By: Andrew Oak
The Nationals took everybody by surprise this year with the top record in the National League. They had the pitching, but their hitting made took them to a whole other level. While the Cardinals, Dodgers and Giants are all mainstays in the postseason picture. Everybodys favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, have scrapped together another playoff run, that starts them off in the Wild Card Game.
The field is much more competitive and its up for grabs this year. Lets explore the field.
Best Hitter: Andrew McCutchen - Last years MVP has made a case of being the best player in baseball. He's athletic, can hit for power (25 HR's), can motor around the base paths (18 SB's) and has exceptional defense. One of the sports true all around athletes.
Best Pitcher: Mark Melancon - I don't think you could have paid me money at the beginning of the year that Mark Melancon would be one of the best closers in baseball. However, he's been spectacular. A sub 1.00 WHIP (.87 to be exact) and has converted 33 out of 37 saves to go along with a 1.90 ERA. The National League has done him well.
X-Factor: Josh Harrison - A.K.A. the Magic Man. From a Boston native perspective, he is pretty much the NL's Brock Holt, but with much better power. He can play anywhere and has been hitting all around the lineup. He falls into the category of "Get me in the lineup somehow every game" type of player and has been the spark plug for Pittsburgh all season.
Will Win It All If: The MVP proves his postseason magic. The Pirates don't have an overpowering lineup, but McCutchen sets the tone on both sides of the ball. He needs to be on his A game for the Pirates to advance this postseason.
Prediction: Lose in Wild Card Game
Best Hitter: Buster Posey - One of the more consistent hitters in baseball. Most people thought his horrific injury a few years ago would hold him back. False. It actually looks like it made him become a better hitter, if thats possible.
Best Pitcher: Madison BumGarner - The lefty was spectacular this season posting 18 wins with a 2.98 ERA. In 217.1 innings pitched, he had 219 K's with only 43 BB's. The true ace of the staff.
X-Factor: Pablo Sandoval - This guy can crush the baseball. He has been inconsistent and injured for parts of the year, but when he hits behind Posey, he is going to be seeing some pitches to hit. He needs to execute behind Posey and is capable of doing so in the playoffs. When they won in 2012, he was a monster. A repeat performance is in store.
Will Win It All If: The bullpen can hold leads. Romo and Casilla are the two late inning pitchers. They don't have a ton of weaknesses, but the bullpen will be under a lot of pressure if pitchers get chased early.
Prediction: Lose in NLCS
Best Hitter: Anthony Rendon - Not a well known name to begin the season, but this guy is a potential all star player if he keeps up the consistency. There are other power hitters in the lineup, but Rendon will get on base as much as any other player in the league. He has great patience at the plate and can hit the ball for average and power.
Best Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg - There is a legitimate case for at least four pitchers. Strasburg, Fister, Zimmerman and Roark all had ERA's under 3.14. To put it in perspective, the worst ERA from their starting pitching was Gio Gonzalez who had a 3.57 ERA. Ill take that thank you very much.
X-Factor: Gio Gonzalez - Thats leads me to why Gio is important for this ball club. Whether he comes out of the bullpen or not, he needs to be pitching major innings in October. A lefty pitcher can certainly change the effect of how hitters and managers play the game. I am not sure how the rotation will pan out, but he is the clog to the pitching staff.
Will Win It All If: They stick to their strengths and have their pitching take over ballgames. The hitting will be there, but if we see Harper and Werth struggle in the middle of the order, the SP will have to go deep into ball games. The bullpen has faltered before in pressure situations and I'm sure they are more than confident in riding their starting pitching until the end.
Prediction: Lose in NLDS
Best Hitter: Yadier Molina - Not only the best hitter, but the best fielder in the league. Molina has put the offense and pitching staff on his shoulders at times. He needs to do it again for the Cardinals to get back the World Series.
Best Pitcher: Adam Wainwright - Everyone knows what he's capable of and theres not much needed to explain why he's so dominant. He can pitch complete games with ease and rarely gets lit up.
X-Factor: Kolten Wong - In only 113 games this year, he put up 12 HR's and 20 SB's. He is hitting with a purpose but can be the x-factor if he gets on base. Holliday and Peralta are the true power bats in the lineup, but Wong is poised to produce some great seasons in the future.
Will Win It All If: Their SP can keep up with everyone else. After Wainwright and Lynn, the pitching has been inconstant. Shelby Miller stepped it up after the all-star break but there postseason performance in the past haven't been great. So they need to pitch well for them to win.
Prediction: Lose in NLDS
Best Hitter: Hanley Ramirez - When healthy, he's amongst the best in the game. With Kemp and Gonzalez to protect him in the order. He can only strive in the situation that he is in.
Best Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw - He probably should be the MVP and Cy Young award winner this season. Not sure if hell get the MVP award, but he's locked up the Cy Young again this year.
X-Factor: Dee Gordon - This guy is truly unbelievable. His 69 stolen bases led the league and when you put him behind Puig, Gonzo, Kemp and Ramirez. Thats probably the best lineup in the league. He needs to get on base in his first test in the posteason. My advice: Get on base at any means possible.
Will Win It All If: The pitching after Kershaw can maintain its elite status. Greinke, Haren and Ryu all have the capability to produce quality starts consistently. I just don't know if they will maintain that status this posteason. The bullpen has arms and plenty of them with postseason experience. Expect Haren and Ryu to have short leashes if they get into trouble the second time through the lineup
Prediction: Will reach World Series.
Angels Beat Dodgers in 6.
The Angels have proved to me that they are the best team in baseball by winning ballgames in multiple ways while also holding one run leads and coming back from deficits in the late innings. I think they have the complete package and they will beat their cross town rivals in six games.