The Phillies season may have come to an end, but that doesn’t mean baseball season is over yet. In fact, the most wonderful time of the year has arrived for sports fanatics. The NFL is four weeks in, college football has been turbulent to say the least, the NHL is just days away from starting, and the MLB Playoffs are just about to get under way. And while the you may have checked out on baseball in the early summer months due to, let’s call it a lackluster season from the Phillies, there’s still a great deal of games left to be played. We didn’t get to witness many important games this season here in Philadelphia, so here’s you’re chance to watch relevant baseball for the next three weeks.
I bet you’re probably saying to yourself right now, “But Tyler, if the Phillies aren’t in the playoffs, why should I care,” and even if you do care, you my find yourself wondering, “Who should I root for?” Well my friends, that’s why I’m here. Or at least I like to tell myself that’s why I’m here. I’m here to help you answer your burning questions and help you decide which team you should pull for in the 2017 MLB Playoffs. First up, the National League.
NL Wild Card 1: Arizona Diamondbacks
Why you should root for the Diamondbacks: Starting Pitching, A “Newness” Factor
The Diamondbacks have quietly assembled one of the best starting pitching staffs in all of baseball over the last year. Of course you know who Zack Greinke is. The Diamondbacks signed Greinke away from the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 2015 season for nearly $207 million. Greinke was coming off a 19-3 season in which he posted a 1.66 ERA. The 2016 season wasn’t as kind to Greinke, who compiled a 4.37 ERA while winning just 13 games. This year, however, he’s much closer to the ace form that he’s become known for throughout his career. He’ll start the Wild Card Game in Arizona as the Diamondbacks tack on their NL West rival, the Colorado Rockies.
But it’s the next few arms in the rotation that the common baseball fan may not be as aware about that are going to make the Diamondbacks a dangerous team and a fun one to watch this postseason. Robbie Ray has emerged as a dominant number two behind Greinke in the Diamondbacks’ rotation, winning 15 games with a 2.89 ERA in 28 starts this year. He was absolutely unhittable in 2017, striking out 218 hitters despite missing five starts and only throwing 162 innings this season. He’s found command of his fastball and his breaking balls, making him a very dangerous NLDS Game 1 starter should the D-backs advance in this postseason.
Behind this one-two tandem sit Zack Godley and Taijuan Walker, both capable arms with above average stuff. Both missed time throughout the season and started a combined 53 games, with Godley posting a 3.37 ERA and Walker a 3.49. Despite pitching in his first full season in the Major Leagues, I’d expect it to be Godley in Game 2 of the NLDS, especially if the Diamondbacks can win the first game on the road. It would take the pressure off the young righty up 1-0 in the series. Godley has great life to his pitches, and his strikeout numbers prove just that. He punched out 165 batters in just 155 innings pitched this season. This all NL West Wild Card matchup will need good starting pitching to take on the next NL West foe in the NLDS, the Los Angeles Dodgers. I believe the Diamondbacks have the best chance to knock the Dodgers off in the entire National League, as stated by the team’s 11-8 record against the Dodgers this season.
The Diamondbacks haven’t appeared in a World Series since they won it all in 2001. They came close, getting to the NLCS in 2007 before getting steamrolled by, oddly enough, the Colorado Rockies. This will be the first time the two teams have met in the postseason since.
NL Wild Card 2: Colorado Rockies
Why you should root for the Rockies: Talented, Powerful Lineup
There’s certainly no question that the Rockies are an offensive force to be reckoned with. The Rockies are led by National League batting title champion Charlie Blackmon, who posted a .331 batting average this season to go along with his 37 homeruns and 107 RBI’s. There’s a serious case to make for Blackmon as the MVP of the National League. Then there’s Nolan Arenado, an MVP candidate in his own right. Arenado didn’t slash quite as well as Blackmon did for the season, but was wildly productive nonetheless. Arenado and Blackmon were tied for homeruns on the season with 37, but Arenado crushed Blackmon in RBI’s with 130. He also hit above .300 for the season. These two guys create on the best offensive duos in the league and will create havoc for almost every pitcher they face, should they advance.
But it’s not just those two that get the job done for the Rockies. Up and down the lineup the Rockies are strong, showcasing six of nine everyday players with on base percentages of .340 or greater. They draw walks, get on base and then make you pay for your mistakes. In total, the Rockies scored 824 runs this season, the most in all of baseball, outscoring the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals, the next two high scoring teams. Take out Arenado and Blackmon’s homeruns for the season and the Rockies are left with 115 homeruns from the rest of the team. Those are pretty consistent numbers. Add the pairs 74 homeruns, and now the Rockies are tenth best in the long ball this year. They finished with the best team batting average and on base percentage in the league and finished in third in slugging and second in OPS.
This a very dangerous, explosive offense that can hurt you in a variety of ways. If you favor offense over pitching, this is your National League team this year, and may be your rooting interest throughout. You could also use the “Never Won” argument to justify your fandom this October when you pick the Rockies. Since they joined the league in 1993, the Rockies have played in just one World Series, losing to the Boston Red Sox in 2004.
What scares me is the starting pitching. They’ll send John Gray to the mound in the Wild Card Game against the Diamondbacks, who have a pretty potent offense of their own. It’ll be a good competitive nine innings between division foes for the right to play the mighty Dodgers. I can’t wait for this one to get started.
NL West Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers
Why you should root for the Dodgers: Chase Utley, Great Pitching
Before you completely blow a gasket and call me the biggest hypocrite in the world, hear me out. I bashed you for standing for Chase Utley when he came to town two weeks ago, and I stand by that sentiment. But that doesn’t mean you can’t actually root for the guy. We all love Chase Utley here in Philadelphia and want to see him succeed. And although I don’t like the Dodgers, as I still think there’s a bad taste in my mouth from the Manny Ramirez hype in 2009, I would love to sse Utley lift the trophy one more time and retire a champion. I really would. And I think that’s justification enough to root for the Dodgers. I’m not personally rooting for the Dodgers, as I have other rooting interest in this year’s playoffs, but I wouldn’t be totally upset if they finally got over the hump and won the World Series.
Outside of Chase Utley, there are plenty of reasons to stick around and root for the Dodgers, and maybe of them either dip, slice and cut so hard batters thumbs are left swollen. I’m talking, of course, about the depth at pitching the Dodgers have. Clayton Kershaw, blah blah blah. It’s kind of a tired routine at this point. He’s unbelievable and has been for quite some time now. He has one of the filthiest pitches in the game in his curveball, and his command is beyond pinpoint. But he hasn’t seen much success in the postseason to this point in his career. If he can find a midseason rhythm in the postseason, this team will nearly impossible to beat.
Behind Kershaw sits one of the true artsits of the game, Yu Darvish. Darvish came over to the Dodgers in a trade with the Texas Rangers and has been solid, posting a 3.44 ERA over nine starts. Take away a seven inning stretch over two starts in which Darvish allowed ten earned runs, and you find a pitcher who is a dominant ace and an even scarier number two. He struckout 209 this season, and over 1000 strikeouts in his Major League career through just 832 innings. He has five pitches at his disposal that he can throw for an out at any time.
Even behind the two aces, the depth in both the rotation and bullpen has been incredible. Alex Wood has come out of nowhere to become a quiet 16 game winner with a sub-3.00 ERA. Rich Hill was a very complimentary number four for the Dodgers as Kershaw and company battled injury. He pitched to a 3.32 ERA and won 12 games. Not bad for a 37-year-old. Then there’s the bullpen. Headlined, of course, by stud closer Kenley Jansen, who posted 41 saves and a 1.32 ERA on his way to another likely Relief Pitcher of the Year Award. the acquisitions of Tony Watson and Tony Cigrani this year have made a huge difference in the bullpen as stopgaps from the starters to Jansen. Luis Avilan and Brandon Morrow have each reinvigorated themselves this season, as well. All in all, the Dodgers have seven relief pitchers who have sub-3.00 ERA’s on the season.
It’s very difficult for opposing teams to win when the Dodgers starters just have to give them five or six good innings every night. This team is the odds-on favorite to represent the National League in this year’s Fall Classic, but they’ve held that montra before. Can they get over the hump this year?
If you want to root for the team that has maybe the best pitching staff up and down the rotation and into the bullpen, get to watch two masterful starters give way to the best pitch in baseball since Mariano Rivera’s cutter, and see a team end a near 30 year title drought, the Dodgers could be for you.
NL Central Winner: Chicago Cubs
Why you should root for the Cubs: Back-to-back Possibility, Young Core
Last year, there was no question as to why you should root for the Cubs. The lovable losers hadn’t won a World Series since 1908. It was a streak that will be almost impossible to break in the future.
This year the Cubs don’t have that monkey on their backs, and are going into the playoffs full of experience, looking to repeat as champs. If the Cubs were to win, it would be the first time since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000. It’s a feat that is extremely difficult to accomplish. In fact, since that Yankees run, only three teams have even gone back to the World Series after appearing the previous year (2008-09 Phillies, 2010-11 Texas Rangers, 2014-15 Kansas City Royals). So it would be enjoyable to see the Cubs have a shot at defending their title, and bringing the average time of championships from 1908-2017 in Chicago from 59 years to 36 years. Makes little sense, but I’m a huge baseball nerd. Just bare with me.
Outside of the repeat factor, the Cubs have done something that the Phillies hope to be in the process of doing: building a dynasty around young talent after struggling for a few years. The Cubs made some impresses trades in the early part of the 2010’s, bringing in Anthony Rizzo from the Padres in exchange for Andrew Cashner, and then later getting Addison Russell from the Oakland A’s as part of the Jeff Samardzija deal. While they were very fortunate in these moves, they became the backbone of the Cubs recent success. Outside of those two acquisitions, however, a majority of the Cubs talent is homegrown. Kris Bryant,Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber,Albert Almora, Ian Happ and Wilson Contreras are all talent that the Cubs have grown from within and have blossomed into Major League players. This is a core that will continue to have tremendous success for years to come if they all remain together and uninjured.
Phillies fans could really get behind a team like this in 2017 in the hopes that the 2019 or 2020 Phillies follow the same trajectory. I don’t know how you all feel, but I’d be happy to sit through another two years of less than stellar baseball if I could get a World Series appearance in 2019 and a title in 2020. The Cubs have proven the method of stockpiling talent through your minor league system works, and the Phillies should follow suit.
NL East Winner: Washington Nationals
Why you should root for the Nationals: You Shouldn’t
Dont root for the Nationals. I know that Max Scherzer is a wonder to watch on the mound. I find myself wanting to root for the guy every time he pitches, and I have to reign myself in. Just please, Phillies fans, don’t root for this team. It’s that easy.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports