James Rowe’s Takes On National League Wild Card Round
Los Angeles Dodgers vs Milwaukee Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers snuck into the playoffs, and are clearly the weakest squad in this postseason. That being said, they’re in and Milwaukee will be looking to upset everyone. There is some talent, but expect them to put up a fight. The offense is mediocre, which could hurt the Brewers in the postseason. It doesn’t help that their best hitter Christian Yelich is having a down season. If Yelich can step it up and others like Keston Hiura and Ryan Braun pick up the slack, then the offense might be okay.
The rotation is a bit of a mixed bag, but there are some talented starting pitchers. Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes are excellent arms and match up well against whomever they face. Past those two, it’s a question mark. The bullpen, on the other hand, is the strongest part of this squad and could determine whether or not they advance. Josh Hader, Freddy Peralta, Devin Williams, Brent Suter, and Eric Yardley have been so good that a bullpen game might be needed to advance further into the playoffs. Their bullpen is one of the best in the NL.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers are again in the playoffs and with the best record in the NL. Los Angeles is one of the most complete teams in either league and is a favorite to win the pennant. Los Angeles has stumbled short of the prize in recent years and it has been 32 years since its last championship. This year the Dodgers have a great chance. Los Angeles has a lot of thump in their bats and has probably the best lineup in the league. With Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, and Corey Seager leading this team, they’ll be tough to beat. Every opponent’s pitching staff will have to be careful.
The rotation is also very deep and probably in the top five of the league. Clayton Kershaw has been sensational this year, but with others, such as Dustin May and Walker Buehler, a short series looks to be easy no matter whom they face. The rotation might be the strongest part of an already deep team. The bullpen is also strong and could also be one of the best in the league. With arms such as Kenley Jansen, Jake McGee, and Blake Treinen, the bullpen should be able to dominate. Brusdar Graterol also has great stuff and a name to keep an eye on.
Prediction: Los Angeles in two.
Atlanta Braves vs Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds seemed dead going into September. But an 11-3 record in the last two weeks of the season put them into the playoffs. The Reds are a scary team that could make a deep run in the postseason. Cincinnati is a dark horse candidate to win the pennant. The offense was frustrating to watch for most of the season, but there is a lot of thump in this lineup. Nicholas Castellanos, Jesse Winker, Joey Votto, and Mike Moustakas can all go deep, which makes this a very balanced lineup. If this team can get on base, they should have no problem scoring runs.
The rotation is the strength of the Reds. There are three legitimate aces on the roster. Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray, and Luis Castillo are all dominant and no team wants to face them in a short series. Wade Miley and Tyler Mahle have also pitched well and will provide depth if needed. The bullpen was very bad until the mid-season, but it came around and looks to match up well against other teams. With Archie Bradley, Amir Garrett, Lucas Sims, Michael Lorenzen, and Raisel Iglesias in the bullpen, teams should be watching out. Don’t sleep on this group.
The Atlanta Braves are a young, but very talented team. One could argue they rival the dominant Braves teams of the ’90s and 2000’s in terms of talent. They certainly are exciting to watch. The Braves are built to become a dynasty and have already won their third straight Eastern Division title. With all that talent, the Braves are likely to make the World Series in the near future. If one wants to talk about offense, Atlanta has it. The lineup is led by Freddie Freeman, who is surrounded by a young core of Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Austin Riley. Veterans Adam Duvall, Nick Markakis, and Travis d’Arnaud have also added to the thump in the lineup. Still, it was the signing of Marcell Ozuna that paid the most dividends. He has been the Braves most productive hitter and could be the NL Most Valuable Player. This is an offense no pitching staff will want to face.
But the rotation is a big question mark. Max Fried and Ian Anderson have been the team’s best starters. Fried has dealt with injury issues of late and Anderson is inexperienced. After that, the options are thin and unreliable. The loss of Mike Soroka and Cole Hamels to injury hurt Atlanta’s chances for a deep playoff run. That being said, the Braves have a strong bullpen that could be used to mitigate the problems with the rotation. The bullpen has eight members that have an ERA under 3.00. With the likes of Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Darren O’Day, and Chris Martin, that’s a strong core in the bullpen to have on any team. In a short series, the bullpen could actually help them advance possibly even to the NL Championship Series.
Prediction: Cincinnati in three.
Miami Marlins vs Chicago Cubs
This could be the last chance for this group to make a championship run. There is a lot of talent here, but the future for some of the players is uncertain. Whether there is enough talent on this team to succeed is unclear, but it is the playoffs and anything could happen for the Chicago Cubs. Despite a hot start to the season, the team has played under .500 since then. Offensively, this team should be hitting well, but the Cubs are struggling with a team batting average of .220 and an OPS of .705. The core of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Willson Contreras must hit better if they are to advance to the World Series. Otherwise, it’s going to be a struggle.
The rotation, on the other hand, is the biggest reason they could succeed. Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish have been wonderful this season. Having those two for a short series is key. After them, Adbert Alzolay or Alec Mills will have to step up. The bullpen has been the Achilles’ Heel for Chicago. It has struggled all season. Jeremy Jeffress has been the most consistent member, but outside of him and Dan Winkler, none of them are reliable. With Jose Quintana likely to pitch out of the bullpen, the hope is that he can alleviate the woes.
The biggest reason the Cubs may get past this round is that the Miami Marlins might be in the postseason prematurely. This is the Marlins first trip to the postseason since 2003, and are in the middle of a rebuild and wasn’t expected to compete. Moreover, the team had to deal with an outbreak of COVID-19 early on. However, in a shortened season, the team managed to sneak in and are now showing the league the young talent they have. Other teams should remember that both times the Marlins went to the playoffs they won the World Series. Could that happen again in 2020?
In this crazy year, it’s possible. The offense has a mix of young talent and established veterans, which might be why the Marlins were successful. However, the offense isn’t very imposing. It might be difficult for them to advance if they face great pitching. It all depends on whether the Marlins can get timely hits in the postseason. Brian Anderson has been their best hitter in a breakout season. The lineup also has players like Starling Marte, Jesus Aguilar, and Corey Dickerson whose experience could help in the playoffs. How Miami hits in the postseason could determine how deep they go.
The pitching, by contrast, has been fantastic. The rotation is young and talented. The young pitchers will give the baseball world a glimpse of the Marlins’ potential. Sixto Sanchez might become their best pitcher in a couple of years, but his stuff has already made him a sensation. Sandy Alcantara and Daniel Castano have also been outstanding. The bullpen has been very strong, in large part because it is full of experienced arms. With such pitchers as Brandon Kintzler, Richard Bleier, and Brad Boxberger— all older than 28 — the Marlins have a talented and reliable bullpen that will not wilt under postseason pressure.
Prediction: Chicago in three.
St. Louis Cardinals vs San Diego Padres
San Diego Padres
The young and talented San Diego Padres are one of the most exciting teams in baseball. They are also a hot pick to win the pennant and for good reason. San Diego has a bright future. The offense has been exciting, led by talents such as Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, and Wil Myers. With another sensational rookie in Jake Cronenworth, the Padres have a strong core and deep lineup. There is not really an easy out in the lineup.
The rotation is very strong and has plenty of options for a short series. Zach Davies, Dinelson Lamet, and Mike Clevinger seem to be sure bets to pitch in this series as they all had a fantastic season. Chris Paddack could also get a chance, but likely only if the team advances. The bullpen is the biggest question mark. While Drew Pomeranz, Matt Strahm, and Pierce Johnson have been reliable, the rest of the bullpen has been only okay and must step up in a big way if the Padres are to go deep in the playoffs. Otherwise, they should be okay here in this regard.
St. Louis Cardinals
After a COVID-19 outbreak forced the team to be idle for roughly two weeks, the St. Louis Cardinals had to jam a chunk of their schedule into a short amount of time. They overcame the pressure of multiple makeup doubleheaders to edge into the playoffs. While the Cardinals are not a strong team, they should not be taken lightly. St. Louis has been in the postseason before and their experience should help carry them. The offense is about average. While not imposing, St. Louis has some dangerous hitters like Paul Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong, and Matt Carpenter. That being said, some in this lineup are having down years, which could hurt their chances of making a deep playoff run.
Not only is the offense average, so is the rotation. The biggest disappointment has been Jack Flaherty, but the hope is he can get back on track for the playoffs. Adam Wainwright has been good this season, but Kwang Hyun Kim has pitched the best for St. Louis. The bullpen has been awesome, though, and could be the reason the team moves on. Austin Gomber, Andrew Miller, Tyler Webb, and Giovanny Gallegos have been dominant for the club and a bullpen game is not out of the question. St. Louis might need to increase its reliance on the bullpen if they want to advance.
Prediction: San Diego in two.
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