NL Playoffs Preview: The NLDS Is Riding Out With New Money  

The NLDS is destined to be a wild, wild west kind of situation.

The NLDS is destined to be a wild, wild west kind of situation. The four squads are very familiar with each other, but the elements of mystery are abundant as there are many first-timers in the mix.  There’s “The Wild Horse” Yasiel Puig’s first playoffs, the high-priced Upton Brothers’ first title run in a Braves uniform and of course Pittsburgh’s historic rise on baseball’s billboard charts.  

The Bucs and St. Louis have been neck and neck all season long, battling it out for NL Central supremacy,  so don’t expect that matchup to be much different. It will probably go the distance, as both teams can bring the arms, and will be decided by a bounce of the ball or a stroke of strategic genius. 

The Pirates have the wickedest 1-4 rotation in the NL with Francisco Liriano (who can’t pitch until Game 3) veteran hurler A.J. Burnett, Charlie Morton and the young gunner Gerrit Cole. The Cardinals playoff pitching has been a strength of their recent championship teams. In three postseasons (’06, ’09, ’12) Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94 ERA) has never lost a game, but with St. Louis’ rotation looking more unorganized than usual, he’ll have to come up extra big. 

It will also come down to who can really do it in the mix, with the sticks.

The Cardinals scored 77 more runs than any other NL team and have a lineup in which every regular has a better OPS than the NL average of .703. 

 According to gantdaily.com,“the Pirates are easily the lowest-scoring team to make the postseason this year, and will be the lowest-scoring team to make the playoffs since at least 2002.” However, the mid-season additions of Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau give the Buccos lineup much-needed punch and balance.

 Any baseball purist or champion of underdogs will be pulling for Pittsburgh, making the franchise’s first playoff appearance in 21 years. The Pirates are the get-hyped story of the year as Andrew McCutchen, NL home run champ Pedro Alvarez and a crop of dependable arms, have turned the stars of baseball’s Hard Knock Life Tour into players in a “Resurrection” video.

The excitement surrounding their 94- win season and playing a division rival adds to the series drama. This is a new experience for this generation of disgruntled Pirates fans. The old heads, once spoiled during the golden days in the ‘60s and ‘70s, are again making that trek over Roberto Clemente Bridge with optimism in their eyes.

They have dusted off the tight-fitting Willie Stargell jerseys, and I think I even saw a Bobby Bonilla throwback joint in the crowd at PNC Park on Tuesday night. There the Pirates dusted off the Cincinnati Reds 6-2 in the National League Wild Card Game, in front of a record 40, 487 rowdy ass fans.

St. Louis is steady flexin’ its EPMD status – Business As Usual. The Cards are in the playoffs for the ninth time in the past 14 years and are two years removed from a World Series title. In searching for some incentive to match the Pirates’ playoff high, the Cards motto could be, “Win this one for Carlos (Beltran).”

 A World Series title would go a long way in repairing Beltran’s damaged image  from when he played for the NY Mets and struck out looking to end Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS against Wainwright and the Cards.

Other than that, St. Louis knows this drill as well as anybody, and anything less than a title is a failure. Unfortunately, it’s the Pirates time to shine and TSL is picking them to win in five. 

The Dodgers and Atlanta got to the same place in completely opposite ways. LA had a roller coaster year, starting off miserably and mired in injuries and rumors of Don Mattingly’s soundboy burial.

Atlanta sunk its claws into the NL East early and never relinquished its stronghold, playing consistent baseball and cruising into the playoffs with 96 wins. The Braves have been asleep for so long, the big question will be if they can turn it up another notch to meet the challenge of playoff teams that are far better than the pansies they pushed around in the NL East.

 The Dodgers and Braves both have aspects of shutdown pitching. LA is loaded with starting hurlers. NL Cy Young frontrunner Clayton Kershaw flaunts the NL’s best ERA (1.83), strikeout total (232), walks & hits per inning pitched clip (.915), and he might not even be their best pitcher. Zack Greinke (2.63 ERA) is an Orel Hershiser clone and Hyun-jin Ryu (3.00) gets it in as well. Those three guys can end a series with the quickness.

The Braves Game 1 starter Kris Medlen is still growing into a monster and over the past month he has 0.84 ERA and a .204 batting average against, but the Braves bullpen is the killer. Playoff contests are all about the last three innings and usually it’s not the starter out there in those crucial moments.  Atlanta’s bullpen led the NL with a 2.46 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, and lights out closer Craig Kimbrel is stingy as hell (career ERA of 1.39). He led the NL in saves for the third straight year.

If the Braves can get a pulse from B.J. Upton, then maybe they can steal this series from a Dodgers squad who has more talent on paper, but is a bit banged up. Matt Kemp’s ankle has rendered him useless. Fellow slugger Andre Ethier also has a bum ankle and his status is iffy.

Puig burnt out down the stretch, hitting .189 over his last 17 games. The Dodgers are hoping he can perform at a level somewhere in between his auspicious start and rough ending.

Atlanta won’t overpower you offensively, so if LA’s aces pitch to the back of their baseball cards, we’ll go with the Dodgers in 4.