In the National League it was literally a fight to the very end, illustrating just how tight and competitive the National League was this year. After a 13 inning marathon playoff game Monday the Rockies might be the most in disarray and they may be nursing a few injuries, but that shouldn’t be a major problem going forward.
Chicago Cubs (v. Arizona Diamondbacks)
Why they can win: Even though the Cubbies have the worst record of any NL playoff qualifier and even though they posted a sub .500 records against the west, this team has a lot going for it. They’ve got greater depth in upper echelon starting pitching with Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly (as opposed to the D’Backs who after Brandon Webb are a bit dicey), a stronger offense with known players like Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee. They also match-up well on the defensive side.
What could hold them back: These are the Cubs, heartbreak is the middle name here, and inconsistency has been a major problem - especially when it comes to Carlos Zambrano who is either dominating or just awful depending on the moment. Closer Ryan Dempster doesn’t much engender a lot of confidence either with his 4.72 ERA.
Why you should root for them, if your team is eliminated: The Cubs are still battling the curse of the billy goat and haven’t made it to a World Series since World War II and haven’t won one since 1908. That’s the longest run in all of baseball and its time to shed the image of lovable losers.
Why you should root against them, if your team is eliminated: This is another big market team who’s thrown a ton of money into big name free agents - committing to over $300 million dollars before this season began. Even with that they essentially won the Central by default with a record that just a handful of games over .500 - making them dubious champions in the minds of a lot of fans.
Arizona Diamondbacks (v. Chicago Cubs)
Why they can win: Brandon Webb leads a bunch of very young overachieving kids who are still growing into some enormous talent. They play the game as a team doing all the little things right and somehow managing to eke out wins despite being 14th in the NL in runs scored and just 4th in ERA. That’s the sign of a solidly managed club and a team who’ll play together and put it together in clutch situations.
What could hold them back: The weak offense could be a real problem if the Cubs pitching is strong. Defensively shortstop Stephen Drew is a liability with 17 errors to his credit and there are plenty of not quite confident gloves behind him. After Brandon Webb, the Diamondback must depend on Doug Davis and Livan Hernandez to shoulder the pitching duties. With a 4.25 and 4.93 ERA respectively the Cubs hitters will be expecting to see some fat pitches.
Why you should root for them, if your team is eliminated: Brandon Webb is one of the best pitchers in the game today. When he’s on he’s practically unhittable. It’s also a lot of fun watching this team of young almost unknown guys make a push towards baseball’s greatest prize.
Why you should root against them, if your team is eliminated: Who wants to see a group of unknowns win? Aside from Brandon Webb this team has no star power and really seems undefined in the minds of most fans. In fact I suspect that most fans couldn’t name ten of the Diamondbacks' players, maybe not even five.
Philadelphia Phillies (v. Colorado Rockies)
Why they can win: This team can flat out hit, but so can their opponents who may well make this a really interesting series - especially since they have two great hitters parks to score runs in. With an offense driven by Jimmy Rollins (.298-30-94)), Chase Utley(.322-22-103), Ryan Howard (.268-47-136), Pat Burrell (.256-30-97) and Aaron Rowand (.309-27-89) this team can score runs by the bushel and assure that no lead is safe.
What could hold them back: Aside from Cole Hamels the Phillies are bereft of starting pitching, they just don’t have anyone capable of really dominating an opposing team or holding them back. The Phillies win by out slugging, outscoring, and wearing down their opponents, and that might be hard with a Rockies team who’s apt to win in much the same way - and the Rockies do have better pitching.
Why you should root for them, if your team is eliminated: This quite simply is one of the most exciting teams to watch in all of baseball. Walk away from a game for even a half inning and you could come back to see the Phillies up by 7 more runs, or down by almost that amount. This is a chance for the franchise to shake off a reputation of always being second best, but still this is the only pro sports organization to have 10,000 losses on the records.
Why you should root against them, if your team is eliminated: They are the Phyllis and finding unique ways to lose is just about second nature. They don’t have a balanced team, relying almost exclusively on the hitting. They essentially won the division by default since what they really overcame was a Mets team who was sub .500 the last 110 games. That’s not exactly dominating baseball.
Colorado Rockies (v. Philadelphia Phillies)
Why they can win: This is the best Rockies team ever. That’s a big statement but this team can do it all - even pitch. After Jeff Francis they don’t exactly dominate but considering that this team plays half its games in the rarified air of Colorado finishing 8th overall in pitching in the NL is quite an accomplishment.
And boy can they hit - maybe not quite as well as Philadelphia but pretty close. Like the Phillies they’ve got an MVP candidate - Matt Holliday (.340-36-137), and a cast of hitters to support him, Garrett Atkins (.301-25-111), Brad Hawpe (.291-29-116), Todd Helton (.320-17-116) and Rookies of the Year frontrunner Troy Tulowitzski (.291-24-99). They also committed the fewest errors in baseball this season with just 68 misplays.
What could hold them back: Coming into this series with just a day of rest and the time difference on the East coast could be a problem for a Rockies team who played into the wee hours on Monday. The adrenaline rush could be wearing off after defeating San Diego and they’ll have to guard against a let down, as well as play with some new cuts, bumps and bruises which probably could use a day or two to heal.
Pitching for the Rockies is always a concern, but it's being out hit that probably should worry them the most. This series looks to be a slugfest and the Phillies will have an edge in power.
Why you should root for them, if your team is eliminated: This is a great team who can do it all and the best Rockies team of all time. MVP candidate Matt Holliday might be the greatest pure hitter in the game today and ROY candidate Troy Tulowitzki is well on his way to becoming one of the top shortstops in all of baseball (certainly he’s defensively head and shoulders above anyone else at this point). The mixture of youth and veteran talent make this team one who’ll never leave you bored and who it’s very easy to root for.
Why you should root against them, if your team is eliminated: Colorado has been a long running joke in baseball, after all no one has been able to pitch there consistently until now. But the Rockies have - and posted the best home record in the National League, and that could be the ultimate home field advantage - or unfair edge depending on how you see it.
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