2015 NL Divsion Series Preview

Welcome back to the Middle Relief Report! This time, I’ll explore the upcoming matchups in the National League Division series, which begin Friday afternoon at 6:30 ET in St. Louis as the Wild Card victors from Chicago roll into the Mound City for a pair of contests over the weekend. Also in action Friday are the Mets and Dodgers in Los Angeles at 9:30 ET. As with our last post, we’ll start by looking at the first of the matchups on Friday between the Cubs and Cardinals.

Chicago Cubs (97-65) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (100-62)

Projected Starters:

Game 1: Jon Lester (11-12, 3.34) vs. John Lackey (13-10, 2.77)

Game 2: Kyle Hendricks (8-7, 3.95) vs. Jaime Garcia (10-6, 2.43)

Game 3: Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77) vs. Michael Wacha (17-7, 3.38)

Offensive Comparison (including rank among NL teams):

Chicago St. Louis
.244, 13th BA .253, 6th
.719, T-6th OPS .716, 8th
97, T-5th OPS+ 94, T-7th
1518, 15th K 1267, 6th
567, 1st BB 506, 4th
171, 5th HR 137, 11th
4.25, 6th Runs/Game 3.99, 11th

Defensive Comparison (including rank among NL teams):

Chicago St. Louis
3.36, 3rd ERA 2.94, 1st
116, 3rd ERA+ 134, 1st
3.30, 1st FIP 3.47, 5th
1.152, 1st WHIP 1.254, 7th
1431, 1st K 1329, 7th
407, 4th BB 477, 7th
134, 3rd HR 123, 2nd
111, 12th E 96, 11th
.982, 3rd FLD% .984, 11th
.695, 3rd Def. Efficiency .688, 8th
3.75, 4th Runs/Game 3.24, 1st

The numbers here are a bit more difficult to read than before, especially in the offensive category. The Cubs don’t hit for average well and strike out quite a bit, but manage to score runs by virtue of good discipline (1st in the NL in drawing walks) and hitting for extra bases (5th in OPS+ and HR). The Cubs offense is chock full of young talent like rookies Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Addison Russell as well as “young vets” Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler, and Dexter Fowler. Bryant and Rizzo were all-around offensive weapons for the Cubbies this season, finishing with (respectively) 26 and 31 HRs, 99 and 101 RBI, .275 and .278 BA, 134 and 145 OPS+, and even 13 and 17 steals. 7 other players hit at least 10 home runs and 6 players finished with 23 or more doubles. The Cardinals weren’t particularly outstanding in any category (highest rank was 4th in walks) and finished in the bottom third of the NL for runs scored. Matt Carpenter had his most powerful year yet, hitting 28 home runs and driving in 84 on his way to a .272 BA and 135 OPS+. Outfielders Jayson Heyward, Randal Grichuk and Steven Piscotty all also had solid seasons culminating in final OPS+ of 117, 134 and 130 respectively and combining for 37 HR and 146 RBI as a unit. The pitching is also tough to read into – the Cardinals’ team ERA was first in the league by a long shot, but the Cubs’ peripheral statistics were much stronger despite their team ERA being more than 40 points higher. The Redbirds are also missing their best power arm in Carlos Martinez, who is out for the season. However, none of their other 4 regular starters (Lackey, Wacha, Garcia, Lance Lynn) posted ERAs over 3.38 this season. The Cubs got solid seasons by Lester, Hendricks and Jason Hammel but were carried most of the way by burly righthander Jake Arrieta, who we saw in action Wednesday in Pittsburgh. So if the Cardinals stats weren’t as great but still allowed the fewest runs, you would think that means the Cardinals played outstanding defense behind their pitchers – but that wasn’t the case. St. Louis finished 8th in defensive efficiency and 11th in fielding percentage, while the Cubs were 3rd in the NL in each of the aforementioned categories. Like the Astros before them, the Cubs are at a slight disadvantage because they only get to use their ace once in the series – and we saw on Wednesday night how much Jake Arrieta can impact the game – but it doesn’t bother me. The Cardinals may have won the Central, but I think the Cubs have the better team right now. I’m taking the “underdogs: in this one, but not by much.

OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Cubs in 5

New York Mets (90-72) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)

Projected Starters:

Game 1: Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.54) vs. Clayton Kershaw (16-7, 2.13)

Game 2: Noah Syndergaard (9-7, 3.24) vs. Zack Greinke (19-3, 1.66)

Game 3: Matt Harvey (13-8, 2.71) vs. Brett Anderson (10-9, 3.69)

Offensive Comparison (including rank among NL teams):

New York Los Angeles
.244, 14th BA .250, 10th
.712, 9th OPS .739, 2nd
98, 4th OPS+ 105, 1st
1290, 9th K 1258, 5th
488, 7th BB 563, 2nd
177, 4th HR 187, 1st
4.22, 7th Runs/Game 4.12, 8th

Defensive Comparison (including rank among NL teams):

New York Los Angeles
3.43, 4th ERA 3.44, 5th
107, 6th ERA+ 108, 5th
3.53, 6th FIP 3.41, 3rd
1.179, 2nd WHIP 1.184, 3rd
1337, 6th K 1396, 2nd
383, 2nd BB 395, 3rd
152, 7th HR 145, 5th
88, 5th E 75, 1st
.986, T-4th FLD% .988, 1st
.697, 2nd Def. Efficiency .692, 6th
3.78, 5th Runs/Game 3.67, 2nd

Both offenses in this matchup look to be pretty equal in terms of scoring ability as well as being quite similar in style – mediocre average with decent pop and an average ability to score runs. The Mets offense, however, has been on fire through August and September since the acquisition of Cuban-born outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. In 57 games for the Mets, Cespedes slugged 17 homers, drove in 44 runs (good enough for fifth on the team… over the whole season) and hit .287 with an eye-catching 157 OPS+. Lucas Duda hit 27 homers and Curtis Granderson added 26 for the men from Queens and Daniel Murphy led all full-season regulars with a .281 batting average. Los Angeles’ advantage over the Mets is their superior discipline, finishing top-5 in the NL in both K and BB. They Dodgers also hit the most home runs in the NL, with Adrian Gonzalez leading the team at 28 and rookie Joc Pedersen a close second with 26. Six other players contributed 11 or more dingers to the Dodgers’ efforts in 2015 and veterans Andre Ethier, Howie Kendrick and Justin Turner all hit in the .290s. The pitching and defense from both teams was quite good, as the teams combined to finish no lower than 6th in every category except for one (NYM, HR, 7th). The Mets got outstanding starting pitching from a trio of young, hard-throwing righties in Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey as well as solid contributions from veterans Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese. The New York bullpen was anchored by closer Jeurys Familia (43/48 saves, 1.85 ERA) and setup men Sean Gilmartin and Erik Goeddel (2.67 and 2.43 ERAs). The Dodgers’ rotation was anchored by the historic performances of lefty Clayton Kershaw and righty Zack Greinke, and the bullpen was led by hard-throwing closer Kenley Jansen (36/38 saves, 2.41 ERA) and a host of solid relievers, the best of whom was soft-tossing lefty J.P. Howell (1.43 ERA in 65 app.). The Dodgers are just a little better in every category from top to bottom, and I think 2015 is the year that Clayton Kershaw finally has success in the postseason. Look for the Dodgers to make a deep run in this years’ playoffs – but not without a fight from the Mets first.

OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Dodgers in 4

There you go folks, everything you need to know going into this year’s NLDS series. With a busy weekend ahead for me and for baseball, I’m not sure when I’ll be posting next – be sure to stay in the loop by following MRR on Twitter @MRRblog and Like us on Facebook! Thanks everyone, and enjoy the games!

Statistical credit for this article goes to Baseball-Reference.com as usual. MRR Thanks them for their constant hard work.

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