Feature: MLB Playoffs 2013 Preview – NL

by Trevor Johnson 

Now, I know most people are getting a bit bummed about all the earlier sunsets, increasingly cold weather and eventual snow shoveling heading our way. Here’s what you all need to understand: I live in Los Angeles. None of those things even occurred to me until just this minute. All I care about is whether or not it will be too warm to wear pants with my Halloween costume and who has a shot at some champagne showers this fall. So with that, let’s tear into the National League Playoffs.

In these rundowns we will be skipping the Wild Card play-in games for two reasons. One, you don’t want to read a 2,500 word piece from me. And two, they should be a best-of-three series. You don’t play great baseball for 162 games just to lose one and have your season be considered a failure. I like the extra competition, but find a way to make it worth the effort, MLB.

Here’s why I’m happy the Reds lost: they can’t settle on a fucking hat. Why does the black brimmed Cincinnati Reds hat exist? Their name is the Reds. Their colors are red and white. Stop it. Bad things will happen to your franchise, to all franchises, until they settle on one, primary hat. No jumping back and forth. There is one exception to this rule and it is if you are trying to ease away from a very racist logo whose replacement is long overdo. Otherwise, it is intolerable. This goes for you too, Oakland, Atlanta, Texas, Washington and Arizona. There is a clear-cut choice for each of these teams. Indecisiveness will not be tolerated from this point forward.

Now — the teams still competing. We will be weighing each team’s chances of advancing in the playoffs and possibly even spilling Bud Light all over that multi-flagged, wreath-looking trophy of theirs, the only way we know how: The Trout Scale. That’s right, the more Trouts you are awarded, the better your chances are of November glory. Here we go, no turning back (please don’t turn back. You clearly could right now but, ya know… don’t be a dick. Please?)

 

ATLANTA BRAVES

Minus one Trout for the aforementioned cap indecision. It’s clearly the basic “A” with the red brim. The all-navy-and-tomahawk models need to be thrown in the fire yesterday (see: my earlier comment about racist hat logos). Also, who the hell is this team? They led baseball in home runs. They also tied for third in strikeouts with the Mets and finished behind two teams that didn’t even sniff 70 wins. They had a losing record on the road, which should in turn show you just how tough they are at home. Their two highest paid players both hit under .190 this year. I realize a lot of batting average should be overlooked and I don’t disagree. But if you can’t hit .190 in the major leagues, you have no business actually telling people at parties that you are a Major League Baseball player, let alone one that makes more than $13 million a year. I’m not going to go through all the better ways that money could have been spent (but here are a few: pony rides, hover cars, milkshake fountain, birthday party appearances from the entire NWO Wolf Pack circa 1998, two milkshake fountains, etc.). I’m just going to thank Trout I’m not a Braves fan.

That’s not to say the Braves aren’t a playoff caliber team. They have one of the best, if not the best bullpen in the league, they have Freddy Freeman swinging a smoking hot bat and hopefully they can convince Ludacris to be their PA announcer for all remaining home games (there is currently no talk of this. If this actually happens, I want credit). But their biggest strength should be Justin Upton. The former D-Back started off as the hottest hitter in baseball, finishing April with a 1.136 OPS and 12 home runs. While that was obviously unsustainable what followed was a disappointing season for a player that everyone is still hoping realizes his potential. If Justin Upton hits like the vexing mystery we’ve seen far too often, well then we’re just talking about a team from a weak division that has Freddy Garcia starting a potential Game 4 of the NLDS. There are ways the Braves make a run at their first ring since 1995, especially if they play as many home games as possible. At this point, though, they look like a team that just doesn’t have the starting pitching to be special. I give them 4.2 Trouts and a potentially quick, Divisional Round exit.

(By the way, if you are confused and unsure what to compare 4.2 Trouts to, WELCOME TO ADVANCED METRICS! Let’s move on.)

 

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Let’s all just enjoy the Dodgers now, shall we? Next year everyone will hate them for spending more money than something like 84% of the countries on the planet. Speaking of 84, that’s the percentage of games this team won between June 21 and August 17 when they won 42 of 50. Puigzus Christ that is a lot of wins. But how impressive was it when you consider their competition? During that nearly two month span they played series against the Padres, Nationals, Blue Jays, Reds, Yankees, Cubs, Cards, Rays and Mets and two each against the Giants, Phillies and Rockies. By my junior high-level understanding of how numbers work, these teams averaged about 80 wins. Since this is baseball, beating mediocre teams at an 84% clip is still historically impressive. However, they only managed a 37-40 record against their division which was the only one in baseball to finish with four teams at or below .500.

And yet, the Dodgers have a legitimate shot. That shot improves even more if they get Andre Ethier back for the NLCS, especially considering Matt Kemp has been shut down after what had to be the most frustrating season for a position player not named Derek Jeter. Until then, they have to make due with Skip Schumaker in center. Now before you break out fully into that cold sweat, Dodger fans, let’s remember who you have going in Games 1 and 2. You have the best pitcher in baseball on your side, Clayton Kershaw. Look at any statistics you want, you won’t spend long searching for his name, just so long as you start at the top. Meanwhile, Donald Zachary Greinke lurks for game two, possibly as good of a pitcher as anyone else in the NL Playoffs that Kershaw. On top of that, there are two major questions that we all, as baseball fans should be excited to have answered. 

1. Does Yasil Puig like the intense spotlight of the playoffs and national TV? If so, just start celebrating and don’t stop.

2. Hanley Ramirez came off the DL about the same time Puig was called up. In 100 fewer plate appearances, Hanley bested Puig in almost every counting stat while posting higher averages and striking out 45 fewer times. This may also shock everyone or no one but Hanley Ramirez has played exactly zero playoff games. He clearly has benefited from a change of scenery out of Miami to LA. How much more will he answer the bell in the playoffs after a great, if abbreviated first season in Dodger blue?

And with all that potential in tow, the Dodgers have earned 5.8 Trouts. Their chances of going up 2-0 before coming home to a Dodger Stadium that led the league in attendance this season and has absolutely fallen hard for this team are just too good. Now if only Dodger Stadium had A SINGLE craft beer they could pour on each other as they celebrate a trip to the NLCS. But who knows, maybe they’ll just spring for a milkshake fountain. 

 

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Right off the bat, let’s give credit where credit is due: Probably the best hat in baseball. It’s just hard to look uncool in that Black and Yellow. That hat alone deserves to be in the playoffs.

As we saw Tuesday night, it is Buctober and their fans are going bucking crazy. If your team is out of it and you still want to be watching baseball this year, here is your new team. To begin, just start telling people, basically anyone you are in proximity with, how good Andrew McCutchen is. Seriously, there are actually people who know what a baseball is that don’t know this yet. Chances are, that will all change in the next week or more. So jump on and if you want to thank me in Bucvember, I like whiskey from Kentucky and gift cards from Target. 

In all seriousness, this is the feel-good sports story of the year. This franchise hasn’t made the playoffs since the days when your dad would tell you while changing your diaper that Barry Bonds would be a shoe-in Hall of Famer. They have every type of player you love to root for: deserving, grizzled veterans (Morneau, Martin, Grilli), young players ready to make “The Leap” (McCutchen, Cole) and a guy that will either hit a home run or strike out EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. (You’ll figure it out). Their home games will be must watch TV these next few weeks. On Tuesday night, they chanted Johnny Cueto’s name so loudly that he dropped the ball in fear and then IMMEDIATELY missed his spot by 2 feet and served up a bomb to Russell Martin. This team is just too much fun. This is why baseball is great. 5.7 Trouts.

 

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

This is where things get really interesting. More games between divisional rivals is always great. But here we’re pitting the feel-good story against the baseball nerd’s love affair. The St. Louis Cardinals are the class organization of baseball. Their GM, John Mozeliak is playing chess in a way that only a handful of other GMs could even claim. He looks like a genius for letting Albert Pujols limp away to Anaheim on damaged feet while a third straight NLCS looks quite possible. He entered this season with what was commonly regarded as the best farm system in baseball and it has proven itself throughout the year. Young arms like Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha will be starting Games 2 and 3 of the NLDS. At this time last year, Matt Carpenter was a thirteenth round pick, utility infielder with a little bit of pop and no batting gloves. Since April 1, all he’s done is play in 157 games, lead the league in hits, doubles and runs scored while playing league average defense at second base, a position at which he had 2 major league starts prior to opening day. The Cardinals organization is a wins machine. This team has dealt all year with a shaky bullpen due to injuries, no definite fourth or fifth starter for an extended amount of time all while playing the two other best teams in the National League 19 times each. And all they got out of it was a tie for the best record in baseball. Oh, did I mention that Oscar Taveras, the consensus top prospect in baseball, is all theirs and didn’t see a single pitch in the majors this year? It’s kind of unfair.

All of this, plus the most dedicated fans in baseball are why I just can’t see them falling to the Pirates. Their fans can combat the NBA-like home field advantage Pittsburgh will have, especially in reaction if the series reaches a game 5. I don’t necessarily want to be right here, since I’m a sucker for the narrative, but the Cardinals just look like the slightly stronger team. I give them 5.8 Trouts and a spot in the NL finale with the Dodgers. Sorry, Buccos. Let’s hope I’m wrong. 

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