Atlanta Braves +345
Los Angeles Dodgers +185
Pittsburgh Pirates +385
St. Louis Cardinals +245
The LOS ANGELES DODGERS (+185) have basically done what they have set out to do, so far, by opening up the wallet in order to produce a winner. However, it didn’t look like that for a while, not until a rookie who was in Single A ball last year showed up. Yasiel Puig came out like a house on fire, keeping his batting average up near the .400 mark and getting 44 hits in his first month in the big leagues.
Puig brought a certain energy to the lineup, and with him in the lineup, this team has gone 66-38. At one point, as many baseball bettors know, they went on a torrid 42-8 run. Puig finished with 19 homers and a .319 average. Hanley Ramirez got red hot and ended the regular season with a .345 average. Carl Crawford is an offensive contributor with his speed (15 steals). Adrian Gonzalez supplied some of the power the Dodgers hoped for when they acquired him from Boston, as he hit 22 homers and drove in 100 runs. Injuries, however, hit the Dodgers too.
Andre Ethier, with an ankle injury, might just be limited to pinch hitting duty for most of the first round of the post-season. Matt Kemp, who’s been slowed by injuries all year, is out of the playoffs completely.
Pitching is still what could take the Dodgers where they are looking to go. The best pitcher in baseball right now is Clayton Kershaw, the southpaw workhorse who has gone 236 innings and has made the best of them, striking out 232 batters and compiling a 1.83 ERA. At this point the suspense in the Cy Young race is for second place. Zach Grienke, a former Cy Young winner himself, had a great season himself (15-4, 2.63 ERA). Rounding out the 1-2-3 combination is Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-8, 3.00 ERA) and these guys make the Dodgers pretty tough to beat. Whether Ricky Nolasco (13-11, 3.70 ERA), who slowed toward the end of the season, gets a shot is anyone’s guess.
Closer Kenley Jensen has had a 1.19 ERA since the All-Star break, but is said to be losing a little something off his fastball. Brian Wilson, who’s got plenty of post-season experience with the Giants, has been a big help, with a 0.66 ERA since coming over.
The ST. LOUIS CARDINALS (+245) have the best offense in the league, and if you look through the lineup you’re going to see why. Who needs Albert Pujols? The Cards may not be big in the home run department, but they hit .330 as a team with runners in scoring position.
There was a big blow, however, with the news that Allen Craig, who has a foot injury, was not going to be available to them. Craig batted .454 with runners in scoring position, which probably makes him the most valuable player in the league, and that leaves a hole. But there is another MVP candidate in catcher Yadier Molina (.319, 80 RBI)
And there are other weapons, including Carlos Beltran (24 HR), Matt Holliday (94 RBI) and Matt Carpenter, who led the NL in hits and runs scored, batting .318 with 78 RBI. The pitching is solid and deep, with nine hurlers sporting an ERA lower than 4.00. And it’s a staff with some young pitchers too. Adam Wainwright had a stellar year, with a 19-9 record and 2.94 ERA. Joe Kelly was 10-5 with 2.69. Shelby Miller was a rookie with a 15-9 mark (and 3.06 ERA). Not all these guys have been on the big stage. But they are expertly handled by manager Mike Metheny, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and Molina. And you can’t ignore the numbers posted by Kevin Siegrist, who had a 0.45 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 39-2/3 innings. He’s one of three rookie relief pitchers who could help bring home a World Series trophy, IF they can deal with playoff pressure.
The ATLANTA BRAVES (+345) were in an NL East race that was no contest almost all year long. So there would be some doubt as to how it’s going to feel to be in games that have an atmosphere of urgency about them. This is a team that is pretty solid all the way through, though not perfect. There is not a lot of speed, but there is power (with five players who hit at least 20 homers) and there are .300 hitters. But there are also four players in the lineup with more than 100 strikeouts (there would have been five, but Dan Uggla was left off the roster).
They’ll have some pop. Third baseman Chris Johnson hit .321, barely missing out on the batting title. Jason Heyward has been dangerous since coming back from a broken jaw, through he has a special helmet to protect him. First baseman Freddie Freeman had 109 RBI and a .319 average. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons had 17 homers, but most importantly, he is one of the best fielders in recent memory.
On this team, the pitchers keep coming at you. Although there are no starters with an ERA below 3.00, this team led the league in that category. The bullpen had five hurlers with more than 35 games and sub-3.00 ERA’s. The relief corps, as you might imagine, is superb. Luis Avilan, who’s been in 75 games, is 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA. And of course, Craig Kimbrel (1.21 ERA, 50 saves) throws smoke, .with 98 strikeouts in 67 innings. Needless to say, manager Fredi Gonzalez has a lot of people he can turn to.
The PITTSBURGH PIRATES (+385) are involved in their first post-season since 1992. And they are led by Andrew McCutchen, the all-tool player who hit .317 with 27 steals and a .440 on-base average. But runs are sometimes a struggle for this club. In fact, they averaged just 3.5 runs a game in September. So it will be up to some of the weapons to step up in a big way. We’re talking about left fielder Starling Marte (41 stolen bases); third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who tied for the NL lead with 36 homers but also led the league in strikeouts with 186; Marlon Byrd, who had a homer in the NL Wild Card game, and even Justin Morneau, the former American league MVP.
A lot of pitching has come together at once here. Francisco Liriano has been almost untouchable at home (1.47 ERA), although he is somewhat vulnerable on the road; AJ Burnett, who is contemplating retirement, had a losing record but was very solid all year long; Gerrit Cole, the rookie from UCLA who will be the Game 2 starter, along with a slew of middle and late relievers. That includes veteran Jason Grilli, who, in his first season as a closer, had 33 saves and whiffed 74 batters in 50 innings. Clint Hurdle has brought this team along in a hurry.
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