By Matt Straub
While the American League playoffs are full of lesser-known teams only a purist could love, the National League is full of stars, big-market teams and fascinating matchups. This preview is much easier to write since I don’t have to sell you on why these games are interesting. Instead we can get right into the matchups. So let’s do so, starting with the one most people here care about.
Los Angeles Dodgers
vs. New York Mets
Despite all the attention these two teams got this year, they are actually the third and fourth-best teams left in the NL. This is a perfect matchup for a casual fan, however, since there are lots of players you’ve heard of on these teams, including some exceptional pitchers.
Let’s start by looking at the rotations. The Dodgers have a pair of aces in their hand in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, which gives them an advantage in any short series. Kershaw has never been great in the playoffs, however, but much of his trouble has come against St. Louis, and the Mets are not the Cardinals. Greinke has been good in the postseason since joining the Dodgers, and is having an incredible season. Brett Anderson is a solid No. 3, but he’ll be in a tough spot against Matt Harvey.
The Mets throw their young guns at the Dodgers early. Jacob deGrom struggled in September, but was the Mets’ best pitcher this year and deserves his Game 1 assignment. I would worry about him in a big spot because he did struggle last month and has never been in the playoffs, but he will get a chance to show his mettle tonight. Noah Syndergaard was inconsistent but solid season and was good in his one start against the Dodgers. Good won’t be good enough in this one, however.
If you have any idea what will happen with Matt Harvey in Game 3, you’re better than me. There’s just always so much drama around him, I could see him throwing a perfect game, getting rocked, or having his elbow explode because he threw too many innings, which could only happen to the Mets.
The Dodgers get the rotation edge because of the Mets’ inexperience. Neither team has a good bullpen, so we’ll call that a push.
Offensively, the Mets have cooled off considerably since what they were in August when they took over the division. Yoenis Cespedes is no longer carrying the team, and the versatility the Mets had in the regular season becomes a question mark in the playoffs, since it means they don’t have sure-bet starters at some key spots. The Mets might be better off in double-switch type situations, however.
The Dodgers have a better lineup, but can it come through in October for a change and take some pressure off the pitching? I don’t think they’re a great offense, but they’re better than the Mets.
The Dodgers don’t lose at home, and are more likely to get a split in New York than the Mets are of winning one of the first two in L.A. If Clayton Kershaw gets it done in Game 1, the Dodgers roll. If he doesn’t the annual October questions come up for the Dodgers. From there, anything is possible. The Mets made the playoffs because a team full of stars choked. Will they advance for the same reason?
Matt’s Pick: Dodgers in 4
Brad's Pick: Dodgers in 5
St. Louis Cardinals
vs. Chicago Cubs
The Cardinals aren’t the team which cruised to a win in the loaded Central division. Carlos Martinez is out, Yaddy Molina is hurt and several other players are banged up. The Cardinals are always great in the regular season because of their depth and great minor league system, but, like the Mets, those guys who are useful in the summer are often beaten by stars in October.
The Cubs aren’t only healthy, they’re rolling. There are a ton of young, untested players, but their manager, for as much as I don’t like him, knows exactly how to guide young players in the postseason. Plus, the Cubs have two outstanding aces who can get them through the first three games. If the Cardinals were healthy anything would be possible. As it is now, however, I’m taking the hot, confident team with the stud pitchers.
Matt’s Pick: Cubs in 3
Brad's Pick: Cardinals in 5