NLDS Preview

National League Division Series play begins today, and there are some similarities between the teams still alive in the NL to the ones still fighting in the AL.  With the exception of the St. Louis Cardinals, who won the World Series in 2006 and 2011, the other three NL playoff teams are trying to end long championship droughts.  The Dodgers last won the World Series in 1988, the Mets in 1986, and the Cubs are trying to end their much-publicized 107 year dry spell since 1908.

Chicago Cubs vs St. Louis Cardinals
Game 1: Friday, 6:30 pm ET in St. Louis, TBS
Game 2: Saturday, 5:30 pm ET in St. Louis, TBS
Game 3: Monday, TBD in Chicago, TBS
Game 4: Tuesday, TBD in Chicago, TBS
Game 5: Thursday, 4:30 pm ET in St. Louis, TBS

One of baseball’s greatest rivalries meets for the first time in the postseason after 2,224 regular season meetings.  These two teams won 100 (Cardinals) and 97 (Cubs) games during the regular season, making this an excellent matchup, particularly to be so early in the postseason.  Both of these teams do a lot of things well, so any small advantage in the breakdown of the series could make a huge difference in its outcome.  The Cardinals won the regular season series 11-8.

Starting pitching:
The Cubs have a very solid rotation ERA of 3.36, led by NL Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA), who pitched a complete game shutout in the NL Wild Card Game.  Chicago would be favored in this stat in most series.  However, the Cardinals have an exceptional 2.99 rotation ERA.  Their four postseason starters have all had very strong years (John Lackey, Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn).
Advantage: Cardinals

Bullpen:
These two bullpens are both very good.  The Cardinals technically have the statistical advantage, with a 2.82 ERA against the Cubs 3.38 mark, and have MLB saves leader Trevor Rosenthal (2.10 ERA, 48 saves).  However, the Cubs have two pitchers on the series roster with significant MLB closing experience, plus setup man Pedro Strop with “closer stuff.” I don’t see either bullpen giving away any games in this series.
Advantage: even

Lineup:
While the Cardinals did have injury issues this season, it’s a bit concerning that there isn’t a clear offensive leader of this team, with their highest average for a starter coming from rookie Stephen Piscotty (.305), and their highest RBI total coming in at 84 (Matt Carpenter).  St. Louis ranked just 11th in the NL in runs scored (647).  The Cardinals have a better average than the Cubs (.253 for St. Louis, .244 for Chicago), but the Cubs have out-homered the Cardinals 171-137, have a higher OPS (.719 for Chicago, .716 for St. Louis), and were sixth in runs scored (689).
Advantage: Cubs

Atmosphere:
St. Louis has the so-called “best fans in baseball”, and Chicago has the intimate feel of Wrigley Field and a hungry fan base eager for some postseason success.  Throw the rivalry on top of that, and both cities will be absolutely electric.
Advantage: even

Experience:
The Cubs have a very young roster, but are led by players like Jon Lester and David Ross with a good level of playoff experience.  The Cardinals, however, have been to at least the NLCS every postseason since 2011, playing in 11 different postseason rounds the last four years, winning eight of them.  A majority of the Cardinals roster has stayed the same over much of that span.
Advantage: Cardinals

Managers:
Mike Matheny is in his fourth year as Cardinals manager, and his first three have resulted in NLCS trips, with one NL title.  Joe Maddon has improved the Cubs by 24 wins in his first year in Chicago, after consistently winning with a low payroll in Tampa Bay, including an AL pennant in 2008.  Both are NL Manager of the Year contenders.
Advantage: even

The Cubs have practically become America’s team, as everyone is rooting for the “lovable losers” to make a deep run, as they try to reach their first World Series since 1945.  This series should be wiildly entertaining, and should be very even, but with the Cardinals pitching and their experience in the postseason, I give them the ever-so-slight edge.

The Cardinals will win the series, three games to two.

 

New York Mets vs Los Angeles Dodgers
Game 1: Friday, 9:30 pm ET in Los Angeles, TBS
Game 2: Saturday, 9:00 pm ET in Los Angeles, TBS
Game 3: Monday, TBD in New York, TBS
Game 4: Tuesday, 8:00 pm ET in New York, TBS
Game 5: Thursday, 8:00 pm ET in Los Angeles, TBS

The Mets and Dodgers are both looking to end a long title drought, although the Dodgers are in the postseason for the third straight year, while the Mets are in it for the first time since 2006.  These two teams met in the 1988 NLCS, the year the Dodgers won their last title.  The Mets won four out of the seven regular season meetings.

Starting Pitching:
The Mets have one of the best young rotations in baseball, with four starters of 27 or younger on the postseason roster, plus 42-year old Bartolo Colon.  The Dodgers, however, have two of the best three starters in the NL, if not all of baseball, in Clayton Kershaw (16-7, 2.13 ERA) and Zack Grienke (19-3, 1.66 ERA).  That one-two punch is by far the best in the game.
Advantage: Dodgers (barely)

Bullpen:
The Dodgers have had to rebuild their bullpen quite a bit this season due to various circumstances, not the least of which is injuries, and it shows in a 3.93 ERA which is the second worst among remaining NL playoff teams.  The Mets started the year with a good bullpen, and added on through acquisitions, and it shows as well with a 3.48 mark.
Advantage: Mets

Lineup:
Both offenses have had spurts of excellence, but are middle of the pack statistically.  The Mets offense exploded in the second half after the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes, but their .244 average for the season overall ranked 13th in the NL.  The Dodgers average isn’t much better at .250, ranking 10th, but they are second in the NL in OPS (.739) and first in home runs (187).
Advantage: Dodgers

Atmosphere:
The Dodgers have consistently had a good atmosphere the last two postseasons at home, even though the team hasn’t made it as deep as the fans might have hoped, being eliminated by the Cardinals both years.  Mets fans, however, have waited nine years for this series, since losing Game Seven of the NLCS to the Cardinals, meaning Citi Field should be electric, although three of the five games will be out west.
Advantage: Mets (barely)

Experience:
The Dodgers have been in the playoffs the last two years, although those aren’t necessarily good memories for those players who are still on the roster.  Many of the Mets are making their playoff debuts, but some, like Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Tyler Clippard, among others, have plenty of recent playoff experience through other clubs.  The Dodgers have the edge, but the Mets aren’t completely raw.
Advantage: Dodgers (barely)

Managers:
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has led his team to three straight postseason berths, although he only has one series win to show for it.  Mets skipper Terry Collins has finally managed his way to the playoffs in his fifth season in New York and 11th overall, and is likely a candidate for NL Manager of the Year after winning a division many thought no one but Washington could win.
Advantage: even

Like the Cubs-Cardinals series, this one should see a lot of good pitching and should be very even, and very entertaining to watch.  The Dodgers, however, are just slightly better equipped to win the games necessary to win the series.

The Dodgers will win the series, three games to two.

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