The NL East title is out of reach by no means. In fact, with each passing week, my confidence in our team’s ability to track down the Nats and take over first place grows and grows.
However, there’s also a good chance that the Braves will wind up with one of the two NL wildcard spots, which means we just may face a one-game playoff. That’s scary, right? Our entire season could be decided by a single game. Of course we practically experienced that last season when we failed to win the final game of the season and missed the wildcard by one game. Were we to make that one-game playoff and lose, would it be any better than missing out on the playoffs last year? I don’t think so. Playing a solid regular season is something to take pride in, by being knocked out of the post-season after just a single game would be such a letdown.
On the other hand, winning the one-game playoff could be a big advantage for the following playoff series, because the winners of the wild card games will have home-field advantage for the first two games of the next series. Advancing in the playoffs after a single victory could give the team a momentum going into the division series, assuming you believe in the effects of momentum in baseball.
The NL wildcard race is a close one. Assuming the Braves don’t overtake the Nationals in the East, I believe there are five teams that we could end up facing in the one-game playoff.
Pittsburg: they currently hold the second wild card position and are only a few games back of Cincinnati. I think the Reds have what it takes to hold on to the division, but Pittsburg could play well enough to earn a wildcard berth. If available, AJ Burnett would be the starter. He’s got playoff experience to go along with his fourteen wins so far this year. Their offense, led by Andrew McCutchen, is not terrible, but they do rank in the bottom third in the MLB for average, OBP, and OPS. We haven’t played Pittsburgh since April when we took two out of three from them, including a win against Burnett who gave up three walks and two earned runs.
St. Louis: the Cards are behind Pittsburgh in the NL Central, but that could change in a flash. If we get matched up against St. Louis, I believe they would throw Kyle Lohse, who has a sub 3 ERA in 2012 and a 12-2 record. Cardinal relievers, however, have given up 136 runs this season. As a team, their offense leads the MLB in average and OBP, and rank third in OPS. Only the Texas Rangers have scored more runs in 2012. We’ve had the Cardinals’ number this season, taking five out of the six games against them, including a series sweep.
San Francisco: with the Dodgers close on their tails, I fully expect the Giants to lose their lead in the NL West by the end of the season. If we face San Fran in the one-game playoff, it’s not clear who would take the mound. It could be Lincecum, Matt Cain, or Madison Bumgarner. Even Barry Zito isn’t out of the question. Their rotation is deep, and their starter would likely depend on who is feeling healthiest and most rested. Their offense isn’t exactly formidable, but they do rank just below or above the Braves in most major offensive categories. We have just one win against the Giants in three games so far this season, but we play another series against them later this month. The last time we faced the Giants in the playoffs, the 2010 NLDS, is mostly bad memories.
Los Angeles: a few trade-deadline acquisitions really improved the quality of the Los Angeles club. The lineup is packed with offensive potential: Victorino, Kemp, Ethier, Hanley Ramirez, and James Loney. Clayton Kershaw may be the Dodgers’ best option for the one-game playoff. His 2.88 ERA leads LA starters, but he has accumulated six losses in his twenty-three games. We split a four-game series against the Dodgers back in April, and we play them again next weekend.
Arizona: the D-Backs will have to make up 6.5 games to fend off the other wildcard contenders, but I’m not counting them out. None of their pitchers have been stellar. Wade Miley leads the rotation with 12 wins and an ERA below 3.00. Following his 21-win season in 2011, Ian Kennedy is sporting an ERA above 4.00 and just a 10-8 record. Still, he might get the call if Arizona winds up in the one-game playoff. The D-Back offense ranks in the top ten for average, OBP, and OPS. Twice this year we’ve almost swept the D-Backs only to lose the series finale, including a loss to Ian Kennedy.
Out of these five teams, I feel most confident in our chances against Pittsburgh and Arizona. Because of their recent offensive editions, I believe the Dodgers would be the most difficult team to beat in a one-game playoff.
By the way, we’d have to throw Tim Hudson, right? What if he’s not available? Hanson? Ben Sheets? Our rotation has become so unpredictable.
I see why the MLB decided to add an extra wildcard team and the one-game playoff. It generates immediate excitement, like skipping the first four games of a playoff series and going right into the rubber match. Whether you are for or against this playoff system, you can’t deny that the one-game playoffs will be exciting.