Nationals Baseball: Division Series Picks and Preview Pt 1

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Division Series Picks and Preview Pt 1

We'll start with the picks. (Except the Nats series - since I'm deep diving I'll leave that until tomorrow)

ALCS : Indians - Yankees. The Yankees might have been the second best team in baseball this year. It may be hard to believe that but it's true. You look at the runs they scored and the runs they allowed playing in the (once again) best division in baseball and you come away with the feeling that this was team that didn't catch the breaks on the field (18-26 in one run games). Yet they still won 91 games and were in contention for a division title until the last week against a very very good Red Sox team. The problem for the Yankees is they are probably up against the best team in baseball this year. One that after a middling May has been gaining momentum like a rolling stone. 15-12 in June, 15-11 in July, 19-9 in August, 25-4 in September. 25-4! What I think will tip the scales is the Indians rotation and the WC game giving them just enough advantage that they will have more leads to let their excellent pen hold on to then the Yankees will.  Indians in 5. 

ALCS : Astros - Red Sox. The Astros and Red Sox met in the last series of the year and a half-trying Houston won three of four from a Red Sox team who needed a win in every game but 162. The Red Sox have one big advantage over the Astros and that's a very very good bullpen, up there with the Indians and Yankees. The question is going to be whether they can get to it with a lead. I don't think they will. Another team maybe, but the Astros hit homers, and the Red Sox team, even guys like Sale, can give them up. The match up is bad on that end. The flip side - Astros pitching vs Red Sox hitting - is more even but as long as the Astros starters can keep Boston down, the Red Sox will be playing catch-up most of the series. Eventually playing catch-up catches up with you. Astros in 4. 

NLCS ; Dodgers - Diamondbacks.  The cliche response here would be to ask "which Dodgers show up" but the short of it that what we saw was an aberration. We saw the best month of pitching line up with the best month of hitting and vice versa causing two crazy streaks. But pull away the streaks and what do you have? A team that was 35-25 in early June, a team that went 16-5 after the crazy hot streak, and a team that finished the year 12-6. It's a very very good team.  Still the Diamondbacks are not far behind, with one of the best top to bottom rotations and an offense that is one of the best since gaining JD Martinez. In an even series with everyone at peak it'd be a tough call. But that's not what we have here. Greinke is working through issues and Robbie Ray was used in the WC putting the Diamondbacks in a hole early. It's a hole their team may be best equipped to handle but it's still a hole. The early series games should go to the Dodgers and then it's just a matter of sneaking one more through once the teams reset. I think they can do that.  Dodgers in 4


Let's talk about the Cubs.  Trying to figure out this Cubs team by looking at the stats for the year is the wrong way to do it. There were two Cubs teams this year. The Cubs that went 43-45 through the All-Star break and the Cubs that went 49-25 after it. What changed?

The offense was maligned a bit in the early going because it was easy to pick out the problems. Zobrist , Heyward, and Russell were all playing hurt and hitting badly. Schwarber hit so poorly they sent him back. down. Javy Baez couldn't find enough holes to get the average up or hit enough homers to cover for it. But the thing is- the offense was still ok. Bryant and Rizzo were still hitting like stars. The Cubs depth covered for other holes as Ian Happ, Tommy La Stella, and Jon Jay all hit well. They weren't the best team in the league but they were a solid outfit that were smack in the middle of the NL despite the injuries.

That should have been enough. That average offense should have been covered by a pitching staff that was virtually unchanged from the staff that was by far the best in the majors last year, especially with Wade Davis providing the Cubs with the full-year closer they only got a taste of last year.  The average offense should have been kept a few games over .500 until it could get itself healthy and right again. But Hendricks got hurt and Lester, Arrieta and Lackey all pitched a few steps worse than expected. The pulled together 5th starter tandem of Mike Montgomery and Eddie Butler ended up being just as good as anyone else.  The pen was mostly fine but with few leads to protect it didn't matter. If you have an average offense and and average pitching staff you are going to get average results and they did.

In the second half, things righted themselves in both aspects. Hendricks cam back healthy (2.19 ERA, 1.179 WHIP), Arrieta and Lackey found themselves (2.28, 1.090 and 3.75, 1.208 respectively) and the Cubs traded for Jose Quintana who didn't pitch great but stabalized the rotation with a solid performance (3.74, 1.103). The pen slipped a little but it didn't matter. The Cubs got the best starting pitching of any NL team after the All-Star break. Meanwhile the hitting became the beast we thought they could be. Contreras stepped up and hit like a star joining Bryant and Rizzo. Schwarber came back fixed and mashing balls over the fence. Russell hit better as he healed up. Baez got enough balls over the fence. And the solid bench remained solid.  The Cubs had the best offense of any team in the second half.

It's far more reasonable that the Nats consider their opponent not to be the average Cubs squad that played in the NL the first half of 2017 or even the good squad that shows up if you look at the whole year but this juggernaut that won games at a 107 win pace since mid-July. Nats fans should expect a Cubs team that is far more like the Cubs team that won it all last year than some 92 win team that had to fight the Brewers. The picks from most of the experts have been a little blase about this I think. They know the Nats have been one of the best teams in baseball all season. They know the Cubs haven't. They give the edge to the Nats. But if we look at the 2nd half we see a Cubs team that deserves to be talked up as much as the Dodgers or the Nats. This isn't a series that favors the Nats in a way that should get 70% of fair analysis going their way. It's a toss-up at best. 

19 comments:

BxJaycobb said...

Harper. If I were making a pick I would say Cubs in 5. But one addition to what you're saying. It's really NOT the same Cubs team as last year. The offense is much better. The defense is way worse. The starting pitching is a bit worse (partially due to the defense drop). The middle relief is shakier. So it's a really really good team. But the strengths are different. They mash. They didn't mash last year really. Last year they were solid on offense and were carried by INSANE run prevention. Not insane this year. Lester has been straight up bad recently. Arrieta has a hamstring thing and had a mixed year. The defense makes Hendricks not as awesome as last year. And their pen has more issues. So if the Nats starters can hold down the hitting, they have a good chance.

Scherzer's Blue Eye said...

Every fiber of my being says Cubs in 4. No faith after 6 straight 1-run losses, outscoring the Dodgers, and Dave Roberts bungled NLDS getting praised because Kershaw bailed him out.

Josh Higham said...

Me, an idiot: For the first time ever, I confidently believe the Nats will win this series.
Me, an intellectual: lol it's the Nats. It's already over.

Anonymous said...

All of the DS look like good match-up's, which more likely than not makes for great baseball!! I think the Indians are the 2011 Phillies of this year (highly favored but out in the DS), so I think Yanks get at them, but they lose in the ALCS.

As for the NL, this is the year the Nats make the NLCS, and I don't care if it's LA or the D'Backs!

Harper said...

BX - That's fair. They aren't the same team, but they get the same results.

Bjd1207 said...

In a nutshell, it's time for Stras to silence the haters once and for all. A dominant start by him tomorrow sets us up perfectly for the rest of the series. I don't understand how Hendricks gets the results he does, but even so he rarely goes past 6 innings and rarely shuts teams out. We'll have a chance to scratch out runs in game 1, just need Stras to be Stras.

Jay said...

It's really hard to say. If you look back at last year's playoffs everyone says - oh the Cubs they won it all, they're great. They were a couple of pivotal spots from playing game 5 against the Giants. The Cubs scored a bunch of runs in the 9th to win game 4 and advance. The Cubs were a hanging Joe Blanton slider from possibly starting the NLCS down 1-0. They were down 3-1 to the Indians when the Indians band aid rotation and Andrew Miller finally ran out of gas. Even then, the Indians tied it in the 9th and almost won. If the Cubs lose game 7 after having the lead in the 9th, then Joe Maddon goes down as the biggest choking manager of all time.
I write all of that to say - baseball playoffs. I can't predict them. For every Bumgarner and Randy Johnson and Schilling and so on there's Mark Lemke, Kershaw - the bad one, Storen etc. Hopefully this is the Nats year. I'm trying hard to enjoy the ride no matter what.

Plus can we just kill the Nats are chokers if they can't beat the Cubs line. This is a very close series and can go either way.

Jay said...

Plus I think Hendricks is the exact kind of guy that usually drives the Nats hitters crazy. Doesn't overpower. Moves the ball around. Changes speeds. I would have rather started with Lester or Arrieta. Oh well. We'll see. Here is to hoping Max' bullpen goes well and he goes in game 2.

Bjd1207 said...

Corroborating Jay's last post, Hendricks' only start against the Nats this year August 4th. TL/DR - patient/experienced hitters faired well (Murphy, Harper, Kendrick) while free swingers did not (Difo, Goodwin, Lind, Wieters with 3K's lol)

http://www.fangraphs.com/wins.aspx?date=2017-08-04&team=Cubs&dh=0

Fries said...

If that's the case, then with Werth, Murphy, Rendon, Harper, and Zimm all batting together in some order, they should mash against Hendricks. Right....please?

Anonymous said...

Check me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure these are the ALDS and NLDS coming up.

Anonymous said...

MASN is reporting Gio for Game 2...so there you go.

Jay said...

I don't agree with Gio going in game 2. That means our best pitcher is starting exactly 1 game. Mistake. Doesn't mean it doesn't work. Doug Fister is starting game 3 for the Red Sox. My concern is if Stras doesn't win game 1. Do you really want Gio trying to keep us out of an 0-2 hole. Or even the flip side. If Stras wins game 1, do you want Gio trying to put the pedal down and win game 2 for a 2-0 advantage? It seems the best we can hope for is 1-1 in Chicago. Also, Heyman was saying this yesterday. Is this just more Mike Rizzo nonsense where they've known for a while that it would be Stras, Gio, and Max?

Mr. T said...

Three things seem obvious now:

1. They wanted Max to toss without feeling the twinge before letting him throw a bullpen;

2. Max made them promise he'd pitch game 3 as a worst-case scenario, hence "oh, I'm pitching in the NLDS;"

3. He's still feeling the twinge, so no bullpen, but he gets game 3 because that's what they promised.

So yes, this is a worst case scenario. And yes, it's typical of the Nats maddening "oh it's nothing, everything's fine" PR approach. And yes, as a long-suffering fan, I expect this means doom.

Anonymous said...

Jay, there's absolutely no way they would choose to pitch Max in game 3. They're doing it because they have to. Max's injury isn't recovering quickly enough for them to pitch him sooner

blovy8 said...

Exactly - it's doom. If they even let Scherzer pitch, it'll probably be to one batter in game three before leaving the mound.

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