October 06, 2017
By: Steve Degler
The National League's two best-of-five division series begin today. The wild-card game winners, the Arizona Diamondbacks, face the West division champion Los Angeles Dodgers in one series while the defending World Series champs, the Chicago Cubs (Central division title), will meet the winner of the East, the Washington Nationals, in the other.
For most of the year, the Dodgers cruised through their schedule and threatened the season record for wins. They hit a wall in the final weeks and the Diamondbacks (and the Phillies) had a lot to do with it. Arizona won 11 of 19 games against LA this season and held the Dodgers to a .229 batting average in the process. But Clayton Kershaw went 2-0 against Arizona and you have to think this is the year he shakes his October doldrums. LA will rely on likely Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger to lead the offense. He'll get plenty of support from the likes of Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig. Chris Taylor has come out of nowhere to bolster the LA lineup. The Dodgers have a great closer in Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers have a deeper staff this year and that could take some pressure off of Kershaw.
Arizona won a high scoring wild card game against Colorado. The Diamondbacks will need much better pitching in this series because they may not be able to simply outslug the Dodgers. The D-backs will need David Peralta and Ketel Marte to contribute like they did against the Rockies. If they can consistently set the table for Paul Goldschmidt, J.D. Martinez and Jake Lamb, Arizona will give itself a chance to pull off the upset. Closer Fernando Rodney saved seven of the 11 wins against the Dodgers. But he did so with an 8.64 ERA. At some point, that will catch up to him.
Cubs-Nationals has the makings of a great series. Like the Dodgers, Washington is looking for an October breakthrough as its window with this current bunch begins to close. The Nats claimed four of seven match-ups with Chicago during the regular season. The Cubs hit just .221 against the Washington pitching staff.
Like the other 2016 World Series participant (Cleveland), it took the Cubs some time to kick it into gear this season. But their starting pitching is suspect and a little beaten up right now. How much is in the tank for Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta? Willson Contreras smashed five homers against Washington. The rest of the team? Five as well. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo will need to play like the superstars they are. The Cubs are very good at doing the little things that help you win games. That trait will come in handy in what could be a very tight series.
The Nationals have been here before multiple times...and stumbled mightily. They cannot play sloppy baseball and expect to win the series. The rotation is stacked with Max Scherzer (if 100%), Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. Trading for Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle fortified the glaring weakness on this team-the bullpen. The big question is how healthy is Bryce Harper? The Nats have a deep line-up but it's vastly different without Harper. But this is a team that can hit, run and provide power. If the Nats cannot move past this round again, expect some significant changes in D.C. next season.
Predictions: Arizona is by far the weakest link here. Despite the success they've had against Los Angeles, I have a hard time seeing the Dodgers losing this series. I'll take LA in four games. The other series is one that should go the distance with several closely played games. Washington finally advances with a hard fought five game victory. LA-Washington would make for a sensational National League Championship Series.