Ah the autumn wind is blowing over the country. That means playoff baseball and 3+ hour games that actually will leave you on the edge of your seats. Since teams for the NL tournament are pretty much locked up, we’re going ahead and rank the 5 teams that can best make the World Series. What makes the NL so awesome this year is that any of these teams can make, it is that wide open. Each team possess a strength that sets them apart, and a weakness that can be exploited. It definitely will come down to which team is hot in the playoffs.
5. St. Louis Cardinals - They may not be sexy, but they get the job done. Without Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols, the Cards are back in the playoffs. They are as dangerous as any NL team in the playoffs, as the Nationals found out this past weekend. They are the defending champs as well, so no stage will be too daunting for them. They also are a very good defensive team so they will not beat themselves. However, it is a question on who can get a big hit, or drive in a big run for them in the clutch. Also, Chris Carpenter is not the same pitcher as he was last year, and even Adam Wainwright has been getting hit around in the latter part of the season. The bullpen is also a question mark.
4. San Francisco Giants - This could be the best starting pitching staff there is in the tournament, with perhaps the best home-field in the NL. Tim Lincecum, who has won 2 Cy Young awards, barely made the NLDS rotation. They have a perfect game winner in Matt Cain. Madison Bumgarner has been awesome the entire year, though he has slowed down toward the end of the season. Either Ryan Vogelsong or Barry Zito will make a fine 4th starter and they will probably be better than the other team’s 4th starter. The question mark is the offense, but lately they have been dominate, and that’s without the cheater Melky Cabrera. Buster Posey has been lights out, and Marco Scutaro has filled in where Melky left off (hitting over .400 since being acquired). The Giants are not going to bring back Cabrera in the playoffs, which I think is a mistake because he is better than Gregor Blanco. But why mess with what is working? The bullpen is the worst of the 5 teams in the NL playoffs, with Sergio Romo, the 8th inning set-up guy, as the closer.
3. Washington Nationals - I’ve watched a lot of Nationals baseball this year, so this will be a little more in-depth. Let’s start with pitching. I would have the Nats up higher if Stephen Strasburg was still in the rotation, but the it is still pretty formidable without him. However Edwin Jackson is no Strasburg, and the rest of the rotation has been getting hit around as of late. Gio Gonzalez has a history of losing command of his pitches, and there are worries about Jordan Zimmermann’s shoulder. This might be the 2nd best bullpen with Aroldis Chapman of the Reds having a sore shoulder. If they can get to the 7th inning, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard, and Drew Storen can make it a really short game. However, Clippard has lost some of his edge, and if he starts missing pitches, it all goes downhill fast.
As for the offense, this is a feast or famine team. They can score 10 runs in a game, or 2 depending on the day. They don’t manufacture runs very well (8th in NL in sacrifice hits) and are 3rd in strikeouts in the NL. That won’t bode well when you are facing the top 3 pitchers a team has to offer, EVERY NIGHT. They have a lot of very good hitters with no glaring holes in their lineup, but no great hitter that you can see carrying them in a pinch. But if someone gets hot, like the Jayson Werth/Bryce Harper combo, or Ian Desmond, this team could be really dangerous. This team has the best bench with a power and speed balance unlike any other team. Playoff inexperience is a problem, but their manager Davey Johnson and World Series champ Werth will get these guys ready. I would like the Nationals position a lot better if they were 2nd seed as you will see why later.
2. Cincinnati Reds - The best defensive team in the NL playoffs, along with the best hitter in Joey Votto. The starting pitching has come around (Homer Bailey just pitched a no-hitter). However, they still could be throwing Bronson Arroyo to the mound for a game 3. The bullpen was awesome before power meter in Aroldis Chapman’s arm went down to red. But you aren’t intimidated about any of they starts (Johnny Cueto is the #1 starter and he has worn down). But their lineup is very good, anchored by Votto, and surrounded by Jay Bruce, who had a career year, Brandon Phillips, and Ryan Ludwick. Dusty Baker is as good as it gets managerial-wise in the playoffs. No one talks about the Reds, and maybe that is their secret weapon.
1. Atlanta Braves - Might be the most unbeatable team in the MLB, if everything breaks their way. If Michael Bourn hits at the top of the lineup, their offense will be potent. If Kris Medlen and Mike Minor stay unhittable, it is the best 1-2 punch in the rotation (since Strasburg is gone). If the Braves can give their bullpen the lead, games are an absolute lock. Jason Heyward has found himself, Freddie Freeman is raking, and Chipper Jones is playing like he is 20, not 40. But the Braves are very streaky; they can get shut down for a couple of games straight. The Braves play almost as good defense as the Reds. This team has the look of destiny; they have to hope they just get by that one-game playoff first. If they do, they will give the #1 seed a lot of fits in the NLDS. If I were the Reds or Nationals, I would avoid that #1 seed at all costs.