By Mike Ivcic
Yesterday we ripped through the American League picks, and today the National League gets their Divisional Series under way with three iconic franchises and one newbie looking to make a lot of noise. The AL may boast some better teams and home field in the World Series, but I can almost guarantee the excitement and drama will be dwarfed compared to what will happen over the next week in the senior circuit.
San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals
G1 – Friday, October 3, 3:07pm @ Washington (FS1)
G2 – Saturday, October 4, 5:37pm @ Washington (FS1)
G3 – Monday, October 6, TBA @ San Francisco (MLBN)
G4 – *Tuesday, October 7, TBA @ San Francisco (FS1)
G5 – *Thursday, October 9, TBA @ Washington (FS1)
Welcome to what should be the best-pitched series of any LDS. The Nationals boast a top four of Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, and Gio Gonzalez that is unmatched by any of the remaining eight playoff teams, and that doesn’t even count Tanner Roark, who emerged as a bona fide middle-rotation guy this season, if not better. He’ll go to the bullpen for this series against the Giants, who boast a solid starting staff of their own. Sure, having Matt Cain healthy and the Tim Lincecum of five years ago would be significantly more helpful, but a top three of Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, and Madison Bumgarner – who will pitch in that order – at least gives the Giants a more than viable shot at knocking off the NL’s best regular season team.
The problem for the Giants is that, save for their 8-run explosion Wednesday in Pittsburgh, they still struggle to score runs at times. They were 12th in runs during the regular season but just 18th in on base percentage, a stat that becomes significantly more important once the calendar changes to October. Washington, for their part, was only slightly higher at 9th overall in runs, but boasted an OBP ten points higher than San Fran at .321, good for eighth overall. With every out magnified, any added baserunners, as the Royals have shown, can make a world of difference.
The Giants have a ton of postseason experience, while the Nats don’t have much of any outside of Jayson Werth’s time in Philly and a brief trip two years ago in a crushing LDS loss to St. Louis. Perhaps that understanding of how to win in October will be a factor for the Giants, but I’m just not sure it’s enough to really make me move off this Washington club. The NL East champs are, on paper, the most complete team in all of baseball, and even playoff newbies can make a deep October run when they’re that talented and focused. I think the Giants may take a game or two – I’m thinking specifically of Bumgarner’s start at home in Game 3 – but taking three of five against the Nats just seems like too much to ask.
Pick: Washington 3, San Francisco 1
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
G1 – Friday, October 3, 6:37pm @ Los Angeles (FS1)
G2 – Saturday, October 4, 9:37pm @ Los Angeles (MLBN)
G3 – Monday, October 6, TBA @ St. Louis (FS1)
G4 – *Tuesday, October 7, TBA @ St. Louis (FS1)
G5 – *Thursday, October 9, TBA @ St. Louis (FS1)
Full disclosure: I am a Mets fan. I don’t particularly like the Phillies (I live in suburban Philadelphia) or the Braves (Larrrrrrrry… Larrrrrrrrry), the Nationals made my team look silly all year (15-4 vs. the Mets), and the Marlins are like an annoying gnat that won’t go away. But there are two teams of which I am really not a fan – the Dodgers and Cardinals. It doesn’t matter who wins this series, because I will root for them to lose to whoever wins the other series in the LCS. But you’re not here for my rooting interests, you’re here for my analysis, so with my disdain for each organization as a backdrop, allow me three thoughts:
1) Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game today.
2) The Cardinals consistently seem to reload older players for younger players who wind up making a huge impact in October.
3) I have no idea who is good in either team’s bullpen.
Really, the Cardinals recipe for winning is simple – either beat Kershaw in Game 1, or win the next three, because I can’t imagine them winning a do-or-die Game 5 in Los Angeles against the dominating lefty. They do, however, have Adam Wainwright, so it’s not like Kershaw’s facing a AAA scrub. Still, with all of the money the Dodgers poured into their roster over the last two years, it would probably not bode well for Don Mattingly if he can’t get out of the first round this year against an inferior St. Louis team. The Cards are always a tough October out, and they will likely prove to be so again this year, but I think LA is just too deep and good to lose out.
Pick: Los Angeles 3, St. Louis 2