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The Greyhound

National League playoff preview

Staff Writer

When Major League Baseball adopted a new collective bargaining agreement back in 2011, a new playoff format came with it. A second wild card team would be added to each league, with both wild cards playing a one-game playoff at the end of the season. Baseball’s decision had its critics early on, but there’s no doubting that it has added more excitement and drama to September baseball.

This year, while the American League wild card and division races have been competitive and up for grabs since mid-August, the five National League playoff spots have been determined since early September. Lets take a look at how the five NL playoff teams stack up heading into October.

Atlanta Braves – The Braves, winners of the NL East for the first time since 2005, are looking to wrap up the best record in the conference and obtain home field advantage through the NLCS. Atlanta went out and spent this past offseason obtaining outfielders

Andrew McCutchen has the Pirates back in the post season for the first time since 1992. Backed up by a pitching staff with the second best ERA in the National League, the Pirates are hoping for a deep run into October.
Andrew McCutchen has the Pirates back in the post season for the first time since 1992. Backed up by a pitching staff with the second best ERA in the National League, the Pirates are hoping for a deep run into October.

Justin and B.J Upton to place alongside Jason Heyward.

While B.J has struggled throughout the season, his brother has proven to be a prominent power threat in the middle of the lineup with 26 home runs. With the departure of future hall of famer Chipper Jones last year, no one expected much production from Braves third basemen. Chris Johnson has had other plans, batting .323 (2nd in the NL) with 11 homers at the position. Despite losing veteran pitcher Tim Hudson to injury, Atlanta has a staff ERA of 3.18, the best of the five NL playoff teams.

St. Louis Cardinals – The Cardinals have clinched the NL Central division title, despite a tight race with the Pirates and Reds all season. Their offense leads the NL in practically every major statistical category including average, runs scored and RBI’s. Veteran hitters like Carlos Beltran, Matt Holiday and Yadier Molina have been consistent at the plate all year long on a team that loves to play small ball. The Cardinals also have Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright as the ace of a young and impressive pitching staff. The 22-year-old Shelby Miller has arguably been as impressive as Wainwright with a 15-9 record in his first full season as a starter.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Since Yasiel Puig made his debut on June 3rd, the Dodgers have gone 64-37, which included a 50-game stretch where they were 40-10. Needless to say, the addition of the Cuban phenom turned the Dodgers season around. This is a team that went from being in last place in late June and considering firing manager Don Mattingly, to winning their division and having a shot at a world series.

Their lineup has a slew of dangerous hitters including Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Puig and Matt Kemp. Their starting pitching however is even scarier with the likes of Clayton Kershaw, (1.88 ERA) Zack Greinke and rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu who together, have won 44 games. Out of all the NL playoff teams, its tough to argue against the Dodgers being the most complete.

Pittsburgh Pirates – The Pirates will not only finish the season above .500 for the first time since 1992, but also have clinched their first playoff berth in that time as well. Pittsburgh has been led by their pitching staff, which has the 2nd best ERA in the National League at 3.27. Starting pitcher A.J Burnett is having a solid sophomore year with the Pirates while newly acquired Francisco Liriano is enjoying one of the best years of his career (16-8, 3.02 ERA).

Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen, the teams’ two best hitters, are also the most potent base stealers. The two combine for 67 stolen bases, which is more than the Atlanta Braves have as a team. As one of the wild card teams, the Pirates will play a one-game playoff against the Reds with the winner advancing to the division series.

Cincinnati Reds – After winning the NL Central last year, the Reds will have to settle for one of the wild card spots this year. Much like that of the Braves, the Reds offense relies on the long ball to produce runs. Outfielder Jay Bruce leads the team with 30 homeruns while first basemen Joey Votto has 24.

In a contract year, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo has had a solid all around season with 21 home runs and 20 stolen bases. I’m interested to see which starting pitcher Cincinnati gives the ball to in their one-game playoff against Pittsburgh. Bronson Arroyo, Matt Latos and Mike Leake are all 14 game winners this year while Homer Bailey leads the team with 199 strikeouts.

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National League playoff preview