It’s that time of year, when pumpkin beer and flannel shirts appear, when pig(skins) fly and spring’s dreams die, when eight survivors eye each other warily after baseball’s marathon heat and begin to prep for the final three races—the 3K run with two 5Ks to follow.
Also that time of year when anxious seers pull out their Ouija boards (the palantírs of spring having proven a tad murkier than expected, and entrails being a trifle messy) and attempt to divine the future.
Yup, it’s time to either spin the opening-day prognostications (three of eight playoff teams correctly predicted—that’s a .375 average, baby, which is better than Ty Cobb’s lifetime mark) (ahem) or shamelessly move on from them (I’m not here to talk about the past . . . ) and boldly record in the ether one’s (hopefully) prescient impressions of What Will Be in the National League playoffs, which commence today.
(And if one gets it wrong, one can always sing “Qué sera, sera.” Though one will not don a Doris Day wig.)
What?? Just the National League? What’s up, Pilgrim, loyal recollectors of last year’s playoff predictions ask. Last year you gave us the AL and the NL, and the World Series to boot. What gives?
This year, I rely on the insights of my OS bud and resident American League expert Andy Wolfenson—the guy who gives Yankees fans a good name—to offer his insightful outlook on the AL playoffs: here. Andy’s report is chuck full of brilliant analysis and able wit. Go. Study. (Apologies to any that find that sacrilegious.)
As for the World Series, come back in a couple of weeks, and we’ll have something for you. (Unless the Phils somehow don’t make it, and I’m too depressed.)
The National League offers four intriguing teams.
After stumbling the last few weeks, the Atlanta Braves snagged their wild-card entry on the final day of the season. They come in with a strong starting rotation (Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, and Tommy Hanson); an excellent bullpen; and a celebratory/sentimental vibe as they try to capture a second World Series title for manager Bobby Cox, whose last game managing this postseason will be his last game managing after 21 straight seasons at the Braves’ helm. Missing is veteran third baseman Chipper Jones.
The San Francisco Giants surged in the final weeks until nearly stumbling out of the race on the final weekend, only to nab the National League West on the season’s final day. They sport a trio of aces—two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, the able Matt Cain, and lefty Jonathan Sanchez—a superb closer in Brian Wilson, and a team that doesn’t hit a whole lot. The Giants are led by perhaps the most underrated manager of the postseason quartet, Bruce Bochy, in the playoffs for the fifth time in 16 seasons: not a bad record.
The Cincinnati Reds have a power-packed lineup that features probable National League MVP Joey Votto and rightfielder Jay Bruce, good if not great starting pitching, and a bullpen that of four tough lefthanders and the flame-throwing (his pitches easily top 100 miles per hour) Aroldis Chapman. They are led by everyone’s favorite toothpick-chewer, Dusty Baker, taking his third team to the postseason and hoping for his second appearance at a World Series.
The Philadelphia Phillies seek to become the first National League team to win three league championships in a row since the 1942–1944 St. Louis Cardinals. They have ridden experience; the strong arms of aces Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and lefty Cole Hamels*; opportunistic hitting; a bench that came through despite a rash of injuries** (thank you, Wilson Valdez); and the steady hand of manager Charlie Manuel (who should definitely win NL Manager of the Year) to build the best record in baseball. The Phils are riding a sizzling 41-19 record in their last 60 games.
Well, as they say in the fashion biz, one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out. (Hoping Heidi didn’t copyright that.) Which team will stay on the Runway, and which will walk the plank?
In the first half of the first-round, double-elimination challenge, the Braves go against the Giants. The Braves have a very slight edge in hitting, but the Giants have a decided advantage in pitching, with the top earned run average (ERA) and opponents’ batting average in the NL. Home-field advantage in their larger ballpark plays to their strength. In addition, the Braves in the second half of the season have shown pitiful team defense (second most errors in all of baseball). In the last two weeks of the season, in two must-win three-game series against the Phils, they booted the ball and threw it all over the place. I don’t think their relatively inexperienced, Chipper Jones–less team will be able to beat the Giants in what will probably be low-scoring games. San Fran’s Three Aces triumph in four games. Sorry, Bobby. Sorry, T. Michael. Series MVP will be Giants rookie catcher Buster (gotta love that name) Posey.
In the other elimination, the powerful Reds face the starting pitching-rich and should-be powerful Phils. Both teams play in small ballparks, and both pitching staffs gave up a lot of home runs. The balls could be flyin’. My Phils are the favorite in the NL, but they have issues. The lineup has gone strangely futile for long stretches this season; Brad Lidge seems always to be one bad outing away from a crushing loss of confidence; the middle relief can be iffy; and Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco have both been subpar all season due to injuries. But this team is made for September and October, and Roy Halladay, finally enjoying his chance to taste the postseason, is simply not going to lose. Phils in four, with Halladay winning two games and the series MVP.
Take heart, Bea. The Reds are like the ’07 Phils: this is good experience for them. They’ll be back.
Which brings us to Giants and Phils, two teams each holding Three Aces. The Phils have home-field advantage, thanks to their league-best record. They will probably be able to get two games each out of Oswalt, Hamels, and Halladay (if needed). They still have tremendous desire to win and have an uncanny ability to came back against anyone not named Mariano Rivera.
Result? Phils in six for the three-peat. My favorite Panamanian (post–Rod Carew), Carlos “Chooooooooch” Ruiz, takes the MVP. And I’m not just saying that for Mrs. P’s sake.
Will the Phils face last year’s ace Cliff Lee and the rejuvenated Texas Rangers? Will they see former first baseman and all-around Nice Guy Jim Thome and his Minnesota Twins? Will they stage a rematch of the 2008 Series with the Tampa Bay Rays (the Team Without Fans)? Or will they go for revenge of last year’s Series defeat (and, for those of you with long memories, revenge for the four-game sweep of the Whiz Kids back in 1950) and play the Yankees?
Read Andy’s post to find out!
* Halladay won the American League Cy Young Award in 2003, threw a perfect game this May, and is probable winner of this year’s NL award; Oswalt won the National League Championship Series MVP award in 2005 and was only 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA after joining the Phils in July; and Hamels won the MVP awards of the NLCS and the World Series in 2008.
** Six of the Phils’ eight starting position players have been on the disabled list this year. So have two-fifths of the original starting rotation and four of the six bullpen arms that are on the postseason roster. To get through that and have the best record in baseball is why Charlie should be manager of the year. And if your answer is “Well, with that team, how could he lose?” my response is, fine. Then make Ruben Amaro, Jr., executive of the year. Just sayin’.
Words © 2010 AtHome Pilgrim.
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