes of PED user Melky Cabrera. Even though hippie favorite, Tim Lincecum had an awful season this year, I feel he will be prepared to help his Giants in their playoff rotation. Matt Cain had an inconsistent ending to the 2012 regular season, but as the Giants Ace, he is going to have to put those struggles behind him and find a way to succeed against the tough Cincinnati Reds. Buster Posey and Pablo “Panda” Sandoval are going to have to be the difference makers for a Giants lineup that truly does not have a bona fide superstar.
Prediction: This matchup is going to be very competitive and will provide both of these teams fans some amazing baseball. I feel that the outcome of the series will be determined in the first game as Johnny Cueto and Matt Cain face off. I think that the momentum from the winning team of game 1 will propel them to a series victory and I think that team is going to be the Cincinnati Reds. Reds in 4