Why the once high-flying Padres will get a harsh taste of reality after breaking the bank at the trade deadline, the World Series favorite Dodgers will not make it out of the National League, and could there be a back-to-back World Series champion for the first time since the 1998-2000 Yankees? Analysis, predictions, and more are below for the National League playoff bracket.
Philadelphia Phillies (6) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (3)
Cardinals skipper, Oli Marmol, has some difficult rotation decisions to make ahead of the team’s Wild Card matchup with the Phillies. He has one of the best starting rotations in the league working to his advantage but will have to choose just three for this best of three series.
His best option for Game 1, 6’4” 240lb right hander Miles Mikolas, has a 3.29 ERA on the season with opposing hitters batting just .226 which is significantly lower than his career average with St. Louis of .251. Mikolas may end up starting Game 2 to assure he gets his usual amount of rest days before his start, but either way, expect Mikolas to start one of the first two games.
With the other rotation spots up for grabs, manager Marmol will have to choose between Josè Quintana, Jordan Montgomery, and Jack Flaherty. Quintana has been the most consistent pitcher on the staff, allowing no more than two runs in any of his eleven starts with the Cards this season. Montgomery has been a Godsend for St. Louis after being sent over from the Yankees at the trade deadline and has looked like a completely different pitcher in red and white. Jack Flaherty, unlike Quintana and Montgomery, has had a down year for his standards and will likely not be the Game 3 starter in the Wild Card round, although he may be used in an unconventional manner out the bullpen after an encouraging end to the regular season. Both Quintana and Montgomery are great options, but if Marmol wants to go with consistency, he should hand the ball to Quintana as Montgomery has struggled in the month of September, posting a 4.36 ERA in 6 starts according to the Athletic.
If a Game 3 were necessary, Marmol would find himself in a tough spot deciding between Montgomery and the man I think could be the wildcard in this series: ole-reliable, veteran right hander Adam Wainwright. Based on his recent outings, especially in September, Wainwright has not played nearly well enough to pitch in the Wild Card round, but “Waino” or “Uncle Charlie” is not your average “Joe Schmo” as his nicknames might suggest. In 16 career playoff starts, Wainwright has pitched over 114 innings with a 2.83 ERA and led the Cardinals deep into many playoffs runs, one concluding with a 2006 World Series title. While fellow veterans Yadier Molina (C) and Albert Pujols (DH) plan to retire after the postseason, Wainwright has refused to answer retirement-related questions, suggesting he is all-in for one last ride with his best buddies “Yadi” and “Big Al.” If a Game 3 were necessary, I think Wainwright would have to get the ball.
St. Louis has some serious talent out of the pen as well, including talented right-hander Giovanny Gallegos, All-Star reliever Ryan Helsley, and young flamethrower Jordan Hicks, who has topped out at 103.8mph. After being on the IL with a neck injury, Hicks has been activated to the postseason roster and should be good to go for the Wild Card round.
Offensively, the Cards are full veteran presence with All-Stars Nolan Arenado (3B) and Paul Goldschmidt (1B) on the corners, Yadier Molina behind the dish, and Albert Pujols strictly focused on his offensive game playing DH. Tommy Edman (2B) will play a key at the plate this postseason, as St. Louis made the unpopular opinion in leaving the struggling Paul DeJong (SS) on the active roster, while Nolan Gorman was left off the roster entirely.
The Cardinals will find their date with Philadelphia a tough one, so what makes the fighting Phills such a lethal 6th seed?
All year long, the story in the City of Brotherly Love has been about interim manager Rob Thomson. Thomson took over the role of manager on July 3 after the Phillies fired former Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi. Thomson is just the fourth manager in MLB history to take a team 7 games under .500 and lead them to the playoffs.
Thomson’s squad is better than they get credit for, with a perfect mix of youth and veteran presence up and down the roster. With Kyle Schwarber (LF) in the leadoff spot, Bryce Harper (DH) hitting clean-up, and Bryson Stott (SS) in the 8-hole, the Phillies have firepower throughout the entirety of their order.
J.T. Realmuto, arguably the best hitting catcher in the league, hits 3rd just after Rhys Hoskins (1B), one of the best power hitters in the league, who hits 2nd in the Phills’ order. All this talent comes in addition to the likes of Nick Castellanos (RF), Alec Bohm (3B), and Jean Segura (2B), none of whom are easy outs, hitting in the 5,6, and 7 holes respectively.
Led by Bryce Harper, who has been inexplicably playing DH despite his defensive ability being much better than that of Nick Castellanos (RF), the Phillies have caught flight to close to regular season and it would not shock me if they kept rolling into the postseason and through the Cardinals.
With All-Star caliber starters in Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola, if the Phillies can get off to a hot start in Game 1, they may close this series out in two games. If a Game 3 were necessary, Ranger Suarez would get the ball. A potential Suarez vs. Wainwright matchup would likely favor Philadelphia, although Wainwright’s performance is almost unpredictable.
Phillies in 3.
San Diego Padres (5) vs. New York Mets (4)
One of the more inconsistent teams in baseball, the Padres have had a rollercoaster of a year. From signing Juan Soto, Josh Bell, and Josh Hader in free agency, to “World Series bound” with Fernando Tatis Jr. expected to come back before October, to now deflated, after Tatis Jr. was suspended for PED use.
With All-Stars Juan Soto (RF) and Manny Machado (3B) as well as role players like Jake Cronenworth and Jurickson Profar, San Diego has not lost all hope. Soto, having a down year, has been picked up by the great play of Machado and former Nationals’ teammate Josh Bell.
With all the Soto and Tatis Jr. drama, San Diego has not waivered when it comes to their starting pitching staff. Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove are all “ace-caliber” and very capable of carrying this team through the first round. It will be interesting to see how the bullpen holds up, but as long as the starters can go deep into games, the Padres will have a chance to steal a game and possibly the series in the Big Apple.
The new-look Mets started 2022 off hot but have been fairly mediocre to close the year. The Mets have a talented offense with Francisco Lindor (SS), Pete Alonso (1B), Starling Marte (RF), Eduardo Escobar (3B), and so many more, but it is the pitching duo of Jacob DeGrom and Max Scherzer that should scare San Diego.
On their worst day, I would take DeGrom and Scherzer over Darvish, Snell, and Musgrove, although that is not to say that anything can happened in postseason baseball. If the Mets’ offense does not provide sufficient run support, which seems to be a trend whenever DeGrom takes the mound, they could be in a heap of trouble if San Diego continues its streaky end to the regular season.
Barring the improbable, however, DeGrom and Scherzer should mow through the likes of Soto, Machado, and Bell, leading the Mets to two home victories in the Big Apple and onto the NLDS.
Mets in 2.
New York Mets (4) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (1)
The Dodgers, easily the best all-around team in the league with a former MVP hitting 9th in the order, are Vegas’ pick to not only be the National League representative in the World Series, but to win the whole thing. With future Hall of Famers like Mookie Betts (RF) and Freddie Freeman (1B), and All-Stars like Trea Turner (SS) and Will Smith (C), the Dodgers line-up is simply too loaded.
Los Angeles still has Justin Turner (3B), Max Muncy (DH), Gavin Lux (2B), and former National League MVP Cody Bellinger (RF) who seems to hit a clutch homerun every time the Dodgers need one. To have a former MVP in the 8-hole and a talent like Joey Gallo (LF) one spot behind him, the likes of Scherzer, DeGrom, and company will have their hands full.
Having already broken down the Mets’ roster, their pitching staff and Edwin Diaz's trumpet entrance will not be enough to take down the Los Angeles Dodgers. I don’t see New York taking even one game from the Dodgers.
Dodgers in 3.
Philadelphia Phillies (6) vs. Atlanta Braves (2)
The reigning World Series champions, who lost Freddie Freeman to the Dodgers this offseason, are better than they were last year.
The Braves won the pennant without superstar Ronald Acuña (CF) and have added five game-changing pieces since winning it all, one being rookie sensation Michael Harris II (CF). Harris II has burst onto the scene this year as one of the two candidates for National League Rookie of the Year, the other being his teammate Spencer Strider (SP), the second key addition for this Braves roster.
Strider, the likely winner of the 2022 Rookie of the Year award not for his impressive ‘stache but rather his dominant play on the mound, has added to an already elite Braves’ pitching staff. The back end of that staff was strengthened this offseason after Atlanta signed former Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen (RP).
Finally, Atlanta replaced Freeman with former Oakland A’s first baseman Matt Olson. By no means am I saying Olson has filled Freeman’s role to the same degree, but he has played well enough for the Braves to go far in October. With all these new additions as well as William Contreras’ (C) breakout year as a first time All-Star, I may just pick the Braves to win it all again.
Braves in 4.
Atlanta Braves (2) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (1)
With comparable offenses, it will come down to pitching in this series. With Dodgers’ Walker Buehler (SP) out and Craig Kimbrel (CP) struggling, Los Angeles’ offense will have to provide run support for starters like Julio Urías and Clayton Kershaw so that relievers like Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol have a lead to work with.
Atlanta’s bullpen has not faltered all year with reliable left-handed arms like Tyler Matzek and AJ Minter to go along with flame-throwing right-handers like Raisel Iglesias and Kenley Jansen. This will be a revenge series for Kenley Jansen and I expect him to pitch well.
I like Atlanta’s starting staff as well: Max Fried (LP), Spencer Strider (RP), Charlie Morton (RP), Ian Anderson (RP), and Kyle Wright (RP). While Los Angeles has no issues on offense, their pitching issues concern me so I am taking the Braves in 7.