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National League Playoff Picture

NL Playoff Picture
By Jordan Kabialis  


  NL East Champions:

Philadelphia Phillies (102-60)

 

With the acquisition of Cliff Lee in the offseason, creating a super-rotation with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and even Roy Oswalt, the Phillies were clear favorites to win the National League East.

Cliff Lee (18-8, 2.40 ERA)
(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

When Oswalt and fifth starter Joe Blanton went down early with injuries, questions arose regarding whether or not replacements Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick would be able to hold up the back end of the rotation. Both answered with astounding numbers. Worley went on to post an 11-3 record with an impressive 3.03 ERA. Kendrick also proved an above average fifth starter posting an 8-6 record and 3.17 ERA.

The only lingering question surrounding the Phillies was whether or not they could last without a right-handed bat. The glaring hole in the Phillies offense in the 2010 Postseason was the absence of a big right-handed bat in the middle of their lineup. Rumors began to surface about the possibility of adding Astros right fielder Hunter Pence. It seemed impossible that the Phils could actually pull off such a trade but they shocked the baseball world with only a few days remaining until the trade deadline. The acquisition of the all-star outfielder essentially filled any possible weakness on their roster.

The Phillies powered their way to clinching the first spot in the 2011 Postseason on September 14th with a 1-0 victory over the Astros. It would be another three days before they clinched the NL East with a 9-2 rout of the Cardinals on September 18th. This marked the earliest the Phillies have ever clinched in their history (Game number 150).

 The Phillies are poised for a deep postseason run with a potent offense and a lights-out starting
rotation. Halladay, Lee, and Hamels have combined for a 50-23 record with a 2.53 ERA. In
addition, the Phillies aces have combined for a strikeout to walk ratio of 5.39. Since the
postseason really only calls for three starters, the Phillies are sitting pretty with Worley, Oswalt,
and Kendrick coming out of the bullpen. Those six pitchers have combined for an unbelievably
low 2.80 ERA.

 

  NL Central Champions:
Milwaukee Brewers (96-66)

 

The Brewers made some noise of their own in the offseason, landing former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke from the Kansas City Royals. Greinke looked to be the missing piece to the puzzle in the Brewers’ starting rotation. However, Greinke injured a rib in spring training while playing a game of basketball and missed the start of the season. Upon his return, he did not look like the pitcher he once was due to the missed time in spring training. He soon reached midseason form and went on a tear, helping to catapult the Brewers right back into the thick of the division race.

Ryan Braun (Left) & Prince Fielder (Right) have fuled the Brewers all season
(AP Photos/Morry Gash)

In addition to a pitching staff that, when healthy, is one of the stronger rotations in the NationalLeague, the Brewers have quite possibly the most lethal middle of the order in the league. All-stars Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder have posted .332 and .299 batting averages respectively and have combined for 71 HR and 231 RBI. Both Fielder and Braun know how to get on base, drive in runs and help the Brewers get the win.

The Brewers also have one of the better back-end bullpens in baseball with the emergence of closer John Axford and mid-season addition Francisco Rodriguez. Axford has posted a spectacular 1.95 ERA and has converted on 46 of 48 save opportunities. Rodriguez, who was acquired from the Mets at the trade deadline, has filled in quite nicely as a set-up man for Axford, posting a 1.86 ERA since joining the Brewers.

A string of six and seven game winning streaks from late July to mid August ballooned the Brewers’ lead in the Central to a mammoth ten games over the St. Louis Cardinals. Just as the Brewers had seemingly run away with the division, a five game losing streak let the Cardinals back into the race. The Brewers quickly got back to their winning ways and officially locked up their division with a 4-1 win over the Florida Marlins on September 23rd, fueled by home runs from Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.


  NL West Champions:
Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68)

 

When the 2010 season came to a close, the Diamondbacks sat in last place in the NL West with a weak 65-97 record, 27.0 games behind the eventual World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. When the 2011 season began, it looked to be another dismal year for the D-Backs with the only highlight of the season playing host to the MLB All-Star Game in July. However, an early season charge had them in first place at the end of May, giving fans something to think about.

Ian Kennedy (21-4, 2.88 ERA)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

With some outstanding performances from their young players, a Cy Young caliber season for starter Ian Kennedy and under the direction of manager Kirk Gibson, there will be October baseball in the desert.

A lot of Arizona’s success this season can be credited to ace Ian Kennedy who pitched his way into the Cy Young Award conversation overshadowed only by Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who has locked up the first NL pitching Triple Crown since Jake Peavy for the 2007 Padres. Kennedy has shut down opponents posting a 21-4 record with a 2.88 ERA with opponents hitting just .227 against him.

In addition to Kennedy’s brilliant performance, youngster Daniel Hudson had a very nice year in his first full season with the D-Backs and as a starter in general. Hudson, who had not pitched more than 115 innings in his entire career (pitched 114 innings over two partial seasons), has logged 222.0 innings this season, recording a 16-12 record and a respectable 3.49 ERA.

After giving back their early season division lead to the defending champs, the D-Backs took advantage of San Francisco’s offensive woes and reclaimed the division lead in early August. Once they were back in first place, they slowly began to pad the cushion between themselves and the Giants all the way up to eight games. A late surge by San Francisco to get back in the race would go through Arizona but the Diamondbacks were able to shut the door with a 3-1 victory over the Giants on September 23rd, giving them their first division title since 2007.

 

  NL Wild Card:
St. Louis Cardinals (90-72)

 

The St. Louis Cardinals took an early blow in spring training when they learned that one of their aces, Adam Wainwright, was lost for the season due to ligament damage in his right elbow.  Once heavy favorites to win the NL Central now looked to be a question mark on the season. However, there is a reason they play 162 games in a season: because in the words of Yankees great Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”

Albert Pujols (.299 AVG, 37 HR)
(Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

Early in the year, the Cardinals found themselves chasing an unlikely NL Central opponent in the standings, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Things wouldn’t get much better for the Cards when they lost arguably the best first baseman in baseball, Albert Pujols, to a fracture in his left forearm. It was a moment where the Cardinals saw their season flash before their eyes, as it was expected that Pujols would miss up to two months.

St. Louis was able to find offense from right fielder Lance Berkman, who revitalized his career this season. To nearly everyone’s surprise, the Cards got an unexpected boost just three weeks after losing their best player: Albert Pujols returned from the disabled list. Just three weeks after fracturing his forearm, The Machine was back in the line-up, putting fear into the opposing pitchers.

Unfortunately for St. Louis, the Brewers went on a tear from late July to August to leave the Cardinals in the dust, building a 10 game lead in the division. Things did not look favorable for the Cardinals’ postseason hopes entering September as the Atlanta Braves held an 8.5 game lead in the wild card entering the final month of play. But then, something of historic proportions happened.

The largest lead to ever be blown in the last month of the season was 8.5 games, meaning that the Braves would have to implode and the Cardinals would have to play lights out baseball the rest of the season. As improbable as it seemed, that is exactly what happened. The Braves went 9-18 in the month of September and lost 8 of their last 11 games to blow their 8.5 game lead, entering the final day of the regular season in a tie with the Cardinals.

St. Louis needed to win to, at the very least, force a one game playoff with the Braves on Thursday at Busch Stadium. The Cards jumped on the Astros early and often in their final game, winning 8-0. The Cardinals would have to wait to learn how their regular season would end as the Braves, who were playing the Phillies, went into extra innings. The Phillies finally broke through in the top of the 13th inning, eliminating the Braves and sending the Cardinals back to the Postseason.

 

For more coverage on the MLB Postseason, Tyler Tjelmeland has the American League Playoff Picture. In addition, the experts of KRUI’s “Sports Squawk” make their predictions for the entire Postseason.

American League Playoff Picture

– 2011 Playoff Predictions 


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