A Complete Guide to the NLDS
Ah, what a day. WHAT A LOVELY DAY! The sun is out, the temperature is pretty good considering its October and I live in Rhode Island, and most importantly, the CUBS BEAT THE PIRATES LAST NIGHT! On a scale from one to LUGER WON THE TITLE, I would rank last night as a solid LUGER WON THE TITLE; the Cubs played excellent, Jake Arrieta continues to be the best pitcher in baseball, and the Cubs got in Pittsburgh’s head so badly that Pirates first basemen/crazy man Sean Rodriguez went all “IMMA BURY YA FAMILY!” on a Gatorade cooler, which was both disturbingly captivating and flat out hilarious. My only regret is that I didn’t get to hear Tim McCarver and Joe Buck call that moment, mainly because a) self righteous Joe Buck is always hilarious and b) McCarver bungling his reaction to Rodriguez’ tantrum would’ve made it the greatest unintentional comedy moment since The Room.
But enough about the greatest thing ever, let’s talk NLDS. Yes, all the Wild Card stuff is over, and as I predicted the ALDS yesterday, I thought why not predict the NLDS today. And yet, I’m talking the whole thing, including the Cubs-Cardinals series. Yes, I am sort of biased and yes I’m still riding high off the victory last night, but it feels only right to cover all aspects. And hey, it’s not like I’m going to just mock the Cardinals and say the Cubs will sweep them by a combined score of 300-2; I may love Bill Simmons, but I’m not actually Bill Simmons. The point is, you’re getting previews for both series’. Sound good? Sounds good. Let’s get moving. ON WITH THE SHOW!
(2) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (3) New York Mets
Major Storyline: My God, it’s full of pitching! If you thought that Dallas Keuchel and greatest man to ever live Jake Arrieta brought the heat during the Wild Card games, wait till you see what this series has in store. The Mets rotation goes four deep with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, real life Stay Puft Marshmallow man Bartolo Colon and former favorite son turned pariah Matt Harvey for what might be the best overall rotation in baseball (top to bottom). Meanwhile, the Dodgers have Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, two men who are on a level so high that only Arrieta is even close to them. This isn’t a series where runs go to die; this is the series where runs just stay as far away as humanly possible. Beavis and Butthead will have scored more times than someone will in this series. Hell, not to get all Dan Fouts on you here, but pretty much the first team to score in these games will win. Have I stressed enough how great the pitching here is?!
Secondary Storyline: What the hell is going on with Matt Harvey? It only seemed like yesterday that Harvey, in my opinion still the best pitcher on the Mets staff, was a treasure for a franchise that really had nothing going for them. Now, following a late season dispute over how much Harvey would be used in the postseason and a bizarre story about him missing a team event earlier this week, Mets fans are ditching him on the side of the road like Fabio’s cult did Jake Gyllenhaal in Bubble Boy. Seriously; what the hell is going on here? On one hand, Harvey has definitely brought some of this heat on himself, especially in regards to his pitch limit “scandal”. At the same time, this guy is still the best arm the team has. Do his teammates and the fans really want to get on him for stuff that’s minor at best? I don’t know what’s going on here, but it needs to be smoothed over. Then again, it would be the most Mets thing to happen if they blew this series because of chemistry issues.
Dodger with the Most to Prove: Brett Anderson. Both the Dodgers aces should be okay (provided Matt Carpenter isn’t traded to the Mets between now and tomorrow. Sorry Kershaw, I had to) and anything the Dodgers lineup does will be a win considering who they are facing. So the fate of the Dodgers run rests on their third starter Anderson, an underappreciated starter who finally stayed healthy enough this year to show what he can do (I’m still disappointed the Cubs didn’t sign him). A quality win from him in Game 3 (no easy task as it’ll be back in Queens) would pretty much guarantee the Dodgers a win, as I can’t imagine the Mets beating Greinke or Kershaw more than once this series.
Met with the Most to Prove: Harvey. Fair or unfair, the heat is on him right now, and he needs to remind his team and his fan base what exactly made him so beloved by them in the first place. Frankly, this is a make or break series for Harvey as far as his future with the Mets goes. Pitch well, and as with most things, this will blow over like the zombie apocalypse in Shaun’s daydream from Shaun of the Dead. Pitch poorly, and you’ll be reading “the Los Angeles Angels acquire Matt Harvey from the New York Mets for top prospect A, top prospect C, cash and a player to be named later” on the ESPN ticker sometime in late November. And yes, it’ll be the Angels he’s traded to. What, you though it be the Yankees? Seriously?
Winner: The Mets in five. I don’t love the pick, especially since Greinke and Kershaw are involved, but I like the Mets staff, I like their hunger, I don’t love Don Mattingly as a manager and while I don’t believe the Mets will beat one of those two Dodger aces twice, I do see them getting one win off each. That, coupled with a win over Anderson, will be enough to send them to the NLCS in a tense, low scoring series.
(1) St. Louis Cardinals vs. (4) Chicago Cubs
Major Storyline: The best rivalry in baseball happens for the first time in the postseason! Call me biased all you want (I am a Cubs fan after all), but yes, this is indeed the best rivalry in baseball, even if it doesn’t have the East Coast backing the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry have. And now it’s going to be turned up a notch by a) the first playoff meeting between the teams ever (how is that possible?!) and b) the renewed success of the Cubs this year. I don’t have to be a Cubs fan to tell you that this will be the most exciting series in the Divisional Round for either league. The Cubs vs. Cardinals games have all been compelling this year (the most I had prior to last night’s game watching baseball was a Sunday afternoon game between these two teams three weeks ago), and I see no reason for that to change with the stakes raised. Man I cannot wait for this one. Note that this opinion could easily change if the Cubs find themselves down 2-0 going back to Wrigley. I’ll go immediately from “MY GOD, IT’S FULL OF STARS!” to “SQUISH ME! JUST SQUISH ME NOW!”. Yes, I quoted A Bugs Life. Deal with it.
Secondary Storyline: Can Mike Matheny hang with Joe Maddon? I’m going to be honest; one of the things that makes me feel great about this series is that the Cubs have Maddon and the Cardinals have a guy who’s nowhere near as good as Maddon. Yes, I know that Matheny is highly praised in the media and all that, but this is also the same guy who became frozen with indecision against the Red Sox during the 2013 World Series and last year fed Michael Wacha to the wolves against the Giants. Matheny isn’t a bad manager, but he’s not a great one either, and that’s an advantage the Cubs can exploit. As long as Maddon doesn’t over manage, Matheny will have to step up his game if the Cardinals are to move on.
Cardinal with the Most to Prove: Yadier Molina. I normally wouldn’t go this route, especially considering that Molina might be one of the best defensive catchers and baseball and the Cardinals team leader. That said, he’s still recovering from a thumb injury suffered in the last meeting between these two teams, which was bad enough to sideline him for the rest of the season. Make no mistake; the Cardinals need this guy. If he can be healthy enough to go the whole way and provide the sort of leadership behind the plate he always does, it can only be good for the Cardinals. It’ll certainly be better than it would with Tony Cruz as the catcher. The only thing that scares me less than that guy are the Saw films. Just because you have gore doesn’t make you scary! Learn to make better films, filmmakers behind Saw!
Cub with the Most to Prove: Hector Rondon. Honestly, I feel great about this Cubs team from top to bottom; the lineup is solid (and multiple guys can be plugged in if a starter struggles), the rotation is solid after Arrieta and Jon Lester; it’s a pretty swell club. The one area that does concern me is the bullpen, which is where Rondon comes in. While he’s certainly been the strongest reliever of the bunch, this will be Rondon’s first rodeo into the postseason, and it’s pretty clear from last night that even with a four run lead, Maddon preferred to ride Jake Arrieta than let Rondon, Pedro Strop or any other Cubs reliever enter the game. Doesn’t exactly fill me with a whole lot of confidence there! As good as I think the Cubs lineup and rotation will continue to be, eventually they’ll have to rely on their pen, which means that Rondon is going to have to deliver if the Cubs want to win this series. I believe he can, and hopefully he proves me right.
Winner: Cubs in four. Come on, did you really expect me to go against my favorite team here? Truthfully though, even if I wasn’t a Cubs fan, I’d probably still pick them here. I don’t love the Cardinals offense against the Cubs rotation, and their offense is good enough that I think they can get to the Cards rotation that was quietly pretty great this year. It’ll be close every game and it’ll be exciting, but I think the Cubs steal one game in St. Louis, followed by two huge emotional wins to move them into the NLCS. It wouldn’t shock me if it goes shorter, longer or the other way entirely though, which is both exciting and terrifying. You’ll survive it Cult; you will survive it. Dammit, WHAT IF I DON’T?!
That’ll do it girls and boys. I’ll be back later with that Pentagon article. I swear it’ll get done this time! In the meantime, how about a joke at the expense of Sean Rodriguez to close this baby out?