Tuesday, October 23, 2012

National League Recap

Congrats to the San Francisco Giants for fighting through a trio of must win games to advance to the World Series where they will take on the Detroit Tigers starting Wednesday. The National League post-season had a bit more drama surrounding it than their AL counterparts, but after the full complement of postseason games the Giants will represent the league and start the series at home. Here is my takeaway for the playoff teams this season and going forward.

Atlanta Braves

Season Result: Lost in the NL Wild Card to the St. Louis Cardinals
Meet the first victims of the new wild card format. Fans of the Braves will bemoan the judgment of the umpires in calling the vague infield fly rule on a ball no where near the infield. Debate away, the rule is vague and relates to infielders not field location and as a judgement rule is likely something that would not be open to replay review. Of bigger concern for the Braves should be their inability to score multiple times in the game despite getting runners in scoring position. It was an unfortunate end to Chipper Jones career, but this team showed a lot of character in recovering from last seasons late collapse and making the postseason. The Braves made few offseason changes following that collapse, trusting in the players and managers to recover, and that faith was rewarded. The Braves have a solid core of young players and seem to keep finding a viable arm every time they turn around. The Braves should take pride in making the postseason this year and use it as a stepping stone for future postseason runs.

Cincinnati Reds

Season Result: Lost the NLDS 2-3 to the San Francisco Giants
The Reds ran away with the NL Central despite long injuries to Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto. Votto was able to come back and be on the field, but his injuries sapped his power and made him a non-threat in the postseason. The Reds real result stems from Dusty Baker being Dusty Baker. Dusty loves veteran players and defined lineups and roles. In the NLDS this had him play Scott Rolen over Todd Frazier at third despite Rolen just coming back from injuries and Frazier having a solid second half of the season. He also kept Votto batting in the heart of the order when it was clear he was not a threat. It also led him to keep Chapman in the bullpen for 9th inning save opportunities instead of when games 3-5 were still in the balance. He is a solid manager, but he has come up short with the Cubs, Giants, and now the Reds. In the postseason he gets out-coached and there is no reason to expect that to change. The team looks destined to compete for not just the Central but perhaps for the best record in the NL next season. Rolen is likely to retire giving Frazier more playing time and Votto will have time to heal and get his power back. The biggest question they have going forward is what to do with Chapman, do they have their closer of the future or do they plug him into the rotation? How they answer this question will go a long way to seeing if next season they can't play a little deeper into October.

San Francisco Giants

 Season Result: TBD, beat St. Louis Cardinals in NLCS 4-3
The Giants fought back for the second straight series to force a winner take all game, and they won both of them. They took advantage of poor Cardinal defense to win 3 of the 4 games off of unearned runs. The series against Detroit should be an interesting series, but unless they want to face Justin Verlander in three times they should try and avoid a third winner take all series. Looking forward they are still a limited offensive team and will be looking for an outfielder and possibly a shortstop for next season. A bigger question mark is the pitching staff. Brian Wilson should be back, but will he be dominant or will he have lost something? If he is back to dominating they will be among the favorites to get back to the world series in 2013. Their starting rotation is a little more worrying. Barry Zito outperformed Tim Lincecum this season. Zito is entering the last guaranteed year of his contract (an option for '14 exists) and so does Timmy. Are they both on the way out, can Zito maintain his current level, was Timmy's season an aberration or a warning? It will be interesting to see what happens for them next season, but they can put those thoughts on hold as they still have games to play this season.

St. Louis Cardinals 

Season Result: Lost NLCS to San Francisco Giants  3-4
The song says hearts get left in San Francisco, but that leaves the Cardinals wondering where their gloves and their bats went. Game 7 was the first game where the Cardinals lost without giving up an unearned run. They gave up 10 unearned runs, the most for a NL team in a playoff series ever. For such a fundamentally sound team throughout the season they collapsed at the wrong time. Compounding the situation was the bats stopping their production. This team thumped the Nationals, they thumped their way to a 3-1 lead and then managed just 1 run in San Francisco. This team will likely spend a few days just digesting this collapse. When they are ready to move beyond the doom and gloom of this season they should have plenty of optimism for the future. They came within one win of back-to-back World Series appearances despite losing an iconic coach, the face of their franchise, and their superstar first basemen. Not many teams could overcome the loss of pitching coach Dave Duncan (personal reasons), Tony LaRussa (retirement), and Albert Pujols (free agency) and still expect to make the postseason let alone get as far as they did. It is a credit to the front office that their farm system continues to churn out as much talent as it does. They also found a rookie coach in Mike Matheny capable of guiding this team through the departures and injuries who should continue to make the Cardinals a major force next season when Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright hope to both be back, healthy, and ready for a full season.

Washington Nationals

Season Result: Lost NLDS to St. Louis Cardinals 2-3
One positive for the Nationals going forward is that their rotation next postseason should be much improved with Stephen Strasburg hoping to get a taste of the postseason. That is assuming good health for the rest of the rotation and that this team will be good enough to get back to the postseason next year. Despite the horrendous 9th inning collapse in game 5 to the Cardinals they look like a solid bet to make the postseason for years to come. The bullpen has some questions, but so do most bullpens every year. Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper will only improve on this season, Jayson Werth hopes to have a healthy full season and the restrictions should be off of their rotation. When your biggest decision is keeping both Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche or letting one go and getting an available center fielder your problems are pretty small. A Washington based team made the post season for the first time since 1933, the area should not have to wait nearly that long to get back.