Friday, February 15, 2008

2008 Baseball Preview: NL Post-season

Alright all, recently, we’ve been hitting you with a division by division Baseball breakdown. I took NL and 4Real took the AL. With Pitchers and catchers reporting yesterday and the fact that I'm buying Spring Training tickets almost daily, we’re looking ahead to the Fall Classic. First off, the NL Breakdown. For the previous columns in this series consult the links in the sidebar of the page or the links at the bottom of this article.

Heading into the Post-season the NL is going to be anyone’s guess. All three divisions should be highly competitive and go down to the last week before anyone clinches anything. Last year the NL had a play in game for the Wild Card that was narrowly, and arguably won by Colorado (over San Diego). I’m not so sure the season will go extra innings again but I also wouldn’t be that shocked. The NL is pretty well split 50/50 with Atlanta, Philly, and New York competing in the East, Cubs and Brewers in the Central, and the Padres and D-Backs staying strong in the West. The Astros (Central) and Rockies (West) will be in the hunt for most of the season but with the Wild Card looking to go to a team near the 90 win mark, both should fall just short. The potential Wild Card entrance game could be between the Padres and Phillies. With that said my 2008 Post Season predictions are as follows:

The NL East should send the New York Mets into the Post-season as a 1 seed. With a little more experience across the board, including September Call-ups, and their off-season addition of Santana to an already deep rotation (including World Renowned Cock-fighter Pedro Martinez) scoring runs on them should be troublesome. Playing them close until the bitter end will once again be the Phillies, the only difference being the lack of the New York choke of epic proportions in the closing weeks. Atlanta will stay competitive as well but fall off in late August and won’t be able to rebound.

The NL West will once again be competitive down the stretch and the battle for first will be close between San Diego and Arizona. Unfortunately, too much parity in the division will lead to close divisional losses for the Rockies and Padres and will knock them both out of Wild Card contention, leaving Arizona as this year’s sole team coming out of the West.

Chicago nearly relinquished it’s lead late in the season to the Brewers (after taking over the Central from the Brewers in late July) but were able to hang on despite 3 consecutive losses to Florida in their second to last series. The Brewers are another year older and should be able to keep whatever momentum they have going late in the season. Their bats should continue to produce as Prince Fielder tries to get his batting average higher than his Weight and get more HR than inches in his waist, unfortunately, their pitching just isn’t there and it will wind up costing them more games down the stretch. The Cubs should hold on heading into the post season taking the division for the 2nd straight year under Sweet Lou.

The first round will see the Cubs taking on the Mets in New York. Barring injuries this series will be 5 games at least 3 of which should be 1 or 2 run difference pitcher’s duels. the Mets Pitching will be strong having 4 starters with sub-4 ERAs in 2007. The Cubs will be fielding a nearly comparable starting rotation having 5 guys with sub-4 ERAs in ’07 and a few others trying to earn spots in the rotation. In addition the Cubs have, arguably, one of the strongest Bullpens in the NL getting Dempster out of the closer position and having Bob Howry, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Marmol closing out games this season as well as other strong arms in the Pen. The Cubs went cold in the Post-Season last year after putting together one of the best mid-seasons turnarounds in history. A lot of people suggest that whoever is hotter going into the post-season will do better. This doesn’t bode well for the Cubs with their final 7 games of the season coming on the road going to Shea Stadium (Mets) and Miller Park (Brewers). Conversely the Mets finish with 7 at home, 4 vs. the Cubs and 3 facing the Marlins. This is a valid statement (Colorado Rockies 2007) but I also think it comes down to experience. The Dbacks (5 years since their last playoff appearance), Cubs (4 years), Phillies (5+ years), and Rockies (5+ years) were all inexperienced so the hot team theory panned out in '07. The Rockies were as hot as can be taking 21/22. That likely won’t happen again for either of these teams, especially since they face off in the closing weeks, I think it then will come down to experience and the Cubs will take the series in 5.

On the other side of the country we’re going to be watching a good Diamondbacks team taking on a good Phillies team. Both went to the post-season last year, and lost to the Rockies. In a true Offense vs. Defense competition the Dbacks with their Solid pitching will be taking on the Phillies and their relentless bats. The Backs are going to edge the Phils in 4 games, to further that I say the Dbacks win the first two and close it up in game 4. If the bats go silent it doesn’t matter how mediocre your pitching staff is. It always seemed like the Phillies could and would score runs, especially when needed. They scored 892 runs last season but games 2 and 3 of their series with the Rockies is the perfect reason why the DBacks win. When the Phils scored 5, their mediocre pitching gave up 10, and when their bats went quiet witch often happens to a offensive powerhouse at inopportune times, they couldn’t score more than 1 run vs. the Rockies. Hitting will get you into the post-season, pitching will keep you there.

In the NLCS the Cubs and the DBacks will face off once again, this time in a 7 game series. The Dbacks swept the Cubs in 2007s NLDS for three reasons, their usually powerful, dependable bats (Soriano, Lee, Ramirez) were absent from the series, their young pitching (rookie reliever Carlos Marmol got the L in game 1) got attacked by nerves, and the clutch factor was absent (9 LOB, 1/10 RISP in game 1, 9 LOB, 1/4 RISP in game 2, 9 LOB, 0/9 RISP game 3) which can be equated to youth and inexperience. Don’t look for those three factors to pop-up again in 2008 when these two teams face off. Chances are that by this point in the season Randy Johnson will be shelved due to back problems and will most likely be hinting at retirement and the loss of Valverde will be more and more glaring as this series goes on. Expect a blown AZ save, most likely at Wrigley. The Cubs should shock a lot of people and take this series in 6.

Divisional Breakdowns:
NL West
NL Central
NL East
AL West
AL Central
AL East