Wednesday, October 2, 2013

NLDS Predictions: I Feel Confident, Which Is Never Good

Countdown to Letdown
I don't know about you, but I never come to a baseball playoff prediction with any measure of certainty... and the play-in game really doesn't help. The surviving team comes in with a strong sense of relief and momentum. since a one-game playoff season is a nightmare way to end the season.

Of course, since this is the most foolhardy sport to bet, it's also the one that I've had the most success in. Go figure.


Plus, the more I looked at these teams, the more the picks seem strong and obvious to me, to the point where it was hard to make the case for the other way. So I'm completely hosed. And so are you, if you follow my advice.

And with that... on to the picks!

CARDINALS over Pirates

It's Pittsburgh's first time in the playoffs since ordinary people began using the Internet, and after beating down the Reds, they get their division rival, rested and at home. And the really sad part about all of this is that the Cards are that worst of playoff teams: incredibly deep on offense, without dependent on Big Power to score their runs. St. Louis ranked second in the NL in OPS, only 8 points behind altitude-aided Colorado, and with the kind of OBP (best in the NL) and pitch count grinders that just turn starting pitchers into mulch in October pressure. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is a boom-bust team with an awful lot of bust in the mix. Third in the league in homers but ninth in runs, ordinary in OBP, with guys like Pedro Alvarez and Russell Martin either giving you everything or nothing. Against a good pitching staff in unprecedented tension, they aren't going to swing it free and easy.

Well, how about the pitching? It's pretty even at the entire team level, but you don't use your entire team in the playoffs; it's just your best starters and short relievers, and you have to give St. Louis the edge here with Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, wunderkind Michael Wacha and the surging Lance Lynn overcoming Alex Burnett, Jeff Locke, Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano. The Pitt starters aren't used to working this deep in the year, as their September numbers show (only Cole and Charlie Morton were under 4 in the past 30 days), and even the vaunted Pirate bullpen is looking a little lacking these days, because relying on Kyle Farnsworth while people are watching rarely goes well. Finally, there's the experience and home field advantage. St Louis has both.

Can the Pirates win this? Of course; it's baseball. They have the best all-around player in the National League in Andrew McCutcheon, but as good he is, he's probably not ready to carry a team under the lights, and when your second-best hitter is the rental Marlon Byrd, that's not getting it done. But if they can somehow steal a game on the road, then come home and have a raucous Yinzer crowd that just remembered baseball exists, and are ready to mark out huge in a year without Steeler wins... well, could get interesting.

But that's not how you bet.

Cards in three.

DODGERS over Braves


Picking the Braves to fail in the playoffs rarely requires much of a reason; just go off historical precedent, and you're golden. But there are big tangible reasons, too. Atlanta may not be actually all that great; they basically had two big streaks to run off and hide from one of the worst divisions in MLB, making their 96 wins less than terrifying. They lead the league in HRs but have the same OPS as the Dodgers, because when they aren't going deep, they are going back to the dugout with the most whiffs in the league. Perhaps that's not so awful if the hard to believe Dan Uggla isn't playing, and they can also avoid BJ Upton... but it's not as if they can bench Justin Upton, and Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson have holes in the swing that quality pitching will expose, too. I expect them to break out and win a game with ease, but for the most part, they aren't going to connect.

Pitching wise, they can close with a vengeance; Craig Kimbrel, David Carpenter and Luis Avilan are absolutely lights out. But from the starters, only Kris Medlen has been really good recently, and he's not better than Clayton Kershaw. As for Mike Minor, Paul Maholm and Julio Teheran, they aren't bad, but they aren't great, either... and now we get to the Dodgers.

The feeling about LA is that if they ever got everyone healthy -- everyone including Matt Kemp and to a much lesser extent, Andre Ethier - they'd be dominant. But they won 92 games anyway, in a quality division, after a slow start, and Hanley Ramirez, when he's been on the field, has been the best player in the NL. They've also gotten a stunningly good year from Jose Uribe, still have the secretly good stick of Adrian Gonzalez hiding in plain sight... and I can't help but think that Yasiel Puig might have another gear to show us after finishing the year slow.

Pitching-wise, they'll be able to throw Kershaw twice, and it's not as if Zach Greinke is a day at the beach, either. If they need go to a third starter, Hyun-Jin Ryu will suffice, and the secret shame of the Dodgers -- weak 4/5 work from people like Ricky Nolasco and Edinson Volquez -- won't matter in the playoffs. At the end, Kenley Jansen is terrifying, Brian Wilson has been good and healthy for a surprising amount of time, and Jay Howell is also doing some things. But I don't think they are going to need a lot of depth to get through the whiffing Braves.

There's also this. Atlanta's got the worst home-field advantage in the playoffs, with indifferent and karma-crushing crowd. Isn't two decades of fail enough to give you rednecks the clue that chanting like old-time movie Indians isn't working out? Plus, they've seen so many playoff teams take the pipe that they are just expecting it at this point. At least this year, the end will come on the road.

Dodgers in four.

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