San Francisco Giants' Brandon Crawford points skyward as he heads home after hitting a grand slam during the fourth inning of the NL wild-card playoff baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Wednesday’s National League Wild Card game lacked the drama of Tuesday’s AL version.
Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam, becoming the first shortstop to hit a grand slam in the postseason. The Giants’ Madison Baumgarner pitched a shutout, striking out 10, walking one and allowing four hits in an 8-0. San Francisco moves on to face Washington in the NLDS.
Now that the matchups are set, let’s take a look at the NLDS.
Clayton Kershaw leaps on A.J. Ellis and Brian Wilson to start the celebration after the Dodgers won the National League West against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium Wednesday night Sept. 24, 2014. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the NL West title with a 9-1 victory over the second-place San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/The Orange County Register, Ed Crisostomo)
St. Louis vs. Los Angeles
It’ll be a great opening game on Friday, as the Cards send Adam Wainwright to the mound against Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium.
The Cardinals plan to send out Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and John Lackey in the remaining games. The Dodgers will use Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren.
Starting pitching: Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet, so the Dodgers have a huge advantage here.
If not for Kershaw’s remarkable 2014 season, you’d be hearing a lot more about Wainwright, who had a terrific year as well. Wainwright went 20-9 with a 2.38 ERA, allowing 184 hits in 227 innings. He won’t pile up the strikeouts quite like Kershaw, but if should be a great head-to-head battle in game 1.
Really, both groups of starters are very strong, so I wouldn’t expect many high-scoring games in this series. Still, the Dodgers will get the points here thanks to Kershaw.
Edge – Los Angeles.
Bullpen: The Dodgers also have a fine closer in Kenley Jansen, who struck out 101 and walked 19 over 65 1/3 innings during the regular season. The rest of the LA pen, however, leaves something to be desired. Brandon League and J.P. Howell are probably the most dependable set-up men. Brian Wilson has had some postseason success with the Giants, but he’s been a little hit-or-miss this year.
St. Louis’ Trevor Rosenthal saved 45 games this year, but his weakness is his wildness. He walked 42 batters in 70 1/3 innings.
Pat Neshek had a career resurgence this year. Seth Maness had a great year with only 11 walks in 80 1/3 innings pitched.
Jason Motte, a Valley Central grad, has been left off the NLDS roster, so you won’t see him in this series. Still, the Cards get a slight edge here with more weapons, but this might be a moot point if Dodgers starters are able to go deep into games and help make the bridge to Jansen.
Edge – St. Louis.
Lineup: The Dodgers can mash, that’s still clear.
Adrian Gonzalez led the NL with 116 RBI this year. Gonzalez (27 home runs) and Matt Kemp (25) led the team in power. Juan Uribe (.311) and Carl Crawford (.300) led the team in average. Justin Turner, formerly the Mets’ jack of all trades, hit .340, yes, .340!, in 288 at-bats over 109 games in a super utility role.
Despite all of their offensive prowess and mix of speed and power, none of the Dodgers scored 100 runs this year. Can this team find ways to push runs across the plate after getting men on base? That’ll be the question for the Dodgers.
St. Louis had neither a 100-run-scorer or a 100-RBI hitter. Jhonny Peralta hit 21 home runs and Matt Holiday hit 20. The Cardinals do have some speed from Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos, but both of those players had sub-.300 OBPs, so they struggle to get chances to steal.
While this St. Louis has a lot of recognizable names and players with postseason experience, they just don’t stack up on paper to the Dodgers’ hitters. That doesn’t mean the Cardinals can’t scrape together some runs and win this series, but they’ll be hard-pressed to do it against a tough Dodgers staff.
Edge- Los Angeles.
Intangibles: We have a couple of young managers squaring off in this series in Don Mattingly and Mike Matheny. They’ve both done a fine job in their few years on the job, so it’s tough to see one being much better than the other at this point. So the managers are a push.
The Dodgers do have home field advantage and they will throw Kershaw in game 1, so odds are good the Dodgers get a one-game headstart here. That’s enough for a win in this category.
Edge – Los Angeles.
Prediction: Dodgers in seven. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Cardinals pull out a win here, but they just don’t quite stack up to the Dodgers on paper. Should be a great back-and-forth kind of series with low-scoring games and big strategy decisions every night.
Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, left, and left fielder Bryce Harper wear their playoffs sweatshirts in the dugout during the second baseball game of a doubleheader at Nationals Park, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, in Washington. The Nationals clinched the lead in the National League earlier with a win over the Miami Marlins in the first game of their doubleheader. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Washington vs. San Francisco
The Giants won the Wild Card game in dominating fashion, but much like Kansas City in the AL, they had to use their ace pitcher to do it. So Madison Bumgarner won’t be available until Game 4 or maybe Game 3 if the Giants get aggressive.
Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong likely round out the Giants’ rotation. Tim Lincecum probably gets used out of the bullpen.
The Nationals have yet to announce their rotation for this series. They’ll have plenty of options. Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann look like locks to get starts here. Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez will be in the discussion as well.
Starting pitching: It really has been a great year for starting pitching in the NL. Strasburg struck out 242 batters this year and has lived up to the hype after being selected No. 1 overall. Fister went 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA after coming over in a trade from the Tigers. Zimmermann, who threw a no-hitter on the last day of the season, went 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA and 29 walks in 199 2/3 innings. Roark and Gonzalez also had fine years, so the Nationals have an embarrassment of riches in the rotation.
San Francisco’s rotation doesn’t quite stack up. Vogelsong and Hudson finished the season with losing records, for whatever that’s worth. Peavy pitched well, to a 1.04 WHIP, but he’s 0-3 with a 9.27 ERA in his career in the postseason.
Edge – Washington
Bullpen: A big reason why the Giants made the playoffs was the strength of their bullpen. Sergio Romo had 23 saves and a 0.95 WHIP. Jean Machi was stellar in a set-up role. Jeremy Affeldt is still one of the best at getting out lefties.
But the Nationals, who might be the most well-balanced team in baseball, also have a terrific pen.
Rafael Soriano had 32 saves and Drew Storen picked up 11 saves to go along with his 1.12 ERA. Tyler Clippard has 82 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings. Between Jerry Blevins, Matt Thornton and Ross Detwiler, the Nationals also have some good lefties available for matchup situations.
With Soriano and Storen to lock down the eighth and ninth innings and a whole bunch of other relievers ready for action in earlier innings, the Nationals are set up well for postseason baseball. San Francisco’s got a great pen, too, but Washington’s looks a bit better on paper.
Edge – Washington
Lineup: Buster Posey remains one of the best hitters in baseball. Pablo Sandoval has had some big postseason moments in his career. Rookie second baseman Joe Panik has had a fine MLB debut this year. Hunter Pence, weirdo that he is, always seems to come up clutch in the big moments.
Washington, however, has an even better set of hitters.
Denard Span, with his .355 OBP and 31 stolen bases, is a model of a leadoff hitter. Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper provide some punch in the outfield corners. Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond have plenty of pop and can produce runs in the middle of the lineup. Anthony Rendon, forced into action with Ryan Zimmerman’s injuries, had a great season. Rendon hit .287 with 21 home runs, 83 RBI and scored a team-high 111 runs. Don’t forget Zimmerman off the bench, who could be key as a pinch-hitter in this series.
The Nationals have everything you want in a lineup. The question is, will they be able to duplicate what they did during the regular season?
Intangibles: Looking at the managers, Bruce Bochy certainly gets the nod over Matt Williams with his extensive history managing postseason games. But the Nationals do have home field advantage.
This is just the Washington franchise’s third playoff appearance since 1981. The Nats lost in the NLDS in 2012. The Montreal Expos lost in the 1981 NLCS.
San Francisco has won World Series titles in 2010 and 2012. Will they prevail again in an even-numbered year?
How will Washington deal with being the World Series pick of many experts?
Since the Giants have nothing to lose here, and since the team has proven it can prevail as the underdog, I’m going to go with my gut and give San Francisco the edge here.
Edge – San Francisco.
Prediction: Washington in six. The Giants have a funny way of making things work in the playoffs over the past few seasons, but I just don’t see how they come out on top against a rested Washington team playing at home. San Francisco wins Bumgarner’s start and manages to steal another win elsewhere, but the Nats just have too much talent to get knocked out here.