Wednesday, October 1, 2014

NL Regular Season Thoughts and Playoff Picks

What a game last night!  I got the winner right, but the method completely wrong.  The Royals never gave up and put away an A’s team that seemed to have it won twice.  My only complaint is that Adam Dunn never made it in the game.  He had the most games in the majors of any active player without making the postseason.  Then in his only postseason game, he sat on the bench in a 12 inning affair when he could have pinch hit multiple times.  Now he’s retiring having never played in a game.  While I can’t argue that the success Alberto Callaspo had in his at bat would be as assured if Dunn is up there, I would have turned to the slugger first.  He has more experience playing first than Callaspo anyway.  And you could still put in Callaspo in the next inning after Dunn hits.  I think that was a shame.  Other than that, what a great game.

Here are my NL team capsules and playoff picks.  First, a reminder of my NL picks:

NL East Winner:        Atlanta Braves
NL Central Winner:   St. Louis Cardinals
NL West Winner:       Los Angles Dodgers
NL Wildcard #1:        Washington Nationals
NL Wildcard #2:        Cincinnati Reds
NL Darkhorse:           Milwaukee Brewers/Arizona Diamondbacks
NL Underperformer:            Pittsburgh Pirates

NL East

Washington Nationals:           I picked the Nats to finish second in the division and take home a Wildcard.  I looked right for a while, but they came alive late in the season.  The Nationals started slow, but kicked off the rust and were the best team in baseball over the last 2 months.  They locked up the best record in the national league and home field throughout the playoffs (until the World Series).  The offense is stacked with talent.  And they finally lived up to their expectations.  And, like so many other playoff teams, the secret was depth and health.  Denard Span hit a team-high 302, swiped 31 bags and scored 94 R.  Adam LaRoche led the team with 26 HR and 92 RBI.  Ian Desmond was right behind him with 24 HR and 91 RBI.  Anthony Rendon was a revelation at 287 with 21 HR and 83 RBI.  Jayson Werth hit 292 with 16 HR and 82 RBI.  Jordan Zimmerman went 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA.  He’s coming off a no hitter over Miami on the last day of the season.  Doug Fister had a team best 16 wins and 2.41 ERA.  Stephen Strasburg struck out 242 hitters going 14-11 with a 3.14 ERA.  Tanner Roark went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA.  And their weakest pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, still went 10-10 with a 3.57 ERA and 162 K in 158 IP.  This is one of the deepest starting rotations in the post season.  They got hot at the right time and ran away with the division. 

Atlanta Braves:           This is the team I picked to win the division.  And they were in control of the NL East for the majority of the year.  But the wheels came off late in the season, as the Braves became the coldest team in baseball at the same time the Nationals became the hottest.  Atlanta was probably the worst team in September going 7-18.  They scored 3 runs or fewer in 18 of their last 25 games, including 6 shutouts.  They’ve never been an offensive juggernaut, but nobody thought the offense would be this bad.  If anything it was the pitching people worried about as Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were lost to Tommy John surgery on back to back days in Spring Training.  Instead, their starters were great.  Julio Tehran was the ace going 14-13 with a 2.89 ERA.  Alex Wood went 11-11 with a 2.78 ERA in 24 starts and 11 relief appearances.  Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang were strong as replacements.  But the pitching had no run support.  Other than Justin Upton (270/29 HR/102 RBI) nobody else lived up to expectations.  Freddie Freeman was solid, but not nearly as good as last season when he was 5th in MVP voting. He hit 288 with 18 HR and 78 RBI.  Nobody else broke 60 RBI.  Jason Heyward spent the majority of the year hitting leadoff and did well hitting 271 with 11 HR, 74 R and 20 SB.  But even he hasn’t lived up to expectations.  Chris Johnson and Andrelton Simmons had down years.  Evan Gattis was injured most of the year.  And B.J Upton and Dan Uggla were disgraceful.  They cut Uggla, but will eat $26 million on that.  Upton still has 3 years left on his mega deal.  This will be a long offseason in Atlanta with the GM and hitting coach already out the door and possibly more to follow.

New York Mets:          Frankly, nobody outside of New York thought this team was going to do much this year.  They are almost ready to compete, but without their ace, Matt Harvey, this was another tread water year until the financially strapped franchise in the biggest media market in the world could put it all together.  I picked the Mets to finish fourth in the division.  Instead they finished in a tie for second, which is more of an indictment on how bad the Braves were rather than how good the Mets ere.  Third most of the year, they caught the Braves in their epic collapse and finished much higher than I thought they would.  Overall though, this team played as expected.  Granderson helped some, but his style of offense fell flat in Citi Field, like I thought it would (20 HR/227 AVG).  Daniel Murphy was great (289, 79 R, 13 SB).  David Wright had a down season, but lost time due to injury.  Lucas Duda finally won the first base job and played well (253, 30 HR, 92 RBI).  Juan Lagares improved offensively (289/13 SB).  Nobody else did much at the plate.  Bartolo Colon won 15 games with a 4.09 ERA.  Zach Wheeler won 11 with a 3.54.  Jonathon Niese had a losing record but a 3.40 ERA.  Jacob deGrom was a revelation going 9-6 in 22 starts with a 2.69 ERA and 144 Ks in 140 IP.  So there is expectation for the pitching staff next year, especially with Harvey coming back.  But this season was another re-building year.

Miami Marlins:           I picked this team to be last in the division and one of the worst in baseball.  They weren’t nearly that bad and showed some flashes early on.  But in the end they finished 4th in the division, albeit with 77 wins, about 10 more than I thought they’d get.  The roster is still being built, but there are pieces.  Giancarlo Stanton saw his season end early after hitting 288 with 37 HR and 105 RBI.  Casey McGehee was a surprise at 287 with 76 RBI.  Christian Yelich looked like a future All Star leadoff man at times hitting 284 with 21 SB and 94 R in only 144 games.  Adeiny Hechavarria is still a glove first shortstop, though his 276 AVG is a big improvement.  Marcell Ozuna hit 23 HR.  Garrett Jones hit 15.  The rest of the team lacks punch, but we are starting to see a nucleus of young players coming together.  Just think, in 5 years they will all be traded away once they become good.  Henderson Alvarez looked the best out of the pitchers.  He went 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA.  Jarred Cosart looked like a great addition late going 4-4 in 10 starts with a 2.39 ERA.  Jose Fernandez was lost early to Tommy John, which is a game because he’s a stud.  We look forward to his return, but it will be in the middle of next season.  Even at that point, we may still be waiting on this team.

Philadelphia Phillies:              I put the Phillies third in the division with their pitching staff and all the veterans on offense.  I missed there.  The Phillies wanted to make a final push with their core group.  It didn’t work.  They were all well past their prime.  Ryan Howard hit 223.  Domonic Brown, who is in the middle of his prime, hit 235.  Jimmy Rollins hit 243.  Utley saw his power drop (11 HR).  There were lots of offensive issues on this team that frankly looks really old.  However, they failed to trade away any of their old veterans, which was dumb.  Marlon Byrd had 25 HR and a robust market.  Chase Utley was good for 70+ RBI and R.  Ryan Howard still slugged 23 HR.  There was value to some of these overpaid veterans and any salary relief would help.  A playoff team would love a left-handed second baseman like Utley who was the best of these guys.  Even Howard is worth something as a bat off the bench of DH.  Outside of Ben Revere (306/49 SB) there is no one that they shouldn’t have at least listened to trade offers on.  (Side note:  Revere had as many SB as Ks).  The pitching was top heavy.  Cole Hamels won only 9 games despite a 2.46 ERA.  None of their other regular starters had ERAs south of 3.50.  That’s not gonna win you a lot of games.  And it is the reason the Phillies finished last in the division.  And, unfortunately for the city of brotherly love, this team will look similar next year and are still taxed with these massive contracts for sub par players.

NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals:     The Cards have long been regarded as one of the best-run teams in baseball.  Frankly, they should be considered one of the best-run franchises in all of major sports, right up there with the San Antonio Spurs, New England Patriots and others of that ilk.  I picked them as the winners of this division, but it took right up until the end to prove me right.  They have a true ace in Adam Wainwright who won 20 games while pitching to a 2.38 ERA.  Lance Lynn won 15 games with a 2.74 ERA in over 200 IP.  Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha both pitched to sub 4 ERAs.  And the starting rotation got a little more depth with John Lackey’s addition in midseason.  With their strong bullpen, pitching wins championships and the adage proved true with these NL Central division winners.  And it’s a good thing too because their offense wasn’t nearly as potent as last year.  None of their qualifying starters reached 300.  Matt Adams hit 288 to lead the team.  And only 2 players drove in more than 75 runs.  Matt Holliday led the team with 90 RBI and 20 HR.  Jhonny Peralta’s 21 HR led the team, but only came with 75 RBI.  Matt Carpenter scored 99 R, but Matt Holiday was the only other player to score more than 70.  The hitters at the top performed well, but there was little depth with Peter Bourjous and Oscar Taveras struggling and John Jay and Yadier Molina missing time.  At the end of the day however, the pitching was too good to see this team lose the division.  90 wins is a lot, and the fact that that is considered a down year speaks a lot to how good this team is year in and year out.     

Pittsburgh Pirates:     The Pirates stepped up and didn’t let the playoff excitement cause a hangover for them in the regular season this year.  I thought it would be too much for them and they would finish third in the division, missing out on the playoffs.  I even had them listed as an “Underperformer”.  And for a while, they were headed down that path.  But they put it together at the end and played well enough to get into the dance taking a final wildcard spot.  They weren’t great, but stayed afloat and were helped tremendously by a major collapse from the team in front of them, the Milwaukee Brewers.  Despite numerous holes (both corner infield spots were tremendous black holes) this offense put together enough strong outings to support their pitching staff.  Andrew McCutchen had another MVP caliber season (314/25 HR/83 RBI/89 R/18 SB).  He had some help from Josh Harrison who hit 315 with 18 SB, 13 HR and 77 R in 143 games.  Neil Walker finally lived up to his hype hitting 273 with 23 HR and 76 RBI.  And Starling Marte hit 291 with 30 SB.  And while this offense was top heavy, others contributed to it with Russell Martin hitting 290, Travis Snider slugging 13 HR and Pedro Alvarez still hitting 18 HR in a terrible down year.  And while the pitching wasn’t great, it was deep.  Edinson Volquez went 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA.  Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole all had sub 4 ERAs.  And Vance Worley was quite a find going 8-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 17 starts.  With Mark Melancon anchoring a solid bullpen, this pitching staff is better than average, like the offense.   The Pirates will be a tough team to beat.  And you know they will have one heck of a home field advantage.

Milwaukee Brewers:   This was a surprise team this year.  I’m a little happy with myself to point this group out as a darkhorse club.  But really, that’s just for hedging my bets.  While I thought they could be good, I wasn’t sure enough to pick them to win anything.  But taking a look at this team, its easy to see how they were able to exceed expectations.  Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez are stars.  Jean Segura and Khris Davis are rising young talents.  Aramis Ramirez is a savvy veteran.  And the pitching staff features someone who has been an ace before (Yovani Gallardo), a young pitcher with good stuff (Wily Peralta) and two veterans who are still pretty good on the mound (Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza).  So it’s not hard to see how things could go well in Milwaukee.  And they did, even with a down season from Ryan Braun, their biggest star.  But he was bailed out by his teammates.  Jonathan Lucroy led the team with a 301 AVG to go with 13 HR, 69 RBI and 73 R.  Aramis Ramirez kept doing what he always does (285/15 HR/66 RBI) and Carlos Gomez continued to prove that he’s one of the best players in baseball (284/23 HR/73 RBI/95 R/34 SB).  Add to that a great season from both Scooter Gennett and Rickie Weeks, helping offset a sophomore slump from Jean Segura, and this offense was fairly potent.  They did more than enough to support another deep pitching staff that featured no real ace, but 4 quality starters, all turning in sub 4 ERAs.  They climbed to the top of the NL Central division and stayed there until the second half of the season.  So what went wrong?  Well despite sitting in first place for 150 days, the Brewers went on to lose 24 of their last 34 games and see both the Pirates and Cards jump them and knock them out of the playoffs.  The Braves fall was worse and took more headlines, but the Brewers was no less intense.  Frustrating season for the Brew Crew after what looked like a really promising start.

Cincinnati Reds:          So I really missed on this one too.  I thought the Reds would win the Wildcard and finish second in the division.  Not only that, I really wrestled with putting them first in the division.  But in the end they fell well short of both of those goals.  At 76-86, they finished 4th in the division and well out of the playoffs.  But how is this possible?  They have MVP Joey Votto, stud second baseman Brandon Phillips, slugger Jay Bruce and speedster Billy Hamilton.  They have aces in Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos and stud youngsters Mike Leake, Homer Bailey and Tony Cingrani.  And they have one of the best closers in baseball.  What went wrong?  Well their best hitter, Joey Votto, was knocked out for the season on June 6th.  Homer Bailey missed the last two months.  Sean Marshall, a key bullpen piece, was lost in June.  And even the players who weren’t lost for the season, still missed significant time along the way.  Jay Bruce played in 137 games.  Brandon Phillips only made it into 121 games.  And when the players were in the lineup, they weren’t at 100%.  Todd Frazier had a great year hitting 273 with a team leading 29 HR and 80 RBI.  Nobody else lived up to expectations.  Zack Cozart hit 221.   Jay Bruce hit 217.  Brandon Phillips saw his AVG dip to 266, and it came with only 6 HR and 2 SB.  Billy Hamilton was an interesting study.  The speed was there with 56 stolen bases.  But he also led the league being caught stealing 23 times.  He hit 250, which is fine for a rookie.  But he was supposed to be the leadoff hitter, so that was low.  Add in an OBP under 300, and you have someone who clearly failed at all the offensive goals the team set for him.  He only scored 72 runs at the end of the day.  I read an interesting article putting a lot of the team’s issues on the back of Hamilton.  I don’t know if I agree totally.  In the first half, the Reds were 51-44.  In the second half, the injuries caught up to them and they were only 25-42.  That’s what killed them.  The pitching wasn’t bad, but it was top heavy.  Johnny Cueto is a Cy Young candidate after going 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA and 242 K in 243 IP.  And while 4 other starters had sub 4 ERAs, none were south of 3.20.  With the offensive struggles, it wasn’t enough and it knocked the Reds well out of the playoff hunt.

Chicago Cubs:              There wasn’t a lot of expectation for the Cubs this year, neither from me nor the rest of the world.  I picked them to finish last, and they did.  They are still re-building.  And the Cubs fan base seems to accept that.  Pieces are falling into place.  They are stockpiling young arms.  Some of their position players are stepping up.  Anthony Rizzo had a great year hitting 286 with a team leading 32 HR and 78 RBI.  Starlin Castro had a team best 292 AVG with 14 HR.  The lack of speed (4 for 8 on SB) is troubling but he’s still young.  Luis Valbuena slugged 16 HR with a respectable 249 AVG.  Jake Arrieta went 10-5 with a 2.53 ERA in 25 starts with a very impressive 167 Ks in 156 IP .  Kyle Hendricks looked good going 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 13 starts.  And while no other arms really jumped out, the sheer number of them looks promising.  As expected, the Cubs struggled this year while they build up a new roster of young talent.  Their future looks bright, but the present season was not their best.

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers:             Well I got this one right, but that’s not saying much.  The Dodgers were the best team on paper and went on to be the best team in the division.  So while I did pick them to win the NL West, it wasn’t much of a stretch. This team has everything you need to be a playoff contender.  So, it’s no surprise that they are back in the playoffs again.  Yasiel Puig led the team with a 296 AVG.  He also chipped in 16 HR, 69 RBI, 11 SB and 92 R.  It’s not as good as a lot of people thought, but better than I thought he’d do.  It seems like everybody picked either Puig or Harper to be the NL MVP.  I picked both to struggle because it’s so rare for young players to come into the league and be the best player.  And while it has happened recently (Mike Trout) even that player didn’t play as well this year.  So Puig surpassed my expectations but didn’t reach most other peoples expectations.  (Harper, by the way, was a mess….just as I suspected).  But 296 with 92 R is fantastic.  Adrian Gonzalez led the team with 27 HR and 116 RBI.  Matt Kemp came alive this year, hitting 287 with 25 HR, 89 RBI and 77 R.  Dee Gordon was the surprise of the Dodgers this year.  He hit 289 as the leadoff man and got on base at a 326 clip.  He also moved to second and played phenomenal defense there.  He stole 19 bags and scored 92 runs.  Hanley Ramirez hit 283 with 13 HR, 71 RBI and 14 SB.  Carl Crawford hit 300 in the 105 games he played and stole 23 bags.  Juan Uribe hit 311 in his 103 games with 9 HR.  So this offense was powered by both stars and depth.  But in the end it was the pitching that took the cake.  Clayton Kershaw went 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA and 239 Ks.  He led the NL in the first two categories and came in third in strikeouts.  Zack Greinke went 17-8 with a 2.71 ERA and 207 Ks.  Hyun-jin Ryu won 14 games with a 3.38 ERA.  Josh Beckett went 6-6 in 20 starts with a 2.88 ERA.  And the Dodgers got solid seasons from Dan Haren and Roberto Hernandez.  Again, stars, depth and health powered this team to the playoffs.  Usually a team has one.  Playoff teams have two.  This team has all three.

San Francisco Giants:             I had the Giants finishing third in the division.  I was only one off, but they were a lot better than I thought they would be.  Their offense has never been great, but they were once again good enough to compete.  Buster Posey is their star.  He led the team with a 311 AVG, 22 HR and 89 RBI.  However, unlike other teams with one established star, this team got enough secondary contributions to get them into the playoffs.  Hunter Pence hit 277 with 20 HR, 74 RBI, 106 R and 13 SB.  Pablo Sandoval hit 279 with 16 HR and 73 RBI.  Michael Morse hit 279 with 16 HR.  Angel Pagan only played in 95 games, but hit 300 in that time with 16 SB and 56 R.  Brandon Belt slugged 12 HR in only 61 games.  And the Giants had enough depth with Gregor Blanco stepping up to hit 260 and steal 16 bags.  Joaquin Arias, Travis Ishikawa and Joe Panik all played valuable innings.  Again, this offense wasn’t great, but it did enough.  They had to do more than usual this year, because the Giants strength, their starting pitching, left something to be desired.  Madison Bumgarner was an ace winning 18 games with a 2.98 ERA and 219 Ks.  Others struggled.  Ryan Vogelsong had a losing record and saw his ERA climb to 4.  Tim Lincecum had another up and down year, which included 12 wins, 9 losses, another no-hitter and a 4.74 ERA.  Matt Cain only made half his starts before he was lost for the year to injury.  So the team adjusted.  They brought in Tim Hudson originally to be a number 4 or 5 guy, but saw him become their second best starter.  His 9-13 record won’t turn any heads, but he pitched to a 3.57 ERA and gave them 189 valuable innings.   Jake Peavy joined the team midway through the year and looked like the ace of old with a 6-4 record and 2.17 ERA in 12 starts.  Things didn’t go as planned, but the Giants got enough pitching throughout the year and enough offense to win 88 games and take home the final wildcard spot.

San Diego Padres:      A lot of people picked this team as a trendy sleeper.  I don’t know what they were thinking as I had this team as a last place club.  Alas, they finished between the two.  They were fourth in the division with 77 wins, more than I thought they’d get but a lot less than others.  Not sure what there was to like on this club going into the season.  Will Venable was the best offensive player, but his 20/20 from last year came with a middling average.  Cameron Maybin can’t stay healthy.  Jed Gyorko’s power last year was limited by his average.  Chase Headley was a question mark.  The pitching staff included the questionable Ian Kennedy and the underrated Andrew Cashner.  There were some good bullpen arms, but that was almost a luxury this team couldn’t afford.  They struggled early and often.  Seth Smith led this team with a 266 AVG, and added 12 HR and 48 RBI.  That says it all about the offense there.  Petco has long been the worst offensive park in baseball, but the Padres have to get more from their offensive leaders than that.  He’s not the problem, but he’s just a role player.  A guy who can hit 6th.  The real problem is that not one of the many players the Padres trotted out there showed even a flash of real potential at the plate.  Evreth Cabrera has great speed with 18 SB.  But he only hit 232 and only played in 90 games.  Will Venable hit 224 with only 8 HR this year.  Yasmani Grandal popped 15 HR, but hit 225.  Jed Gyrko’s AVG of 210 wasn’t as surprising as his power outage (10 HR, 51 RBI).  Cameon Maybin only played in 95 games where he hit 235.  Injuries didn’t help as they lost Yonder Alonso and Carlos Quentin early, but there was nothing coming up the pipe from a team that has been re-building a while.  They traded away Chase Headley to the Yankees for Yangervis Solarte and a young arm.   They traded Chris Denorfia to Seattle for Abraham Almonte.  None of these names are overly exciting.  And they seem unlikely to solve San Diego’s hitting woes.  Their pitching was pretty good, but a lot of that is their home park.  Ian Kennedy was a good signing going 13-13 with a 3.63 ERA.  He also struck out 207 batters in 201 IP.  Tyson Ross was a find going 13-14 with a 2.81 ERA in 31 starts.  Andrew Cashner was good, but only made 19 starts.  Huston Street was good, and got traded for a lot of young names, none of which are that exciting.  So San Diego continues to re-build, hoping that things finally start to pan out.

Colorado Rockies:       The Rockies were a bad team this year.  The fact that they lost 96 games and didn’t finish in last is more of an indictment on the team below them, rather than who they are.  I picked them to finish fourth, which they did.  The narrative was the same again this year in Denver.  Good hitters, bad pitchers.  Play well at home and badly on the road.  Hot start and freezing cold finish.  Let’s start with this offense, which was again one of the best.  Part of that was Coors Field, but the other part is the way the Rockies build their teams.  Justin Morneau is a comeback player of the year candidate after hitting 319 with 17 HR and 82 RBI.  Charlie Blackmon was a surprise hitting 288 with 19 HR, 72 RBI, 82 R and 28 SB.  Drew Stubbs hit 289 with 15 HR and 20 SB.  Corey Dickerson hit 312 with 24 HR and 76 RBI.  Nolan Arenado hit 287 with 18 HR.  Wilin Rosarion popped 13 HR.  Notice anything?  I just listed 6 players who had great offensive years, 3 of which were outfielders, and didn’t mention the two stars in Colorado.  That’s because they can’t stay healthy.  Troy Tulowitzki, their best offensive player, played in only 91 games.  He was arguably the best offensive player in baseball in those games, but failed to get to 100 games.  Again.  When he did play, he hit 340 with 21 HR, 52 RBI and 71 R.  He did all that in ONLY 91 games.  Think about what a full season would mean!  The other offensive star, Carlos Gonzalez, only played in 70 games.  But he never looked healthy hitting 238.  He did slug 11 HR in that time.  Let’s look at the pitching.  They only had one starter turn in an ERA under 4.  That was Brett Anderson, who only made 8 starts.  Jorge de la Rosa was arguably their ace but had a 4.10 ERA.  Franklin Morales?  5.37.  Jordan Lyles?  4.33.  Juan Nicasio?  5.38.  Jhoulys Chacin?  5.40.  These are bad numbers.  What is my point?  The Rockies have a glut of offensive talent.  And they have a dearth of pitching talent.  In addition, it seems that any offensive player they plug in can play at pretty close to the league average in Coors Field.  So, WHY DO THEY SPEND ALL THEIR MONEY AND DRAFT PICKS ON OFFENSIVE PLAYERS????  They need pitching.  They have lots of offense.  Make a trade!  Until they do, they will continue to languish at the bottom of the NL West standings. 

Arizona Diamondbacks:         Well this is embarrassing.  I thought this team was a lot better than they ended up being.  I had them finishing second in the division.  I also labeled them a darkhorse team in the NL.  I almost put them down for a wildcard winner.  Ultimately, this team played poorly enough to see their GM and manager fired and Tony La Russa brought in to fix this ship from the top.  How did they fool me?  Well I saw an NL MVP talent at first in Paul Goldschmidt.  (He should have won the MVP last year but people insist on giving it to players on playoff teams, who empirically can’t be as valuable to their team as a star on a middling club).  Aaron Hill is a veteran with plenty left in the tank.  They had an exciting battle for the starting shortstop position between two promising youngsters.  Martin Prado is a former All Star at third.  Mark Trumbo is a power threat in left.  A.J. Pollock played well when healthy.  Gerrardo Parra is a Gold Glover in right.  And Miguel Montero is also a former All Star.  On the mound, Wade Miley almost won a Rookie of the Year award.  Patrick Corbin looked like an ace.  Brandon McCarthy is a former All Star.  Trevor Cahill is a veteran who has played well.  Bronson Arroyo was a great add who never gets hurt.  And the bullpen was chock full of young arms.  What wasn’t to like?  Well it started on a down note when they got spanked by the Dodgers in Australia to open the year.  Then the injuries popped up.  Paul Goldschmidt only played in 109 games.  Martin Prado only played in 106.  Mark Trumbo only played in 88.  A.J. Pollock played only 75.  No starter played in more than 137 games.  The ones that stayed relatively healthy struggled.  Miguel Montero hit 243.  Aaron Hill hit 244 with only 10 HR. Then the injuries popped up on the mound.  Patrick Corbin was lost for the year before the season even started.  Bronson Arroyo went to the DL for the first time in his career and struggled before he got hurt.  Cahill was bad.  McCarthy wasn’t much better.  Miley was just average.  None of the young arms stepped up.  So when the bad started to happen, the Diamondbacks realized this season was lost and did some prudent things.  They traded away McCarthy and Parra to hopefully get some depth back.  They shut down their injured stars, brought in some new leadership and hope to put together a good team for next year.  This year was one to forget in the desert.

NL Playoff Schedule and Picks


San Francisco Giants @ Pittsburgh Pirates

·      Giants have to travel to Pennsylvania, despite having the same record.  I guess it was head-to-head record they used?  Not sure.  But that’s bad luck as PNC Park for a Playoff Game may be the best home field advantage in sports, based on what we saw last year.
·      The Pirates broke a playoff drought last year and have made their way back to the playoffs for the second straight year.  People still talk about how great that one game playoff game was against the Reds last year.  Expect more of the same tonight.
·      Madison Bumgarner will start for the Giants, and looks to be the better starter.  But Edinson Volquez is no slouch.
·      The Pirates offense is healthier and looks to be better than the Giants, which is cobbled together after injuries to Marco Scutaro, Angel Pagan and Michael Morse. 
·      PREDICTION:             Giants win 2-0.
o   I like the Pirates and have a lot of trouble picking against them at home in this situation.  But I just think Bumgarner is one of the best in the NL.  And while I like the Pirates offense, I think good pitching beats good hitting.  They will see 7 strong innings of Bumgarner and then the best two relievers the Giants have.  It will be enough to keep them off the board as the crowd can’t win it on the field, despite their best efforts.  The Giants can scrape 2 runs off of Volquez.


St. Louis Cardinals @ Los Angeles Dodgers

·      The Cardinals won the division at the last minute and their offense is not as potent was it was last year.
·      The Dodgers looked like the best team on paper in the NL before the season began and ended up with the second best record in the division.  They also have home field advantage in this series.
·      Wainwright is an ace.   The other Cards pitchers, while good, don’t matchup well with Greinke.  But injuries in LA could mean that St. Louis now has more depth in their rotation.
·      Kershaw cancels out Wainwright.  Greinke is the favored pitcher in the next matchup as well.  The question is the health of the rotation beyond those 2.
·      St. Louis has offensive weapons, but no stars and not a ton of depth.
·      LA has the vastly superior offense.
·      I think that this one will be close and go all 5 games.
·      PREDICTION:             Cardinals over Dodgers 3 games to 2
o   Give me Kershaw to win game 1.  I’ll take Greinke in game 2.  But the depth of the Cards rotation has me liking them to win both games in St. Louis, including one over Kershaw who will be rushed back early on short rest.  That means Wainwright takes on Greinke who is also pitching on short rest in Game 5 in LA.  I’ll take a fully rested Wainwright over a limited Greinke any day of the week.  This will be a good series.


San Francisco Giants @ Washington Nationals

·      At this point, I’m working under the assumption that the Giants win the wildcard round and go on to face the Nationals.
·      Washington has the best record in the NL and one of the deepest teams in the game.
·      San Francisco will start off without its ace and have to play more games in Washington.  And their offense isn’t as threatening as the Pirates would have been.
·      Washington doesn’t have a star on caliber with Posey offensively, but their offense is deeper than Pittsburgh’s.  And their starting rotation is far deeper.
·      PREDICTION:             Nationals over Giants 3 games to 1.
o   The deck is already stacked against the wildcard winner.  And the Nationals are too good.  I’ll take the Nats to win easily, taking both at home and one of the two in San Francisco.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Washington sweeps.
·      If the Pirates beat the Giants, my next pick doesn’t change. 


Los Angeles Dodgers @ Washington Nationals

·      Now this is a good one.  Kershaw is a great pitcher.  Greinke is too.  And the Dodgers offense is balanced and deep.
·      The Nationals don’t have the stars at the top of the rotation, but are deeper and have a deep offense of their own.
·      A 7 game series means we see the best pitchers multiple times.  But what happens in the middle games will be the key to this one.
o   PREDICTION:             Nationals over Dodgers 4-3
§  The home field is helpful here as Washington has it.  And while Kershaw and Greinke will pitch 4 times, I don’t think they get 4 wins.  Strasburg, Fister and Zimmerman are too good.  Add in Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez and I think the Nationals win all the middle games.  And they will find a way to beat Kershaw or Gerinke once.  If you think about it, that’s all they have to do as their rotation is far deeper right now than LA’s.  I think they are favored in games 3, 4 and 5 easily.  The only have to win 1 of the other 4 games.  And I think they can do that, especially considering that that’s when their best pitchers will be going as well.


Washington Nationals @ Detroit Tigers

·      The Tigers get home field after an exhibition 2 months ago that didn’t feature a single Washington player.  Because that makes sense. 
·      The Tigers have quite an offense and a very deep starting rotation with 2 aces at the top.
·      The Nationals are very deep as well, perhaps deeper at the back end of their rotation and on their bench.
·      But unlike the other teams they’ve faced in the playoffs, the Tigers are the first that can match their depth in most of the areas where it counts.  And this is also the first time Washington has to spend more time on the road.
o   PREDICTION:             Tigers over Nationals 4 games to 3
§  This series will go the distance, but I like the Tigers.  Early on, their aces are better than Washington’s.  And their offense is almost as deep and far better at the top with stars Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. 
§  While I still like the Nationals in the middle 3 games, I don’t think it’s as clear cut as it was over the Dodgers.  I don’t think they win them all.  And I think they lose the majority of the games against the top 2 pitchers of Detroit.  Think 3 out of 4 matchups started by Price and Scherzer go Detroit’s way.  Then they only have to win one game started by Porcello, Verlander and Sanchez.  And they also have home field advantage.  This will be a good series, but I think the Tigers finally go all the way.

Okay that’s it.  Let’s see how it goes.  I love October!

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