Views from Sparrow’s Nest: National League Preview
With the MLB regular season coming to a close on Sunday, it’s finally time for October baseball. It’s been a wild year, with home runs leaving the yard at a staggering rate, the defending champion Boston Red Sox failing to make the playoffs and multiple standout rookies breaking out onto the scene. It’s hard not to notice the clear disparity between the top and bottom of the league. Four teams finished with at least 100 wins for the first time in MLB history, while four teams finished with 100 losses for just the second time ever.
As we head into the first week of the postseason, I’m going to give one reason why each National League team could win the World Series and one reason why they won’t, with the American League side coming out next week.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56) Why they will: Cody Bellinger The Dodgers offense is loaded with talent, from mainstays like Justin Turner and Joc Pederson to newcomers like Max Muncy and Will Smith. Nonetheless, there’s no debate about who their most important piece is: Cody Bellinger. The NL MVP front-runner had a monstrous season, launching 47 homers and driving in 115 RBIs while hitting .305. He’ll need to keep up that pace if Los Angeles wants to take home its first title since 1988.
Why they won’t: Starting Rotation I was tempted to say bullpen, but that unit has started to round into form even if Kenley Jansen still has some question marks as the closer. The Dodgers will start the NLDS with the same rotation as the World Series last year, but if Clayton Kershaw can’t solve his postseason problems and Hyun-Jin Ryu continues his recent struggles, then Los Angeles is doomed to end the season in disappointment.
2. Atlanta Braves (97-64) Why they will: Young talent This is an easy one. Atlanta’s surplus of youthful stars is one of the most impressive in the majors, with their best hitter (Ronald Acuña Jr.) and best pitcher (Mike Soroka) both under the age of 23. Thanks to other studs like Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley, the Braves offense will be hard to stop.
Why they won’t: Late-inning relief A huge question all year long, the Braves did their best to bring in some aid at the deadline with Chad Greene, Chris Martin, and Melancon. They’ve pitched better of late and Mark Melancon has been solid as the closer, but I’m not very confident in their high-leverage options.
3. St. Louis Cardinals (91-71) Why they will: Defense I know, you probably weren’t expecting to see defense as the key, but I think it’s fair. The Cardinals have some seriously good defenders in Kolten Wong, Paul DeJong, Paul Goldschmidt and others. When it comes to the postseason, sometimes one diving catch can make all the difference.
Why they won’t: Power-hitting The Cardinals have a number of solid hitters, but in an era of long balls, St. Louis leaves something to be desired. Only finishing 12th in the NL out of 15 teams in terms of home runs and slugging percentage, the Cardinals will need to step up if they want to have any chance of lifting the Commissioner’s Trophy.
4. Washington Nationals (93-69) Why they will: It’s about time Somehow, the Nationals still haven’t won a playoff series since they moved back to Washington. They’ve lost four times in the first round since 2012, and even though they have a great shot to win the wild-card match-up with Max Scherzer on the mound, they have dreams of going much further with help from Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto and Stephen Strasburg.
Why they won’t: Bullpen Another no-brainer, the Nationals had the worst bullpen ERA in all of baseball at 5.66. Closer Sean Doolittle struggled mightily in the second half of the season and guys like Wander Suero, Javy Guerra and Tanner Rainey don’t exactly strike fear into the minds of opposing batters.
5. Milwaukee Brewers (89-73) Why they will: Experience The Brew Crew are a battle-tested ball club, having been within a game of the World Series last year. While they’ve taken a step back this season, they got hot at the right time to nab the second wild card spot. With guys who have won a championship ring already like Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain, not to mention other great veterans like Ryan Braun, Yasmani Grandal and Gio Gonzalez, the Brewers won’t shy away from the big moments.
Why they won’t: Christian Yelich (or lack thereof) This loss stung worse than most. Yelich followed up his MVP 2018 season with an even better one in 2019. He was in striking range of becoming the first 50 home run and 30 stolen base player in MLB history before fouling a ball off his leg that resulted in a broken kneecap. With their star outfielder out for the rest of the year, the Brewers will be forced to look elsewhere for clutch hits.