Previewing Braves-Cardinals and Nationals-Dodgers

After a Wild Card round which featured one completely bonkers game and one meh game, we’ve reached the Division Series stage.

Since the MLB playoffs only take five teams in each league, someone good always goes home during the DS’, and with two really good series awaiting, that will be the case again.

NLDS #1: Atlanta Braves vs. St. Louis Cardinals

This series is loaded with young talent, and it’s not only going to be on display, but will be needed to show up and deliver during the most important time of the season.

A lot of that youth is within each team’s rotation.  21-year-old Mike Soraka, who generated 5.6 WAR this season (Second on the Braves), will be starting Game 2.  Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals right-hander, has been one of the hottest pitchers in the baseball throughout the second half and is only 23.  Dakota Hudson, who’s also been excellent this season, is 24.

Then of course, there’s the batters, where Ronald Acuna Jr. was a legitimate MVP candidate and almost turned in a 40-40 club performance as a 21-year-old.  Ozzie Albies raised his batting average 34 points this season in addition to hitting 24 home runs in his age-22 season, and Dansby Swanson has shown some impressive power at shortstop.

With all of this youth comes inexperience.  Atlanta will have some in their rotation with Mike Foltynewicz and Dallas Keuchel going in Games 1 and 2.  Same with the Cardinals in Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas.  Michael Wacha has struggled, posting a 4.76 ERA and 90 ERA+, and won’t be pitching in this series due to a shoulder injury while Wainwright and Mikolas have been average.  Wacha’s spot could see Daniel Ponce de Leon get a start, whose not a bad option as he’s been good in eight outings.

The true talent though in St. Louis’ rotation is young, which makes things a little dicey even with Flaherty’s hot streak in full bloom.

The Cardinals bullpen though is much better than Atlanta’s.  St. Louis was seventh in accumulated bullpen WAR compared to the Braves – who overhauled their staff at the trade deadline to get mediocre results at best – at 22nd.  But like the overall theme of this series, youth is prevalent within.  The Cardinals are putting relievers like Ryan Hensley (24 years old) and Genesis Cabrera (22 years old and hasn’t exactly been great this season) on their NLDS roster to pair with more experienced guys like the less-effective Andrew Miller and Carlos Martinez.

This should all balance out for St. Louis in the bullpen.  In the rotation though, the concerns are a little larger.  Wainwright is a decent trust bet, but everyone else – even Flaherty and Hudson – come with baggage.

The Braves are a scary lineup, much more potent than the Cardinals. Atlanta has their own youth, and only one pitcher who has experience and good performance (Dallas Kuechel, but even he has a sketchy playoff resume) in their rotation.  But in a series where taking advantage of inexperience will go miles, it’s going to come down to the better offense.  That’s Atlanta’s.

Prediction: Braves in 5

NLDS #2: Washington Nationals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers 

With insane, come-from-behind win Tuesday night, the Nationals not only gave us another absolutely insane Wild Card game, but gave us an even better second NLDS series to look forward to.

Mostly thanks to the pitching talent they possess, this Nationals-Dodgers series is way more fun and entertaining than a Brewers-Dodgers series.  That’s because Washington actually has a chance.

Despite their faulty bullpen which was 22nd in total WAR accumulated, the Nationals can throw Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasberg, Patrick Corbin and the ageless Anibal Sanchez out there and feel pretty good about their chances.  Despite stunningly getting roughed up early against the Brewers, Scherzer was incredibly efficient with his pitch count Tuesday, and could have gone even deeper into the game.  Strasberg and Corbin also have the ability to dominate for six-plus innings.  The Nationals need that as much as possible, because if they can get past the Dodgers, this team has the ability to play into late October, let alone the fact that Washington has a much better chance of not giving up runs when their starters are out there.

Washington’s starters going late into games in this series also gives the bullpen needed rest.  It’s not just the bullpen that wears down late into the postseason though; starters do too, which means the Nats later on in the postseason need their relievers to be ready and rested.  The extra rest they could gain this series could be critical.

The Dodgers are more threatening.  They have NL Cy Young candidate Hyun Jin Ryu, who was unhittable in the first half of the season before turning into just a very good pitcher in the second half.  They still have Clayton Kershaw, who whisked away some of the postseason concerns we’ve had for him in past playoffs last October, 24-year-old Walker Buehler having another insane season and their own ageless wonder in Rich Hill.

But that’s not all.  This is the best Dodgers bullpen in the past three years.  They finished 9th in bullpen WAR and have Kenley Jansen and Pedro Baez pitching well.  Deadline acquisition Adam Kolarek has been shutdown-worthy for Los Angeles with a 0.77 ERA.

Those overall numbers don’t factor in expanded innings for Dustin May, Kenta Maeda or Ross Stripling though.  Stripling and Maeda were both used as starters in more than half of their appearances this year.  This postseason, they’ll likely strictly be in bullpen roles, giving LA more experience and even better production in that department.  The versatility LA has gives more rest to the Jansens, Baezs and Kolareks of the world.

The Nationals bullpen doesn’t even compare.  It was the team’s biggest downfall early in the season, leading to their 19-31 record toward late May.

Things still aren’t great.  Only Tanner Rainey and Daniel Hudson are guys you’d feel somewhat decent about taking the mound in a playoff game right now, and even trust in them is limited by this loaded Dodgers lineup, which hit the fourth most home runs in baseball this season.  The Nationals bullpen had the highest fly-ball rate out of any bullpen in baseball this year.  Yikes.

Washington is really going to need their starters to stay in games as long as possible.  Three-plus innings out of this bullpen is enough to take the Nats out of any game their starter keeps them in.  If these games are a starting pitching duel, the better bullpen will prevail.  The Dodgers have that.

Prediction: Dodgers in 4