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The Ins and Outs of the NLDS
It’s time for more baseball talk sports fans! Yesterday I broke down the ALDS and now that the Mets have turned into the Mets right on schedule (sorry Lazyking!) it’s time to break down the NLDS. And while the match ups aren’t as close here as they are in the American League, there are at least two teams here that are capable of such excellent baseball that each game should be interesting. Then again every Cubs game will be anyway, because it’s the Cubs. No I’m not biased (I totally am! But I’ll try to hide it now). But more on that to come; let’s begin this break down in Washington D.C. Moses, knock this meme out of the park while I go cry myself to sleep over that dopey line I just typed.
(3) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (2) Washington Nationals
Major Storyline: Is Clayton Kershaw all the way back? It feels wrong even asking this question on some level, but it has to be asked. Many of you know that Kershaw missed a good chunk of the season thanks to pretty severe back injury. He returned a little under a month ago and while he was more or less his former self (1-2 with a 0.80 ERA) the sample size isn’t large enough to say whether he’s the same guy who, besides Jake Arrieta, might be the best pitcher in baseball. Cthulhu knows the Dodgers need him to be that guy starting tomorrow, which brings us to our next topic.
Secondary Storyline: What other Dodgers pitcher will step up? This is really the $64,000 question of the series besides Kershaw’s health. Both teams’ lineups are quite good, featuring names like Seager, Harper, Reddick, Werth, Justin Turner, Trea Turner, Gonzalez, Murphy; the list is endless. But a quick glance shows that the Nationals rotation is vastly superior. This is who they’ll throw out on the mound for this series; Max Scherzer, Steven Strausburg, Tanner Roark and if necessary Gio Gonzalez. The first three guys combined for 51-21 record this year, and there’s little relief if you get past them even with Gonzalez not on the level of his twenty win season a few years ago. In contrast, all the Dodgers have after Kershaw is Kenta Maeda and (gulp) a slumping Scott Kazmir. It’s not even close. Perhaps things even out because of Kershaw and (aside from Scherzer) the lack of playoff experience between those other three Nationals starters, but even then it’s tricky. Someone on the Dodgers rotation has got to steal a game, be it Kazmir, Maeda, whoever. Otherwise they’re going home regardless of what Kershaw does.
Dodger with the Most to Prove: Corey Seager. So much for Yasil Puig and Joc Pederson being the best players on the Dodgers for years huh? Puig went from prodigy to minor league annoyance, while Pederson is a solid if unspectacular center fielder who can hit home runs and otherwise little else at the plate. And so 21 year old Corey Seager stepped in and he’s stepped up, leading the team in average (.308) and placing second in home runs with 26. He’s very clearly the future leader of this team (at least as far as the lineup goes) and the Dodgers have to be hoping he’s better in his second postseason go around than his first last year, where he hit .183 and couldn’t get on base if his life depended on it against another strong rotation. He needs to set the tone this time around, which given the strength of the Nationals rotation and his youth, may be a lot to ask.
National with the Most to Prove: Bryce Harper. After an unforgettable (and in many ways unsustainable) season last year, the most talented man in baseball not named Mike Trout or Kris Bryant kind of sort of came back to earth. Though Harper remained an on base machine this year, his average dipped from .330 to .243 and his home runs dipped from 42 to 24, though there’s reason to believe some of that was flukish due to his balls in play average going from .369 to .264 this year. It doesn’t absolve every problem but it does show he was a tad unlucky, never mind the fact that 24 home runs, 86 RBIs and a .373 on base percentage is something most players would kill for anyway. His postseason stats are also misleading; Harper’s career postseason stats show a .200 average and a .238 on base, but those numbers are largely influenced by his first ever appearance against the Cardinals. The more likely outliner was his last series against the Giants, where he hit .294 with a .388 on base and a staggering .882 slugging percentage, while also hitting a phenomenal 3 home runs in 4 games! Bryce Harper is really good folks, and it’s because of that, the down season and the misleading stats that he’ll be the one with the biggest expectations. In an era of sports where all people care about is what you do in the big moments, it be best served for Harper to be the one to get the Nationals going and get them out of the first round for the first time ever.
Winner: Nationals in four, and I’d be going for the sweep if Kershaw wasn’t involved. The Nationals rotation is simply too good compared to what the Dodgers have (even with Maeda and Kershaw) and I think that’s the difference. Guess that means Magic and the gang will be buying every pitcher in sight come free agency this offseason.
(4) San Francisco Giants vs. (1) Chicago Cubs
Major Storyline: Stories; stories everywhere! You won’t believe this but the Cubs, the best team in baseball this year by a mile, haven’t won a World Series in 108 years. The Giants meanwhile have won three World Series’ in the last six years, all of them during even years. Guess what; this year is an even year and the Giants are in the post season again! If only we had sports media that reported on great information like this!
In all seriousness, this is going to carry the narrative more than the baseball it stuff. It’s sort of a shame because the Cubs have a roster loaded with young, homegrown talent in the lineup and the most unlikely trio of aces in the world, while the Giants are an immaculately managed, run organization with the best big game postseason pitcher in baseball. This series would be great if it were two teams without baggage good or bad. I guess in the end the baggage helps though, especially when you know MLB is going to be pushing “is this the Cubs year?!” more than ever considering how great the team is. There will be interest and there will be me in the middle of it. Does it make me nervous? I’ll let Dr. Cox give you the surprising answer.
Secondary Storyline: Can the Giants hitting keep up? Lost in all the hoopla about this being an even year is that the Giants offense is kind of average. No one on the team hit more than 17 home runs this year (Brandon Belt), a number that would be good enough for only fifth on the Cubs behind Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist (and it would’ve been six if Jorge Soler had remained healthy all year). I’m sure many will shrug it off and perhaps rightfully so; the Royals of the past few years have proven you can win without home runs as long as you get on base (which the Giants did this season, finishing 7th as a team overall). The problem is that the Cubs hit home runs and get on base (13th in the former category, 2nd in the latter) and anyone who saw the Giants against the Mets last night clearly saw that elite starters can be problematic for them. The Cubs have three of those guys, possibly four depending on what John Lackey gets them. Combine that all together and the Giants may indeed need a little bit of magic if they want to get past the North Siders.
Giant with the Most to Prove: I’m kind of tempted to say no one here. Win or lose this series the Giants, from Bruce Bochy to Madison Bumgarner to whomever, are still going to be the same dudes that won three World Series titles in a decade. They’ve got nothing to prove and really that takes the pressure off of them here. Really the only reason a Cubs fan has any cause for concern in this series.
Cub with the Most to Prove: Jason Heyward and it’s mainly because he makes a hell of a lot more money than Miguel Montero. Well that and Montero is going to be splitting playing time with David Ross and catching phenom Wilson Contreras. It should come to no surprise to those that know me that I know this Cubs team better than I know most of the people in my life, which makes it very easy for me to point out that Jason Heyward sucked this year. Like really bad. The Cubs rewarded Heyward with one of the better contracts in MLB history, only for Heyward to reward them by losing everything that made him valuable to the team in the first place; above average hitting, speed and the ability to get on base (in fairness, Heyward remained the great defensive player he’s always been). He’s been so underwhelming that if Kyle Schwarber was available to play, I would sit Heyward for Schwarber, Dexter Fowler (great again this year in the lead off role) and Soler. Hell if I was Joe Maddon I may still sit him now and move Zobrist or Bryant out to left field to play with Fowler and Soler, while the underrated Javier Baez takes over one of the infield spots. It hasn’t been good!
That doesn’t mean there still isn’t time to turn it around though. One way or another Heyward will see playing time this series because that’s what Joe Maddon does, and he proved last year (against the Cubs ironically enough) that he can do some damage in the postseason. The whole team will have pressure, but Heyward will have the most because of his poor performance and the contract that goes with it. He could do a lot to endear himself to the North Side to step up now after a disappointing year and get the Cubs to the one thing that’s eluded them all these years.
Winner: The Cubs in four. I’d normally say that I wish I was more confident in that pick but the truth is I am, even as a nervous Cubs fan. I’ve seen enough of the Giants hitting this year and enough of Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester in the postseason to know that the Cubs rotation should have no trouble with the Giants lineup, while only Bumgarner truly scares me in the Giants rotation. There may be a time I come to regret this pick and I’ll eat crow when that happens. But the Cubs were the best team in baseball for a reason this year, and I think they flex their muscles here over a Giants team that just doesn’t have what the previous three World Series teams did. Everything ends sometime folks; let’s hope in this case it’s both the even year streak AND the Cubs drought.
That’s a wrap sports fans! Hope you enjoy all the games this postseason. I’ll try to fit in a few other baseball columns in between the lucha libre stuff, but I cannot promise anything. I can however promise a CMLL preview later tonight if you’re interested. Till we meet again, an unprovoked shot at the St. Louis Cardinals!