Now that the Wild Card Games are over and done with, the league division series’ match ups are all set. These are the big boy baseball teams, the division winners, the 100-game winners. Well, except for the first NLDS we’re gonna look at here.
St Louis Cardinals vs Atlanta Braves
These sad-sack also-rans only won 91 and 97 games, respectively (pathetic). And worse than that, they are both total skank teams. I guess I’ll write about them all the same, but jeez. What a wet garbage salad.
The Cardinals are your 2019 NL Central division champions because of course they are. They won on the final day of the season and the Brewers lost, making them the last division winner in baseball to celebrate. But a division title is still a division title, isn’t it. Good for them /makes jerk off motion.
This year’s Cardinals did pretty much everything every Cardinals’ team does all the time. One of their best players (this time it was Jordan Hicks) suffered an awful season-ending injury (he had Tommy John in July) but it’s fine no problem they won without him. They got huge seasons from guys who would be high school coaches by now had they ended up in any other organization (this year it was some guy named Tommy Edman). You know, the Cardinal Way.
Their expensive veterans, Paul Goldschmidt, Yadi Molina, Matt Carpenter, and Dex Fowler all had underwhelming seasons. Goldschmidt in particular, in his first season in St Louis, put up probably the worst season of his career at the age of 31 (his OPS+ was only 113 against his career mark of 141). We can only hope that this is a sign of inevitable decline. Adam Wainwright is 37 and clearly not what he used to be, but he still FIP’d 4.36 in 170 innings.
The team was carried by the slick-fielding middle infield duo of Paul DeJong and Kolten Wong (or as I like to call them, the Ding Dong Double Play Duo). They combined for nearly 9 bWAR by hitting around league average and catching every damn thing. Tommy Edman, a rookie utility man, posted nearly 4 bWAR in a shade more than half a season. They don’t have one terrifying bat in the middle of the lineup like the Braves’ Freddie Freeman or the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, but there aren’t any glaring weak spots, either.
Their pitching staff is anchored by Cy Young candidate Jack Flaherty. He’s only 23 and in just his second full season in the majors, but his second half is among the very best stretches in recent baseball history. In his last 16 starts he posted a 0.93 ERA with a microscopic .419 OPS against. For context, he made 66 plate appearances himself this season and OPS’d .451. The entire league hit like a shitty pitcher against him for three solid months. When the Cardinals needed to win the final game of the season to lock up the division, he threw seven innings of two-hit baseball to ice the Cubs (and the clubhouse champagne). He is terrifying. His rotation mate Miles Mikolas will take the ball for Game 1 this evening. Their bullpen features some legit hammers in the likes of Gio Gallegos, John Brebbia, and Carlos Martinez.
Obviously, the Cardinals are jerks and I hope they lose by a million.
Unfortunately, I’m not all that enthusiastic about the Atlanta Braves, either (#NeverForget1995). But at least they have some legitimately fun players to watch. Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley are just 22, and Ronald Acuna is only 21, but all three are awesome guitar solo radical jams. Acuna in particular is worth the cost of admission. And the real heart of the lineup is Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson who combined for 75 home runs and 67 doubles. They had nine players this year hit double-digit home runs so they can score them in buckets.
Taking the ball for Game 1 is recent free agency cautionary tale Dallas Keuchel*. He didn’t sign until the beginning of June because teams didn’t want to surrender the required draft pick to do so, which is the kind of thing that gets me all nostalgic and Field of Dreamsy about America’s Pastime. He made 19 starts and was kind of a step behind his peak, but the Braves are paying him just $13 million for the pleasure. He’ll re-enter the free agent pool this winter without the draft pick attached.
Now take a big ol’ deep breath. Can you smell that? That’s dewy fresh-cut grass. That’s peanuts and beer. That’s a clear summer sky. That’s labor markets being manipulated by billionaires with anti-trust exemptions. That’s baseball, baby. #WePlayLoud #WePlayForLessThanWeAreWorth
*A brief aside here: the Astros lost both Rays’ WC game starter Charlie Morton and this guy Dally Keuchel in free agency this past winter and still had one of the most incredible rotations in baseball history. And like no big deal they replaced them with Zack Greinke. But we’ll get to the Astros tomorrow.
Atlanta’s best pitcher this year is 21-year-old rookie Mike Soroka. He made 29 starts with a miniscule 2.68 ERA. At a time when even light-hitting middle infielders are regularly bashing 20 home runs, Soroka surrendered just 14 on the season. He’s pretty special. It looks like he is set to start Game 3 in St Louis.
I’m not happy about it, but I’ll be mutedly supporting the Braves in this one.
Washington Nationals vs Los Angeles Dodgers
We talked about the Nationals here, so you can go check that out if you haven’t yet. This whole thing is going to be dedicated to discussing the Dodgers, the most winning-ass team in the National League this season.
The Dodgers have not missed the postseason since all the way back in 2012, which I don’t know if you can remember back that far, but basically the Dodgers have been good for as long as the Reds have been bad. This season they won 106 games and had the NL West wrapped up by the end of May (Seriously! They had a nine-game lead on June 1!). They win by doing two things really well: they score lots of runs and they stop the other team from scoring lots of runs. MVP-favorite Cody Bellinger is the keystone of the lineup. He slashed .305/.406/.629 with 47 dingers and nearly as many walks as strikeouts (95/108). He is among the very best baseball players on the planet right now and he’s just 23.
And he ain’t alone. The Dodgers feature 11 players who hit double-digit dingoes this season, with guys like Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, and Corey Seager high-fiving everybody all the time. Their lineup is stacked top to bottom and they scored nearly 900 runs this season.
And their pitching staff is even better! Their ace 24-year-old Walker Buehler will start Game 1 this evening. He threw 182.1 innings to the tune of a 3.26 ERA and a K/BB close to 6.0. They also feature a co-ace and Cy Young candidate Hyun-Jin Ryu, who posted a 2.32 ERA in 29 starts. And let’s not forget their co-co-ace Clayton Kershaw. Their bullpen is anchored by relief demon Kenley Jansen and a bunch of firefighters like Pedro Baez, Joe Kelly, Dylan Floro, and Julio Urias.
The Dodgers give me lots of weird baseball feels. On one hand, I sympathize a bit with them because they have been so good for so long but they haven’t yet made it over the top. They’ve lost the last two Worlds Series and it’d be cool to see Kershaw finally shake off his postseason rep and hoist the flag. On the other hand, they spend way more money than just about every team in baseball and it’s a little tired already. But then again, it really ain’t their fault that other teams are more concerned with myopic year-to-year budget balancing than with fucking winning the baseball (I’m absolutely talking about who you think I’m talking about).
But most importantly, the Dodgers are fun. Bellinger’s swang is a beautiful thang, man. Muncy and Turner are having way more fun than is appropriate for general audiences. Buehler eats eyeballs for breakfast and you all know about Kershaw at this point. They are an incredible collection of talent and despite my humble Midwestern sensibilities I’m all in with these Hollywood boys. And, I mean, the other three NL teams still going at this leave quite a bit to be desired.
We’ll take a look at the Junior Circuit squads tomorrow.
While you’re checking out the MLB squads that are still plying their 2019 trades, check in with the FanPulse polls and let them know how you think the Cincinnati Reds are doing this week after the latest round of news. Y’know, the ‘hired Kyle Boddy’ and ‘might try to sign Yasmani Grandal’ kind of news. You can check out where your confidence in the team has been all season long here, and, as always, if you’d like to sign up to receive weekly emails that let you voice your opinion on such FanPulsey things, you can do that by clicking here.