It’s a fortunate postseason for National League teams. Its 2015, another odd year, therefore the San Francisco Giants continue to follow their trend of missing the playoffs (and most importantly, missing another chance to win their fourth World Series Championship since 2010).
Although history in Northern California won’t be made, the National League Central Division is being historically represented. For the first time ever, the three best season records came from the NL Central courtesy of the St. Louis Cardinals (100-62), Pittsburgh Pirates (98-64), and Chicago Cubs (97-65). Also its just the second time that one division was represented by three teams in the postseason (since 2013 with the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cincinnati Reds).
Unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a 98-win ballclub was sent packing following Wednesday night’s NL Wild Card Game against the Chicago Cubs. As the 2015 MLB Postseason continues over the weekend, it’s time to analyze how our National League teams found themselves in the hunt for a World Series Championship:
St. Louis Cardinals
NL Central Division Champions
2015 Record: 100-62
If there’s been one dominate team in the baseball, 2015 was for the St. Louis Cardinals. Although their last parade was in the magical 2011 chase, the Cardinals have been in postseason contention. Despite losing star players to free agency and injury, the “Red Birds” seem to find a way to bandage their cuts and win ball games. Considering that their NL Central competitors racked up 97+ wins each, the Cardinals were the one of two teams in baseball to never lose their lead of the division.
At the start of the season, the Cardinals found themselves in a recurring position. Once again, Adam Wainwright was (initially) lost for the season due to an Achilles tendon rupture. He was to lead a rotation that featured Michael Wacha who was looking to regain his late-2013 form, the aging John Lackey, and sophomore starter Carlos Martinez. However, Mike Matheny’s club would prevail, thus becoming the fastest team since the 2005 Chicago White Sox to reach 50 wins on June 27. In the timeframe, Wacha and Martinez picked up nine wins each.
Despite a lackluster final month of the season (15-16 from September 1st to October 4th), the Cardinals clinched the NL Central on September 30 – the team’s third consecutive division title. The team’s 2.94 ERA was the lowest in baseball and all of their starting pitchers having winning records.
NL Wild Card Runner-Up (Eliminated in NLWC)
2015 Record: 98-64
Although eliminated from the postseason, it would be erroneous to not credit the Pittsburgh Pirates who ended the season with the second best record in all of baseball.
The “Bucs” entered 2015 losing fan-favorite and All-Star catcher Russell Martin to the Toronto Blue Jays via free agency. However, rejoining the Pirates’ rotation was A.J. Burnett, who announced that the 2015 season would be his very last. In his final season, Burnett won nine decisions, posting a 3.18 ERA, and was selected to his first ever All-Star Game. Gerrit Cole made himself a serious consideration for NL Cy Young after a 19-8 and 2.60 ERA season. Andrew McCutchen blasted 23 homeruns and is again in the running for National League MVP. The former New York Yankee backstop Francisco Cervelli had a breakout season hitting .295 and threw out 29 base stealers (second best in the league).
Both the Pirates and Chicago Cubs never took hold of first place in the NL Central Division, but dominated their first and second place leads of the NL Wild Card. The Pirates clinched their postseason berth on September 23rd, and would go to host the Cubs for the National League Wild Card Game.
NL Wild Card Winner (Advanced in Postseason)
2015 Record: 97-65
In 2015, the Chicago Cubs will answer Robert Zemeckis’ now 30-year old prediction. His 1985 classic Back to the Future saw the Cubbies winning the World Series and (although there’s no possible way for the team to defeat Miami) they certainly have a great chance to break the 107-year old curse in real life, too. For any division’s third place team, there aren’t high hopes for a postseason run. But thanks to the new playoff format, the Cubs are destined for a historical run.
Since the All-Star trio of former big-leaguers Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs have struggled to develop young starting pitchers. In an effort to bolster their unreliable staff, GM Jed Hoyer signed All-Star and World Series Champion Jon Lester and veteran Jason Hammel. They joined Jake Arrieta, who was coming off a breakout season with the North Siders – and was poised to not only have a career season but one of the greatest pitching seasons in modern baseball history.
Arrieta completely dominated baseball – 22 wins, 1.77 ERA and 236 strikeouts. He threw four complete games, including three shutouts and a no-hitter on August 30th. Arrieta is the likely favorite to win National League Cy Young (which will best other worthy nominees like Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Gerrit Cole, and Jacob deGrom). Mega prospect Kris Bryant got his well-deserved major league promotion in mid-April, and led all rookies with 26 homeruns.
After clinching a playoff berth on September 25th, the Cubs went on their way to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park in the National League Wild Card Game. Not surprisingly, the player of the game was Jake Arrieta who threw another shutout and struck out 11 batters. Kyle Schwarber and Dexter Fowler both homered in the game, sending the Cubs to the NLDS.
Los Angeles Dodgers
NL West Division Champions
2015 Record: 92-70
After surpassing the New York Yankees with baseball’s highest payroll, the Los Angeles Dodgers consistently fielded a ballclub that should be World Series bound. However, the Dodgers always make it to October, but can’t get it together in postseason.
Following another playoff elimination in 2014, the Dodgers announced that former Tampa Bay Rays’ GM Andrew Friedman would assume the role as President of Baseball Operations. The young general manager traded star players Dee Gordon and Matt Kemp, declined to resign Hanley Ramirez, and acquired catcher Yasmani Grandal (who would end up having an All-Star campaign with the team in 2015). Along with the Cardinals, the Dodgers never lost their lead of the NL West Division.
Los Angeles’ pitching collaborated on one its’ most dominant seasons. Clayton Kershaw, regarded as the best pitcher in baseball struck out an unprecedented 301 batters and followed up with a 2.13 ERA. In his third season with the Dodgers, Zack Greinke was baseball’s ERA leader – 1.66 and won 19 games.
Offensively, Joc Pederson and Adrian Gonzalez clubbed 26 and 28 homeruns respectively. Andre Ethier had a comeback season, hitting .294 and regained a starting position in the outfield.
The Dodgers clinched the NL West Division on September 29th, besting the former World Series’ Champions, the San Francisco Giants and the once heavily-favored San Diego Padres.
New York Mets
NL East Division Champions
2015 Record: 90-72
October baseball returns to Flushing! For the first time since 2006, the New York Mets are back in the postseason. After nine years of remodeling, rebuilding, and refunds demanded by season-ticket owners, Mets’ fans have something to finally smile about. Entering the 2015 season, the Washington Nationals were promoted as the team to beat and the early favorites (and truthfully, a certain KIRS writer’s pick) as the 2015 World Series Champions – foreseeing outstanding seasons from Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper. Therefore, the Mets had something to truly fight for – respect.
Over the past several seasons, the Mets have slowly revamped their team under Sandy Alderson and the management prowess of Terry Collins. The team started drifting away from over-signing key free agents to building a nucleus of young talent. Jacob deGrom, the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year remarkably quelled the baseball’s common “sophomore slump” and led the Mets pitching staff with a 14-8 record, 2.54 ERA, and 205 strikeouts. Following Tommy John surgery recovery, Matt Harvey returned to form boasting a 2.71 ERA. Although, late season controversy sparked when a contractual innings-limit forced Collins to take the pitcher out of close ball games – costing the Mets a couple of wins.
To compliment the inconsistent bats of Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, and the oft-injured David Wright, Alderson planned on making a huge splash during the trade deadline. After a failed physical which declined Carlos Gomez’ return to the Mets, the team acquired sought-after outfielder and soon-to-be free agent superstar, Yoenis Cespedes. The acquisition of Cespedes ultimately turned the team’s playoff hopes into a realty as he posted an incredible second-half line of .287 / .337 / .604 while blasting 17 homeruns and driving in 44 of his teammates.
On August 3rd, the Mets regained and never relinquished their lead of the NL East Division. They officially clinched on September 26th, and eliminated the favored Nationals from postseason contention. Being heavily regarded as one of the best teams in their franchise history, the New York Mets are destined for greatness this postseason.