The MLB Playoffs are upon us. Below is an overview of the National League playoff teams and predictions for how far they’ll go. You can read Halftime’s piece on the AL playoff picture here.
Los Angeles Dodgers (1 seed):
The Dodgers (104-58) are the overwhelming favorite in the National League. They are led by Dave Roberts, arguably the best skipper in the game, who has done an amazing job this year. They are coming off of a 100-win season and possess the best record in all of Major League Baseball heading into the playoffs. The 2017 season was one for the history books for LA. Between June 7th and August 5th, they tied the 1915 New York Giants record for the best 50-game span, going 43-7. They are also 8-2 in their last 10 games, proving they are hot and ready to dominate in the playoffs.
There are no real weaknesses for the Dodgers. They have four pitchers with at least 12 wins on the season, something only the Nationals can match. That is going to be important down the line as teams need at least three solid starters to thrive in the postseason. Clayton Kershaw, who led the league in both ERA (2.31) and wins (18), will of course be the ace, but Roberts mentioned that he would not be pitching on short rest due to a recent injury. That means Yu Darvish, Rich Hill, and Alex Wood will have to step up. Offensively, the Dodgers will rely on their youngins to push them through to the Fall Classic. Cody Bellinger has had an outstanding year, breaking the NL rookie home run record. Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor, and Corey Seager have also had solid seasons. Supplementing the fountain of youth are veterans Justin Turner and Curtis Granderson. Turner finished second in NL batting average, while Granderson has six years of postseason play under his belt.
Bottom Line: The Dodgers are as strong as ever. Expect to see them in the World Series.
Washington Nationals (2 seed):
The Nationals finished three wins under 100 and showed that they are right up there with the Dodgers for the best NL team. Their rotation is arguably the best in the postseason. Led by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the Nats give up few runs early in games. This doesn’t change in the later innings either, as they completely rebuilt their bullpen before the trade deadline, adding Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, and Sean Doolittle. Doolittle has become their primary closer and finished the season with 21 saves in 22 opportunities.
While there roster is deep, the Nationals have two big obstacles heading into the postseason: Bryce Harper and their past postseason experience. Bryce Harper was putting up numbers similar to his 2015 MVP year before he hyperextended his knee, causing him to miss 42 games. He is back now, but manager Dusty Baker will have to be careful as to how much time he gets. When Harper is 100 percent, he is among the best, but he is not quite there yet. Even if Harper has a phenomenal postseason, that may not be enough for the Nats. No one on the team has much experience with winning in October. This is the fourth time in six years that the Nationals have won the NL East. However, they have never made it past the NLDS. Regardless of how good they are in the regular season, it doesn’t seem to affect their postseason play. In addition, Dusty Baker is infamous for his inability to win games in the playoffs. He has been seven times, but has no trophy to show for it and has only made it past the first round twice.
Bottom Line: It has been a good season for the Nats, but their flakey postseason patterns will come back to haunt them.
Chicago Cubs (3 seed):
The Cubs started the season a little hungover from their first World Series victory in 108 years. Nevertheless, they crawled back to their former selves in the second half. Six Cubbies ended up with at least 20 homers, including rookie Ian Happ. Another key player for the Northsiders has been Jose Quintana, acquired from the White Sox the trade deadline. Quintana has gone 7-3 with a sub-4.00 ERA. Pitching alongside Quintana are Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Kyle Hendricks. None have had outstanding seasons, but when they are good, they are unbeatable.
The main issue for the Cubs this October will be their mental game. Everyone on the team can play and most of them have a ring to prove it. It is just a matter of which Cubs team shows up: the team that won the ‘chip last year or the team that could barely keep its head above .500 in the first half of 2017.
Bottom Line: The Cubs are again legitimate, but do not have the same magic as last year’s team.
Arizona Diamondbacks (4 seed, 1st Wild Card):
The D-Backs haven’t made the postseason since 2011, so they are hungry. The team has a few guys that can hit the ball and come up clutch in big situations. Paul Goldschmidt, who is in the running for NL MVP, had a monster year, hitting 36 homers and knocking in 120 runs. He is aided by Jake Lamb, David Peralta, and trade deadline acquisition J.D. Martinez. Martinez has put up MVP numbers for both the Tigers and Diamondbacks. Defensively, the snakes have two dominant pitchers in Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray. Both are known for giving up few runs, so as long as the offense gets a few across, the D-Backs will be able to put up a fight.
The Diamondbacks have a strong team, but they most likely won’t find success this year. The division leaders are too good to compete with, and Arizona does not have depth. Almost all of the offensive production is coming from Goldschmidt, Lamb, and Martinez. If one of them slumps, the team’s chances of winning are lowered significantly. The D-Backs should be happy with their season in a competitive National League, but should focus on building up their existing team for next year.
Bottom Line: Greinke will be enough to win a one game playoff, but the Diamondbacks don’t have enough pitching to withstand a whole playoff series.
Colorado Rockies (5 seed, 2nd Wild Card):
The Rockies finished third in the NL West, but had a great year seeing as they played in the hardest division in all of baseball. They split the season with the Dodgers, winning nine of 18 matchups, and had one of the best offensive lineups in the whole league. Four players batted above .300 and three players hit at least 30 home runs. That is a feat that no other team in the postseason comes close to. On top of this, outfielder Charlie Blackmon won the NL batting title and is an MVP candidate.
Despite the ridiculously high numbers, the Rockies will not last. First of all, their numbers are inflated because they play at the highest elevation in the Majors. The balls fly out of Coors Field like missiles. In addition, the Rockies have no real ace. All their starters are solid, but none have more than 11 wins and only Jon Gray has a sub-4.00 ERA. Gray will play the role of the ace against the D-Backs in the wild card game, but he is young and inexperienced.
Bottom Line: The Rockies made a great effort in the regular season, but their lack of good pitching will ultimately be their downfall. They had a solid team, but don’t have the tools to compete with any of the other playoff teams in the National League.
Wild Card: Diamondbacks vs. Rockies
This is going to be an interesting matchup. The Rockies have the bats, but the Snakes have the pitching. Greinke is a Cy Young Award winner, while Gray is in his second full season. Greinke will probably hold the Rockies to one or two runs before turning the ball over to the bullpen. Fernando Rodney is a veteran closer and should be able to hold off the Rockies.
Prediction: Diamondbacks 5, Rockies 2
NLDS 1: Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks have what it takes to push past the Rockies, but the Dodgers are seasoned veterans in the playoffs and have 100 wins under their belt. Kershaw, Hill, and Darvish will be able to hold off Goldschmidt and Martinez and will propel the Dodgers to the next round.
Prediction: Dodgers over Diamondbacks in 5 games
NLDS 2: Nationals vs. Cubs
The Nationals have the better record, but the Cubs have been better of late. Also, Max Scherzer just tweaked his hamstring, so he probably won’t be at 100 percent. That puts a lot of burden on the Nats hitters against Quintana and Arrieta. The only hopes of winning a game for the Nats lie in Strasburg and Scherzer if he’s healthy.
Prediction: Cubs over Nationals in 5 games
NLCS: Dodgers vs. Cubs
The Cubs proved that last year was not a fluke, but the Dodgers will be too much to handle. Arrieta and Lester are nowhere near as dominant as they were last year, while Kershaw is putting up Cy Young numbers. Expect to see a good matchup, but with the Dodgers moving on to the Fall Classic.
Prediction: Dodgers over Cubs in 7 games
Photo: Los Angeles Dodgers