New and old faces of October baseball clash in the 2017 National League Division Series. Bryce Harper and the Nationals will take on “Bryzo” and the Cubs. The young and talented Dodgers will square off against division-rival Diamondbacks. The Cubs, Nationals, and Dodgers have all played in multiple postseasons the last 5 years. Arizona, however, hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011. To say these matchups will be action-packed is an understatement, as each team contains star players that can carry their respective team through the playoffs and to a World Series ring. 

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NLDS: (3) Chicago Cubs vs. (2) Washington Nationals

 

Biggest Question: Will Bryce Harper be healthy enough to be productive?

 

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The reigning and defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs are set to square off against the Washington Nationals. The Cubs have had decent success against the NL East champions, winning three of the seven games played. Against Washington’s pitching, Chicago has posted a meager .221 AVG with 12 HR and 28 runs scored this season. They have struck out 78 times (11.14 times per game) when playing them. But, it’s not all bad for the Cubbies. In the month of September, they held an OBP of .350 while clubbing 29 HR and driving in 126 runs. They have arguably been the league’s hottest offensive team heading into the postseason, with Kyle Schwarber regaining his confidence at the dish after an absolutely dismal start to his campaign.

However, the Cubs’ pitching has not fared well against this ultra-talented Washington lineup. They have an inflated 5.31 team ERA in the seven games played against the Nats. Another point to add is the poor performance of Cubs’ ace, Jake Arrieta. As he limps his way into the playoffs, he owns a 6.10 ERA spanning over this past month. Evidently, something is wrong with Arrieta. His control has not been there, along with his movement on his fastball and offspeed pitches. If the Cubs have any chance of beating anyone this October, they are going to need him to take the ball and be effective every time they give him the ball. Another point to add is the phenomenal job their bullpen has done throughout this past month. In twelve appearances during September, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon have not let up a single earned run during that span. Wade Davis has also collected five saves while striking out 21 batters. This bullpen needs to continue their success against the Nationals if they want to have a shot at defending their title.

The Nationals have beat up on Chicago’s pitching staff, slugging nine home runs in seven games, causing the Cubs’ ERA versus the Nats to climb to a 5.31. Also, their hitters have walked a total of 26 times, racking up the pitch counts of each arm that the Cubbies have thrown against them. Michael Taylor, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, and Trea Turner all have batting averages against Chicago over .300 while combining for 17 RBI’s. But the biggest question remains: will Bryce Harper be healthy enough to produce in the playoffs? The brutal knee injury suffered led the superstar to miss a total of 42 games, and his health leaves an enormous question mark right in the middle of this lineup. With that said, the middle of Washington’s order has provided them with enough runs necessary to win ballgames all season long, and they, along with Harper, will definitely be needed to claim victory in the NLDS.

While playing the Cubs, the Nats’ staff has posted a moderate 3.92 ERA with only 10 earned runs given up during those seven games. Their starting rotation has a combined ERA of 2.22 when facing Cubs’ hitters. In September, Stephen Strasburg has been phenomenal, posting a 0.83 ERA in five games while striking out a total of 40 batters. With his performance this past month, he has thrust himself into the NL Cy Young conversation. Another arm in Washington’s staff enjoying success lately is veteran Sean Doolittle. Since joining the club, he has been simply masterful. In his 30 games with his new club, he has recorded a 2.40 ERA while earning 21 saves. The Achilles heel of this team was the absence of a consistent closer after they let All-Star closer Mark Melancon walk away in free agency this past winter. Now, they have found just that and have practically solidified the back-half of their bullpen.

In my mind, this matchup heavily favors the Nationals. Their starting rotation has been rock-solid the entire season, especially against the Cubs. This star-studded lineup for Washington has been just as good as their pitching, hammering out the third-most hits (1477) and knocking in the most RBI’s (796) in the National League. With a postseason hero such as Daniel Murphy leading the charge, it would be hard to bet against the Nationals as they attempt to take down the reigning champions of the Fall Classic.

Prediction: Washington wins the series 3-1 as they get over their proverbial “postseason hump”, as Daniel Murphy adds to his outstanding postseason hitting performances. The Cubs struggle to find offense as Strasburg and Scherzer baffle them. Harper, Murphy, and Rendon all go yard at least once during this series. 

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NLDS: (4) Arizona Diamondbacks vs. (1) Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Biggest Question: Can Los Angeles regain their swagger? 

 

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In one of the wildest and high-scoring playoff games in history, the Diamondbacks claimed victory by a score of 11-8 against the Rockies. Now, this sets up a battle of divisional foes who are quite familiar with each other, and this could potentially be the best series of the 2017 postseason.

Arizona has handled Los Angeles well, taking eight of eleven games from the winningest team in the league. In 19 total games played against the Dodgers, Arizona has hit an impressive 32 HR while walking 60 times. Also, J.D. Martinez has only played in nine of those 19 meetings. But in those, he clubbed 5 home runs while collecting eight RBI’s. Since joining the D-Backs, he has swung the bat as well as anyone in baseball. In 62 games, he hit .302 with 29 HR and 65 RBI’s. He has truly been a catalyst for this dangerous Arizona offense, as they already had Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. This lineup has unlimited potential, with a handful young players stepping up and producing at high volumes. Jake Lamb, the 26-year-old third-baseman, smashed 30 HR and drove in 105 RBI’s this season, making him a true x-factor in this divisional series. This lineup has already proven that they can score runs in pressure-packed games such as the Wild Card. If they continue to produce, it will be difficult for the Dodgers pitching staff to slow them down, as their regular season statistics prove furthermore.

The Diamondbacks’ pitching staff has been solid as well, contributing to their 93 win season with a 3.66 team ERA while averaging 9.26 strikeouts per nine innings. In the 19 games played versus the Dodgers this season, this Arizona staff has posted a 3.61 ERA while collecting a staggering 175 strikeouts. Robbie Ray has undoubtedly been their biggest surprise and most consistent starter, earning a 2.89 ERA and winning 15 games this season. Also, Ray averages a phenomenal 12.11 strikeouts per nine innings. Zack Greinke has had a bounce-back season, winning 17 games with a 3.20 ERA and striking out 215 batters. As for the bullpen, Archie Bradley has carried the load with 25 total holds while posting an impressive 1.73 ERA. The aging Fernando Rodney has found new life in Arizona, picking up 39 saves, which is tied for third amongst National League closers. If this offense can score early to support its pitching staff, this could turn into a very interesting series.

Los Angeles has limped and crawled their way into October, winning just 12 of 29 games in the month of September. With Clayton Kershaw coming off of his stint on the DL, he posted an uncharacteristic 3.48 ERA this past month, proving that he still might not be 100% healthy heading into the postseason. Their team ERA ended up sitting at a 3.38, which was still good enough to earn them the best team ERA in the entire National League. This might come as a shock to most, as their bullpen was atrocious throughout this past month. Kenley Jansen would be the exception to this though, capping off his outstanding 2017 regular season in style with six saves and 16 strikeouts. But even with this slump occurring, the Dodgers are loaded with quality arms. Yu Darvish adds exceptional talent and experience to this relatively inexperienced starting rotation, and Kenley Jansen can carry the Dodgers’ bullpen through the playoffs, proving last postseason that he can throw more than one inning per appearance.

The Dodgers’ offense also had struggles last month. They hit for a poor .223 BA and only drove in 108 total runs (3.72 runs per game). When the offense struggled, the pitching excelled, and vice versa. Simply said, LA just couldn’t put it together this past month. Their offense heavily relies on Justin Turner, Corey Seager, and rookie Cody Bellinger to drive in runs. They have combined for 245 RBI’s and 82 HR during the regular season. Another fascinating attribute for the Dodgers is that they do not rely on the home run as heavily as most teams. The league average for runs scored via the home run sits at a 42.41%. The Dodgers scored only 40.23% of their runs off of the home run ball, which is 20th in the MLB in that department. That could be good or bad depending on how you look at it. But, Los Angeles definitely scores enough runs, given the fact that they won 104 games, which led the entire MLB. It will definitely be interesting to see how they swing the bats this time around, considering that they hit for a paltry .217 AVG and struck out 24.57% of the time last October.

Prediction: Dodgers win the series 3-1. Justin Turner continues to swing the bat well as he goes yard twice in the series. Chris Taylor records 8 hits in the series. Kershaw dominates. As for the D-Backs, Robbie Ray shines and gets his first career playoff win as he proceeds to add to his rookie resume. “Goldy” and Martinez swing the bats well, but it simply won’t be enough to take down the best team from the regular season.

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James “Jeep” DiCioccio

jeepdicioccio2@gmail.com

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