In the East, Pittsburgh grabbed a division title while the real fireworks came from Washington- they rattled off seven straight wins to snatch the final wild card spot from first time owner coachdeal10 and the Houston Astros. So can Washington ride that momentum through their first-round matchup with Chicago?
#3 Chicago Cubs (arodsagent2) 96-66, 851 RS (5th), 765 RA (6th)
#6 Washington D.C. Nationals (chase39) 88-74, 916 RS (2nd), 793 RA (9th)
Season Series: 5-5
A dead even season matchup between these two teams sets the stage for what should be a very good series. Chicago's offense boasts six hitters with a .500+ SLG, including the 2-3-4 combo of Cory Sherman, Victor Solano and Edgardo Calles. Combatting the Cubs' big bats will be a Nationals' staff lacking that go-to starter. While Dave Rizzo posted a career best 18 wins, hitters won't be losing any sleep before facing him. Getting closer Vin Toca from Cincinnati helped solidify an already sound bullpen, but they'll need to be at their best against this Cubs' lineup.
With only one pitcher starting 30 games due to injuries, the Cubs have gotten used to counting on their bullpen to win games. And despite 28 blown saves, the Cubs went an NL best 28-16 in one-run games. Cesar Gill is probably still their best starting option, and then Joey Caldwell and the bullpen step in to hold down the fort. And they'll certainly have their hands full facing the best offense not in Coors in the NL. A young nucleus of Miller Locke, D'Angelo DeLeon and Evan Strange powers Washington's offense. They should force Chicago to dip into that bullpen early and often.
Prediction: In a real tight series Washington's offense will carry them to a certain point, but their pitching won't keep the lid on the Cubs' enough to take the series. Chicago in five.
#4 Pittsburgh Pirates (afatrain) 89-73, 779 RS (11th), 677 RA (3rd)
#5 San Diego Padres (Natic_Empire) 100-62, 798 RS (7th), 676 RA (2nd)
Season Series: 6-4 PIT
These two teams are very similar to each other, built on pitching and small ball. While Pittsburgh's offense was 4th in AVG and 2nd in SB, they were 14th in SLG. Rolando Diaz is the big bat, and he's surrounded by solid contact hitters and a couple speedsters. But San Diego's pitchers are usually up to the task, led by Cy Young candidate Fergie McLemore, RP Pascual Barrios and a very solid staff all the way through. The starters racked up an astounding 20 complete games, so the Padres bullpen shouldn't get too taxed.
The Pirates' pitching, while similar to the Padres' in numbers, is much different in its makeup. Veteran Jared Peters and ROY hopeful Lew Cannon do cause fits for opposing hitters, but the Pirates aren't afraid to go to the pen as that's where the real strength lies. They just need to get the ball to closer Albert Dorsey, and he usually takes care of the rest. Of course all San Diego needs is some baserunners to make magic happen. They led the majors with 292 SB, having five guys with 20+ SB. The centerpiece of this crew is Giomar Lugo, who put up a ridiculous 40-2B, 31 HRs, and 112 SB.
Prediction: As I write this, Pittsburgh is up 2-0 in the series. I planned on picking SD, so I'm gonna stick with that and say the Padres rally back at home to even the series and take game five in PIT. (This is obviously not a wise choice, but since I wanted to have this out yesterday I don't want to flip-flop my guess based on games played) San Diego in five.
Waiting in the Wings
#1 Atlanta Braves (shakazulu5) 103-59, 909 RS (3rd), 669 RA (1st)
The Braves appear to be in good shape to defend their title having earned home-field advantage after posting a 56-25 home record during the season. MVP candidate Miguel Martin and 1B Garrett Woodson garner most of the attention, while the rest of the lineup is not flashy but still quite productive focusing on getting on-base and gap-to-gap power.
After last year's CYA winner Sam Betemit and this year's Cy Young candidate Vinny Andrews, the staff is not overly impressive. But, like their hitting, the Braves' strength is not having any glaring weaknesses. Expect the staff to be even tougher once the rotation is shortened for the playoffs.
Outlook: A second-round matchup with SD or PIT will be a tough test, as the offense has gone through droughts at times. But with the pitching able to pick them up, I'll take Atlanta in six.
#2 Colorado Rockies (mr_stickball) 100-62, 1064 RS (1st), 848 RA (11th)
Any discussion involving Colorado's chances has to start with the offense, having outscored the next closest offense by 148 runs and leading the league in most every offensive statistic. They have four guys with over 40 HRs in the lineup, led by Humberto Rincon and his 64 dingers, while Nigel Shibata sets the table atop the order. The Rockies will be in any game strictly because of this potent attack.
Pitching in Coors is never a good thought, but Cy Young hopeful Vin Moya and crafty veteran Vin Navarre have led this staff to the least runs allowed in the Rockies' history. Aaron Wright heads a bullpen that thins out after the first few solid arms. With the opposing pitching always better in the playoffs, Colorado's starters will need to give quality starts to keep the pen fresh and give the offense a good chance to bust out.
Outlook: Colorado's impressive hitting would be put to a bigger test playing Chicago, but they have too much firepower. The Rockies' pitching is good enough to keep the Cubs' offense at bay and Colorado should advance in six.
NLCS Prediction: Another battle of the top two seeds, this one would be a real tight one. I'm not sure that Atlanta's pitching is strong enough to contain the Rockies' bats, but the Braves' offense is certainly no slouch either. This series may come down to a couple low-scoring games, and I'm giving the edge to Atlanta simply based on their depth for late inning close games. Braves in seven.