Guest Post: 2009 Baseball Playoff Primer – Part 2: National League

Marti

So, the National League… Called the Senior Circuit – cos it was the first before ‘dem upstart American Leaguers bubbled up at the turn of last century – the Nats have fallen on lean times this decade. Last year’s champs the Philadelphia Phillies hail from the National League, as do 2006’s St Louis Cardinals.

But honestly, it’s easier to remember them cos they are the exception rather than the rule. And the American League All-Stars have not been beaten by their National League counterparts for 13 years. Dominance.

But the four teams do have a chance. On paper, maybe not against the payroll bloated Yankees (in 2003, the $164m Yankees were stunned like bloated mullets by the $54m Florida Marlins) but ya gotta have faith. And here are the contenders:

ED’s NOTE: Due to entirely foreseeable but unforeseen deadline-related circumstances this was submitted five days ago, but only posted now. So all genius-predictions and moronic misapprehensions stand as submitted. Anyway, as you were…

Philadelphia Phillies
Last year’s champions have what every team needs in the post season: Pitching, pitching and pitching. You see, big bats get you into the postseason, but they ain’t shit against great pitching. And you’ve got the pitching if you’ve got a rotation of reigning Cy Young winner Cliff Lee (traded in from the struggling Cleveland Indians), 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels and the legendary Pedro Martinez who, at his prime, was The. Greatest. Ever.

The Bullpen is scratchy, and the formerly reliable closer Brad Lidge has been lit up through recent months.
But the Phillies also have big sticks. Like, seriously big sticks. First baseman Ron Howard is a fat toad with prodigious thunder, four-time All Star Chase Utley at second has power and average, 2007 NL MVP Jimmy Rollins flashes great defence with his speed and high average at the top of the order.

Then there’s the outfield of Victorino, Ibanez and Werth, top players in a team where, for this year and last, an outstanding confluence of farm-grown talent and trades mean its going to be hard to look past the Phillies to go back to back in the World Series.

Possible achilles heel: Cream uniforms. Dudes look like milk bottle candies. First up: Colorado. Game  1 is already over, The Rockies don’t have a chance.

St Louis Cardinals

Led by the irascible manager Tony La Russa (cool name huh?) and a pure hitter that rivals both Babe Ruth and Ted Williams for power and skill a man named Albert Pujols – by the good grace of god that’s pronounced ‘poo-holes’ by the way – St Louis should meet Philadelphia in the NL finals.Where they will, by most reckonings, lose.

But they’re good enough to put a bit of money on down at the TAB for an upset. Why? Well, Pujols of course. Year after year after year, he hits like no one else. The kind of guy that makes everyone else on the team better simply because the opposing pitcher eases up once Prince Albert is not at bat. He could be considered one of the top batters of all time by the time this automatic Hall-of-Famer retires – this year’s regular season numbers include 47 homers at a .327 clip, and he’s in the top-five of nearly every offensive category.

But beyond him, the team is a bunch of skilled journeymen. SS Julio Lugo was dumped by the Boston Red Sox after three abortive seasons. Outfielder Rick Ankiel was a phenom pitcher before he forgot to throw the ball in the general vicinity of home plate – but to his credit he turned his meltdown into a fine career so far in the field. Mark De Rosa was not re-signed by the Chicago Cubs, who haven’t Won It All since 1908. Troy Glaus made stops with Anaheim and Toronto before heading to St Louis.

And the pitching is spectacularly memorable by its sheer unspectacularity. Carpenter is putting up a fine season to lead the NL in wins, followed by teammate Adam Wainwright. Chuck in Joel Piniero (once released by the Red Sox),  and Kyle Lohse and you’ve got a dependable rotation but just a thoroughly unexcitable one.

They’ll be tested by first round opponents the LA Dodgers, in what is probably the least exciting match of the opening round.

LA Dodgers
This team could be the proof that having the highest win percentage throughout the year doesn’t automatically make one a good playoff team. The Dodgers were virtually assured of a playoff berth from, oh lets see, May out there in NL West.

But the nature of their late-season swoon has some worried. Their savant slugger Manny Ramirez, after returning from a steroid suspension at the beginning of the year that had all of Red Sox nation chuckling into their Sam Adams beer (a most scandalous backstory), has been pretty bloody average. That has also impacted on the players around him, and young sluggers Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier have found the going a lot tougher now that Manny seems almost human.

Taking a squizz at the stats, there is no one from LA in the top five in any pitching or batting category. So what’s their secret to success? Across the board, the team plays well and is led by a good catcher in Russell Martin – the gamecaller is the heart of any team, it’s hard to win without a guy like that. And then there’s Joe Torre. He managed the New York Yankees to their mighty dominance in the late 1990s, three-peating at one stage. Then the Yankees, tired of not winning since 2000, gave Joe the flick after the 2007 season.

So he headed out West, and has finally put some brains in the driving seat of this well-moneyed and historically significant team.

They’ll challenge St Louis, but their pitching doesn’t match up to the Cardinals.

Colorado Rockies
Another cinderella season from the boys from Denver, who can bop some big hits in the rare Mountain air, but tend to struggle at sea level (sadly for them, where most people and teams live). Not expected to do well this year, the Rockies fired long time manager Clint Hurdle in May and replaced him with Jim Tracy.

Tracy performed a miracle with this team of no-namers, and at one point the team won 21 out of 28 games. Their Wildcard position was in doubt until the last few games but they did manage to pull it out and turn the jets on West rival the Dodgers – something few would have predicted at the beginning of the season.

The line-up has a bunch of good players, led by veteran Rockie star Todd Helton who plays first base. Steroid slugger Jason Giambi joined the team mid year after being dumped by the Oakland A’s and has settled the line-up with some thump. But it’s the guys like Ryan Spilborghs, Brad Hawpe, shortstop Troy Tulowitski and intense catcher Yorvit Torrealba (who is known to ream out his own teammates often) that are the heart of this team.
Aaron Cook leads an ok rotation, with Rockies pitching ranking 10th overall among 30 MLB teams. Their first round opponent the Phillies rank 8th – but the Phillies starters are waaaay better.

It wouldn’t be a miracle, but a longshot nonetheless, for this team to advance.

– Phil Reed

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