Wednesday night, Baseball Nation's Rob Neyer and Grant Brisbee got to chatting about the four remaining National League tournamenters. They cannot be held accountable for anything that happens Thursday morning.
Rob: First thing I gotta know ... Now that the Pirates have had their moment, are you still asking every other team to lose to them?
Grant: No. No, I'll take the games as they come. People thought I was assuming the Pirates were incapable of winning on their own. That's obviously not it. I just didn't want to deal with a Pirates loss in the play-in to the playoffs. I wanted them in the playoffs, dang it.
Rob: I'm conflicted. So many of my family are wild about the Cardinals, while I think I might know exactly zero Pirates fans. Still, even leaving aside the underdog factor, it would just be really nifty to see the Pirates in a World Series for the first time in 34 years. They've got pretty uniforms, an attractive-on-television ballpark, and a great deal of history to recall. There's a part of me that says the Pirates just have to wait until the Cardinals aren't around ... but how long might we have to wait for that? So I suppose I'm back to rooting for "the story", which means a good, tight series.
I do think the Cardinals are better than the Pirates. But not by much. The Cardinals finished second in the National League in road OPS this season, the Pirates third. And when you consider the Cardinals are missing Allen Craig and the Pirates have Marlon Byrd, that difference basically disappears. Pitching-wise, the Pirates posted a slightly lower ERA in road games this season. Turns out when you strip away the Cardinals' incredible clutch stats, they played almost exactly as well as the Pirates. So I'm picking the Cardinals, but only because they open the series at home and they won't face Francisco Liriano more than once. These clubs are exceptionally well-matched. And I might even take the Pirates if Clint Hurdle doesn't continue to insist on playing Clint Barmes.
Grant: In which six months of baseball is enough to turn Marlon Byrd from a latter-day Jay Payton into a difference maker.
That's not disagreeing with your point. Just making fun of baseball. There's 99 percent of me that's convinced the Cardinals' record average with runners in scoring position is unsustainable -- it was the one-run games for the Orioles last year, and it's the RISP for the Cards this year.
But that one percent is convinced the the Cardinals are one of those teams with secrets they aren't sharing. The Rays, the Braves ... there are some teams that seem so danged far ahead of the competition at every turn. If there's any team that could make me think the RISP is real, it would be the Cards.
(It's not real.)
And, yeah, it's an evenly matched series, so tie goes to the team with more games at home.
Rob: So, about the Dodgers and the Braves ... Usually, one begins by looking at wins and losses or -- if you're a real super-nerd -- run differentials. Well, the Braves won four more games than the Dodgers, and the Braves finished with a far superior run differential: +140 vs. +67. Nearly every time, that would get us most of the way toward picking the likely winner of a series.
Grant: My first instinct is to say Kershaw/Greinke
Rob: Uh, yeah. Didn't see that one coming.
You probably won't be surprised to learn that Atlanta outscored Los Angeles by 39 runs this season. But that difference is almost exactly reversed if you look just at road scoring, due to both park effects and general randomness. And of course the season totals don't tell the whole story, as the Dodgers lineup looks a lot different with Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez than without them. Meanwhile, the Braves have replaced Dan Uggla (who can't hit or field) with Royals castoff Elliott Johnson (who can't hit). They've stopped playing B.J. Upton, too. So, like the Dodgers, the Braves now have a better lineup than their totals suggest.
It's close, but I just think the Dodgers' pitching is just as good, maybe a touch better, and they've got more legitimate weapons in the lineup.
Grant: No Kemp, though. Possibly no Ethier. Still, the Dodgers had a ridiculously competent lineup. It's easy to overlook because Dodger Stadium suppresses the raw numbers, but the lowest OPS+ in the regular lineup was Mark Ellis with 92. His spirit-brother A.J. had a 93, and everyone else was comfortably over 100. And that doesn't include Matt Kemp.
The Braves weren't exactly filled with Rafael Belliards, but there's a little bit of a gap. Plus, it'll be 2016 until I finally believe that Chris Johnson is for real. And by then, he'll be on the downswing and I'll want him on the Giants. I think that's how Brian Sabean worked in the early '00s.
Rob: So I guess we're presenting a united front for both series. Which is sort of a shame, if only because now we can both be completely wrong. Care to choose a World Series team?
Grant: Well, wait. Is your half of the front that you have no idea what's going to happen in these series, and that we're all frauds and shams, and that you can't believe people willingly read our postseason previews and/or predictions?
Because that's where I'm at.
But I've been trumpeting the Cardinals and Braves being super-smart all year, so I don't see why I'd stop now. They do triage better than any other team in baseball, and they finally have their rosters in place, give or take. And they're fantastic rosters. Give me those two in the NLCS and the Braves in the Series.
Rob: Oh! I must have missed something! I've got Cardinals and Dodgers advancing, and ... I don't see any separation between them in the Championship Series. Maybe they Cardinals because they'll be at home first? But I think a prediction -- as opposed to the actual events -- relies heavily on which club is better able to set its starting rotation. I suppose I'll take the Cardinals, though. For my dear old granny. Again.