Baseball, Columnists, Sports

Fair or Foul: The biggest strength and weakness of each contending NL team

The MLB playoffs begin in just two weeks. With so little time left, the playoff bracket is inching closer to being set in stone. Let’s look at the aspects of each NL contender that will help them the most in October, as well as those that might hurt them.

Alexia Nizhny/DFP STAFF

San Francisco Giants

Strength: Veterans’ playoff experience

Weakness: The whole team is veterans

The Giants will likely be the first team this season to reach 100 wins, needing just one as of Thursday. This team was never expected to dominate as they have in 2021, but they will ride this wave all the way to October. With players like Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey still around from their dynasty of the 2010s, along with a bat like Kris Bryant and a steady starting rotation, the Giants may keep rolling. 

However, given so much of this team is over the age of 30 and that key players like Posey, Belt and Evan Longoria have all battled injuries this season, the tank may reach empty at the worst possible time. Additionally, the Giants have thrown many taxing bullpen games this season, and veteran closer Jake McGee is injured. 

Milwaukee Brewers

Strength: Starting rotation

Weakness: Lineup

The Brewers’ three-headed monster in the rotation of Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff — all of whom could finish top-10 in Cy Young voting — can easily shut down a lineup for three games. Behind those three, Adrian Houser sports a 3.43 ERA, and lefty Eric Lauer has an even lower 3.03 mark. If all five of these hurlers are healthy for October, this pitching staff, complemented by an elite bullpen trio of Josh Hader, Devin Williams and Hunter Strickland, can lead this team to a title.

The offense is what will hold this team back. Only two players, Avisail Garcia and Willy Adames have an adjusted on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS+) over 110, meaning these two are the only ones having seasons notably better than average. If other hitters like Eduardo Escobar, Christian Yelich and Luis Urías do not step up when the calendar shifts to October, no amount of pitching dominance will be able to carry this team all the way.

Atlanta Braves

Strength: Power hitting

Weakness: Pitching staff

The Braves’ second-half surge has been driven by their offense. Freddie Freeman and Austin Riley have a combined OPS over .900, and both are hitting over .300 with more than 30 home runs. The supporting cast of Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, each with 25 or more homers, and deadline acquisitions Jorge Soler and Adam Duvall have made the Braves a scary home run-hitting team. 

That much power in the lineup can drive in a lot of runs, but it might not matter if the pitching staff cannot hold up. Other than ageless veteran Charlie Morton — who already signed an extension with the Braves amidst another fine season — every other starter has a mixed or nonexistent playoff record. Further, Luke Jackson is the only outstanding member of the bullpen. So long as the Braves score a lot of runs, they will have a chance, but the hurlers need to step up more.

St. Louis Cardinals

Strength: Their 12-game winning streak

Weakness: Pitching unknowns

The Cardinals got white-hot in September and have won 12 straight games. That performance, combined with the untimely struggles of the San Diego Padres and the Cincinnati Reds, has given the Redbirds plenty of breathing room for the second NL Wild Card spot. Led by Tyler O’Neill, Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt in the lineup, and by 40-year-old Adam Wainwright on the mound, this team will be the latest squad to test out if a white-hot team can beat a great team. However, there are many question marks on the mound behind Wainwright.

No other starting pitcher has a fielding independent pitching (FIP) under four, meaning no other starter has performed well enough to deserve an ERA under four. Additionally, Alex Reyes may be the team’s closer, but he has blown many saves, and Giovanny Gallegos has pitched in a lot of games as the only other high-leverage reliever. St. Louis can ride this hot streak to the playoffs, but it remains unclear if this talent can win the Wild Card Game or any subsequent playoff series.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Strength: Everything

Weakness: They are the Dodgers

This team is the most controversial to evaluate ahead of the postseason. The talent on paper is unmatched by any team in the majors. Walker Buehler, Julio Urias and a healthy Clayton Kershaw make for a scary playoff rotation. Then add Max Scherzer, the ageless veteran who has a 0.78 ERA with the Dodgers and is averaging over six innings per start. There is no easy offensive game against that quartet. 

Then, in the lineup, there are contact hitters like Trea Turner, Justin Turner and Corey Seager, along with the power bats of Max Muncy, A.J. Pollock and Mookie Betts. The cherry on top is a bullpen led by the resurgence of relievers Kenley Jansen and Blake Treinen. So what is there not to like? The Dodgers have an ugly history of choking in October with talented teams. So long as they don’t shoot themselves in the foot, this team can go on a deep playoff run.

More Articles

Comments are closed.