Tuesday, November 13, 2007

NL Playoff Report - S6

St. Louis won its second straight NL North title, but this season it secured that title much sooner than last. This is still a team defined by the league’s best pitching staff by a significant margin. For much of the season they ran a modified four man rotation, and highest ERA of that four was 3.86. Any four of the SPs Coleman, Gutierrez, Nakajima, or Sierra can go up against the other team’s ace. Matthew Bravo has to one of the best FA pickups this season, he gives the lineup some much needed punch that it was missing last season. This is a team nobody would be surprised to see in the world series.

Hartford took the division crown for the fourth straight season. Hartford statistically has an average pitching staff, but that is quite an accomplishment for the park they play. Their SPs solid and the duo Perez and Terrero won’t embarrass themselves on the mound. This team has to have concerns about its closer Marshall though. His 7.32 ERA could be excused somewhat by their home ball park, but he has a 6.89 road ERA. Up against playoffs teams now you wonder if he will end up costing them a crucial game. Hartford really hopes their offense is powerful enough that closers never come into the picture. Everything this team does revolve around Carlos Johnson, who will certainly have his name all over the record books in Morgan world by the time he retires. He hit .337/66/165 this season, but he’s got help in this lineup. Willie Hawkins had a down year compared to his last couple of seasons, but still has quite a punch. Bob May and Robert Black compliment this lineup well also.

Kansas City is managed by first year owner cheese1981, but he has been able to guide this team to another wild card berth. Obviously he is skilled since I have no idea how he took rookie Rickey McCartney and turned him into a 17-7 3.38 pitcher. They will turn to vets Pete Buddie and Vic Green to through out on the mound the other days. Both have a history of success, but age is starting to creep up on them. They also have a rookie closer that has had an up and down first season. Their offense is where this teams shines, Enrique Ruiz is an elite player, switch hitter that hit .298/49/147 this season. Harry Chavez had almost identical numbers to Ruiz, and the vet Jim Stewart is a true slugger. The player that other teams worry about most is Al Pena, he hits for power, excellent obp, and can steal bases. This is the kind of player that can single handedly win games. Their pitching seems to indicate a trip to the world series would be improbable, teams would regret overlooking a team with this much offensive firepower.

Atlanta has been a true model of consistency in this league. In the last four seasons they have won 105, 107, 106, and 107 games. They win with pitching, speed, defense, and slugging. So your best bet to beat them is to sabotage the team bus. Banjo Melhuse finally took the role of legit Ace going 19-4 w/2.80. Ivan Sojo is out for the season, but they still have 3 quality SPs behind Banjo and a four man rotation is the playoffs is fine. The FA pickup of former Chicago RP Andre Star has really paid off for them and given them a great 8th inning option until Sosa can come in to close out the game. Atlanta isn’t packed with power but catcher Phillip Ford, a former first round draft pick, can knock one out anytime. This team really is based on the Oakland model of a lineup full of high OBP guys, but they add their own touch with some speedsters in Bey Buckley and Andre Hamill. The past 3 seasons they have made it to the LCS, and nothing about this team makes you thing they won’t do it again. To show how consistent this team was I was only able to find 1 team that won the 10 game series against them this season and that was Boston who missed the playoffs, although Harford and St. Louis were both 5-5.

Anaheim was one of the most active teams in signing FAs this spring, and not just spending but spending on quality players. The fruits of that were getting the 2nd seed and the all important first round bye. Eric Franklin and Del Martinez make a nice 1-2 punch in the rotation, but its really the bullpen that excels for this team. 5 of their RPs had sub 4.00 ERAs. This team has a couple of lefty power hitters in Izzy Devereaux (who also had 28 SBs)and Dan Turner. Albert Guzman is a well rounded player that can hit for power and speed. This is a well managed team and while some of the guys are older, I expect to see them as a fixture in the playoffs.

Arizona, you had to wonder last season if the end of an era for this team was coming after they had their worst season ever. Some of their guys were starting to age and they seemed less explosive. This season they showed the rumors of their demise were exaggerated. Connelly had what had to be another MVP season, he had a 1.243 OPS which is just unbelievable. Still you can’t just pitch around him and 4 other guys had 100+ RBIs. Unfortunately for this team they will without their leadoff hitter and gold glove CF Happy McNamara due to injury for the rest of the season. What they do lack though is an ace that can shut down another team. No SP has an ERA below 4.85. What they do have though is an underated closer, Hackman was 31/35 in saves with a 3.89 ERA. We know this offense will score, but how far they go will be determined if some of their SPs can step up.

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