After the American League kicked off the fun in the 2020 MLB Playoffs, now it's time for the National League to get in on the action.
The action is going to be fast and furious around baseball. After trying to get a handle on the four series around the American League yesterday, now we take a stab at predicting the four series in the National League.
It's a shame we couldn't get a longer series between the Reds and Braves. Cincinnati has one of the best pitching rotations in baseball, while Atlanta has one of the strongest lineups. The Reds will look to Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray to lead them to an upset of the NL East champion Atlanta Braves.
The best pitcher in the National League this year has been Trevor Bauer, who struck out 100 batters this year and posted a microscopic 1.73 ERA. Castillo struggled early in the season, but turned things around in September, as he was nearly unhittable in the final month of the regular season. If Sonny Gray is healthy after missing his last couple starts of the season, the Reds could be a sleeper in the National League.
On short rest, @BauerOutage made his case for NL Cy Young. 🔥 (MLB x @NikeDiamond) https://t.co/EDtt7OzZMo— MLB (@MLB)1600911938.0
Of course Cincinnati will need a little offense to help out their pitching staff. Joey Votto, Nick Castellanos, and Eugenio Suarez can all provide power at the plate. The question is can they do it consistently? More heroics are going to needed from new second baseman Mike Moustakas, who hit six home runs in September.
There might not be a lineup in the National League that is feared more than that of the Atlanta Braves. Marcell Ozuna and Freddie Freeman combined to hit 31 homers and drive in 109 runs this year. Dansby Swanson started to live up to the hype that came with being the first overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft. All that and we still haven't even mentioned Ronald Acuna Jr., who struggled this year but still hit 14 homers.
The biggest concern for the Braves is going to be pitching. Max Fried emerged as the ace of the staff this year, posting a 7-0 record. The rest of the rotation is a question mark. Ian Anderson only has six career starts, while Kyle Wright was just 2-4 with a 5.21 ERA. The Braves lost Mike Soroka and Cole Hamels for the year because of injuries, or else the rotation wouldn't be a cause for concern for Atlanta.
I wonder how much energy the Reds used just trying to make the playoffs. Now Cincinnati has to hit the road and take on one of the best teams in baseball. The Reds have the pitching to win this series, I'm just not sure they can outhit the Braves in Atlanta. Bauer wins the first game for Cincinnati before Atlanta rallies to win the next two games to move on to the next round of the playoffs. Atlanta in 3 games.
Imagine how insane you would have thought someone was if they told you before the season that the Miami Marlins would make the playoffs this year. Even with expanded playoffs, the Marlins were coming off a 2019 season in which they lost 105 games. Miami now joins the 2017 Minnesota Twins as the only teams in baseball history to make the playoffs a year after losing at least 100 games. Don Mattingly deserves consideration for NL Manager of the year after what he has done with this Marlins team.
The key to Miami's offense is Brian Anderson. The third baseman led the team with 11 home runs and 38 RBIs this year. Jesus Aguilar adds a bit of pop to the lineup to compliment Anderson, while shortstop Miguel Rojas hit .304 this season.
Pitching is what helped earn Miami a playoff spot this year. Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara, and Sixto Sanchez did a lot of the heavy lifting at the top of the rotation, while Brad Boxberger and Brandon Kintzler were on the money in relief when they were handed the game. Boxberger finished the season with six holds, while Kintzler secured 12 saves.
Miami Marlins clinch first playoff berth since 2003 on anniversary of Jose Fernandez's death https://t.co/AhLaAlv2G2— CBS Sports MLB (@CBS Sports MLB)1601091894.0
A team a little more familiar with the playoffs of late has been the Chicago Cubs, who won the World Series in 2016. The Cubs won the NL Central despite some struggles from Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber. Baez and Bryant both barely hit over .200 this season, while Schwarber finished the regular season with a .188 batting average. Even with their struggles, the Cubs lineup is still dangerous, especially when you add in Anthony Rizzo, Ian Happ, and Willson Contreras.
Pitching is where the Cubs created a lot of their success this year. Yu Darvish had a bounce-back year, going 8-3 with a 2.01 ERA and 93 strikeouts. Kyle Hendricks will take the ball in the first game of the series against the Marlins. Alec Mills threw a no-hitter a few ago against the Milwaukee Brewers. Jon Lester doesn't have the same stuff as he used to, but he gives the rotation some veteran grit.
Miami is perfect when they make the playoffs. The Marlins have won the World Series in each of their two previous playoff appearances. The streak ends this year, as the Cubs get some revenge for Steve Bartman. Chicago in 2 games.
What a contrast in styles between St. Louis and San Diego. Smallball taking on the power game of the Padres. The Cardinals finished last in baseball this year with just 51 home runs, while the Padres mashed 95 taters. Paul Goldschmidt did his best to jumpstart the offense of the Cardinals this year with a .304 batting average. Brad Miller hit a team-high seven homers.
The Cardinals will have to hope their pitching can hold up to give them a shot at knocking off the Padres. Kwang-Hyun Kim gets the ball in Game 1 after going 3-0 with a 1.62 ERA in his MLB season after spending the last 12 years with SK Wyverns in the KBO. The ageless Adam Wainwright will follow Kim, and if the series goes to a deciding third game, Jack Flaherty will hope to redeem himself after a season that saw his ERA balloon to 4.91.
FERNANDO TATIS JR. WITH A 600 FOOT MOON BOMB https://t.co/6OV5RGNcOu— Jared Carrabis (@Jared Carrabis)1601089665.0
San Diego knew they were building for the future, I just don't think they were prepared for the future to be now. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado have formed one of the most feared duos in baseball, combining for 33 homers and driving in 92 runs this year. Along with Tatis and Machado, Trent Grisham hit 10 homers and swiped 10 bases. Wil Myers had a resurgence, hitting over .253 for the first time since 2013, when he was the AL Rookie of the year. All that and we haven't even mentioned Eric Hosmer.
The Padres might have better odds in the playoffs if the status of pitchers Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger was known. Clevinger and Lamet are both dealing with arm injuries and they might not be able to pitch against the Cardinals. Clevinger was acquired from the Cleveland Indians prior to the trade deadline, while Lamet struck out 93 batters and posted a 2.09 ERA. Zach Davies will get the nod in the series opener, and we could see Chris Paddack and Garrett Richards if Lamet and Clevinger can't pitch.
The Cardinals have the experience but I don't see how they are going to keep up with the Padres here. Tatis, Machado, and the rest of the offense of the Padres will be too much for St. Louis to handle. San Diego in 2 games.
This series has the possibility of getting very ugly, very fast. The Brewers snuck into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season with a 29-31 record. Their prize? They get to take on a Dodgers team whose 43-17 record was the best in baseball this year. Just two years removed from winning the NL MVP, Christian Yelich looked like anything but that this year, hitting just .205 and driving in 22 runs in 58 games this year. Aside from Yelich and Keston Hiura, and an aging Ryan Braun, there isn't much to the Milwaukee offense.
The pitching for the Brewers isn't much better. Brandon Woodruff pitched like an ace this year, striking out 91 in 73.2 innings. Milwaukee suffered a big blow when Corbin Burnes suffered an oblique injury and won't be available for this series. The Brewers have a good bullpen with Devin Williams and Josh Hader, but Milwaukee not have a chance to put them in position to try and close out a game against the Dodgers.
We’ve got more work to do but tonight, we celebrate. https://t.co/YQoL1pDgYy— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Los Angeles Dodgers)1600839971.0
If the Dodgers can't win it all this year, it's hard to see them winning a World Series anytime soon. Los Angeles has a perfect mix of hitting and pitching. The Dodgers have been so close to winning a title before, it feels like this is the year they exercise those demons. The pitching staff hasn't been overworked this year, which should allow guys like Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler to pitch deeper into games, if needed. Even if the starters can't go more than five or six innings, Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, Jake McGee, and others can pick up the slack from the bullpen.
The acquisition of Mookie Betts could be what pushes the Dodgers over the top and finally gets them a title. Betts has led the offense, which is seeing Cody Bellinger improve at the plate as the year moves along. Justin Turner missed some time due to injury this season, but his return makes a dangerous offense even better. Don't forget about Corey Seager, who is putting together his best season since 2016.
Anything can happen in a three-game playoff series, but if Milwaukee eliminates the Dodgers, it will be one of the biggest upsets in baseball history. Los Angeles is better at pretty much every position. I'd be shocked if this even goes to a third game. Los Angeles in 2 games.
In a must win game for the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George was finally able to look like the best player on the floor in a playoff game.
After a slow start, George poured it on in the second half on his way to a game high 41 points in Game 5. The performance elevated the Clippers over strong outings from the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul as L.A. outlasted Phoenix 116-102.
The Clippers don't have much time to bask in their win however as they have to turn around and play two more elimination games just to make it out of the West. The Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead as Los Angeles struggled to find their identity without Kawhi Leonard. If the Clippers are to stave off elimination any longer, George has to continue this level of play.
It should also be stated that Reggie Jackson has been really good for Los Angeles throughout the playoffs and is someone that the team leans on to take and make tough shots in crunch time. His fearlessness attacking the rim provides a lot of space for his teammates.
Reggie Jackson after getting his free agency bag this summer https://t.co/kgR7AUeQZ5— Josiah Johnson (@Josiah Johnson)1624936925.0
The Suns have dropped two of the last three games, and their win came in Game 4 which saw a final tally of 84-80 so it's tough to gauge how much stock to take in that victory. What I'm trying to say is the Clippers have definitely looked the part of a Western Conference Champion the past three games, and the Suns are at risk of flaming out.
Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (MCL sprain) will not play tonight in Game 5 of the WCF against the Phoenix Suns.— Chris Haynes (@Chris Haynes)1624923130.0
The Clippers' starting big man, Ivica Zubac, was out with a knee injury while Los Angeles out scored the Suns by 26 in the paint. So far in every game but one (Game 3 when L.A. beat Phoenix 106-92) the team that has scored the most points in the paint has ended up winning. Both teams are good from the free throw line and it gets the opposition into foul trouble so it is a sound strategy for either side. But Deandre Ayton wasn't able to get much going offensively in Game 5 finishing with only 10 points in 37 minutes.
For the Suns, they were quick to point out their own shortcomings following the loss. Coach Monty Williams noted, "It's just unacceptable the way we started the game," he continued on to compare the Suns and Clippers in Game 5, "We showed up in the first quarter, and they played with desperation."
Monty Williams: “Leadership is tricky - if you can’t get people to follow you, you’re just walking by yourself”— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel Nichols)1624922492.0
Chris Paul who had 22 points and eight assists talked about Phoenix's inability to hold onto advantages, "We've got to close quarters better," Paul goes on to say, "that's been a problem for us all series long."
Paul has been a leader both on and off the court helping this young team to play far above the level anyone expected them to this season, but he's also been a part of many teams that fell short in the playoffs.
A championship run is the one knock on his hall of fame resume, and it seemed destined to happen this year especially after the Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead. But he isn't the only player who has had their reputation affected by playoff performances.
The nickname Playoff P isn't an endearing one. It has become synonymous with Paul George and his failures in the postseason up to this point. Any success that the Clippers were going to have this year was always likely to be attributed to Kawhi Leonard, but now that he is sidelined it's all on PG to carry the load.
George entered rarified air Monday night joining the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant as players who scored 20 or more points in each of the first 18 games in a postseason. All of their teams reached the Finals. George is hoping to follow suit as the Clippers are headed back home to host Game 6.
Following a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers and coach, Doc Rivers, are questioning if Ben Simmons is the right guy to be running their offense through moving forward.
Offense being the key word here.
Simmons is an all-world defender possessing the ability to guard virtually any opponent on the court from the perimeter to the rim. But it was his lack of offensive help throughout this playoff season that stood out beyond any accomplishments this year. Simmons joined Rudy Gobert as unanimous selections for the NBA's All-Defensive First Team this year and also finished fifth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.8 per contest.
For a player that relies so heavily on driving to the basket to get shots off close to the hoop, it's expected for that player to draw plenty of contact resulting in a lot of free throw opportunities. That was certainly indicative of what we saw from Simmons in the first two rounds of the 20-21 playoffs.
He got to the line 45 times against the Hawks in their second round matchup, but only converted 15 freebies which equates to a 33% free throw percentage in the series. Simmons shot just 34.2% from the stripe if you include their first round games against the Wizards, which accounts for the worst free throw percentage by a player with at least 70 attempts in a postseason in NBA playoff history.
With a minimum of 70 attempts, Ben Simmons' 34.2% free throw percentage this postseason is the worst in a postseaso… https://t.co/EvEcQxEe8m— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPN Stats & Info)1624244835.0
In the four games that Atlanta beat Philly in this series, they lost by a combined 17 points. If Ben Simmons shoots just 70% from the line and makes 31-45 during this series, that adds 16 to Philadelphia's series point total. Obviously, the attempts might not directly impact the losses, but from a very broad overview, it would draw the series significantly closer — especially taking into account that three of the four losses the 76ers took in the series were lost by four points or fewer.
Also let's not allow people to say that the free throw stat is overblown and out of context. It's not. Shaquille O'Neal, who is notoriously one of the worst free throw shooters in league history, still managed a career playoff free throw percentage of 50%. That's why we saw the conception of "Hack-a-Shaq" where teams would intentionally foul O'Neal to put him on the line rather than allowing him to hurt them in other ways.
We've begun to see teams adopt this practice now with Simmons, which is just flat out embarrassing for a player of Simmons' pedigree. We have seen what he's able to do with the ball. He flies down the court on fast breaks, is a brilliant creator for teammates, and is one of the better finishers at the rim that we have in the league today.
We've already touched on his defensive prowess that has elevated him to becoming NBA All-Defense multiple times and a three time All-Star. But what do the Sixers do with Simmons before next season?
The 24-year-old point-forward still has plenty of time to work on his game. We've seen other players add a jumper later in their careers to great success; just ask Vince Carter how that works. But, usually, in order to develop a perimeter shot, there is at least a solid foundation to build on — that being the ability to consistently hit free throws.
Simmons is a career 60% free throw shooter, and he shot right around the mean during the regular season. The decline in made shots from the charity stripe in this postseason is cause for concern that this isn't the beginning of a trend.
Add to that Simmons' reluctance to take shots further away from the basket, and defenses have the luxury of ignoring Simmons in the half court set. We have seen teams (like the Jazz and 76ers) that rely heavily on the pick and roll get shut down in these playoffs, and it's teams like Atlanta and Phoenix that are able to spread defenses thin by putting multiple shooters on the court at one time succeed.
In 34 career playoff games, Ben Simmons has made 5 shots outside of 10 feet (from the basket).— Paul Hembekides (@Paul Hembekides)1624277710.0
Joel Embiid was phenomenal in the postseason, so let's not ignore that fact. Also, he was playing on one knee and still almost willed the Sixers to a win. But again, Embiid was not 100% in the playoffs, which limited his abilities.
Doc Rivers answers a question whether Ben Simmons can be the point guard of a championship team https://t.co/8xL35u98RC— Rob Perez (@Rob Perez)1624244460.0
Following their loss, Doc Rivers was asked if he thought Ben Simmons could be the point guard of a championship team, to which he responded, "I don't know that answer to that question right now," which doesn't provide a whole lot of confidence in Simmons' status with the team next year. Trade rumors have already begun to circulate, and it would make sense for this Philly team to hit the reset button now.
If Simmons continues to be exploitable in big moments, as we've seen him be so far in his career, his value is only going to go down. Adding further complications into the situation is the team just agreed to a new contract extension with Simmons and is due to make between $33 and $40 million per season over the next four years.
As the two cornerstone pieces of The Process appear to be two Scotties without a Mike, the early departure for the East's top seed will likely mean a big shakeup in the near future. If Embiid is healthy, he is elite without question. Maybe Philadelphia will go out and add around their two stars, but unless the organization is confident that Simmons can avoid another atrocious offensive performance in future playoff series, all they have is a really good regular season team.
The Phoenix Suns are just a win away from sending LeBron James home in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the King's illustrious career.
After stating that "These shoulders were built for a reason," James referring to facing the challenge of taking on added responsibilities after Anthony Davis was ruled out for Game 5, the Lakers and LeBron disappointed in a big way Tuesday night. L.A. started off hot jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind a couple shots from James and a three from Davis' replacement Markieff Morris. But it didn't take long for the wheels to completely fall off for the defending champion Lakers as they spent most of the first half trying to remember how basketball works.
LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.
The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.
🗣 DEVIN BOOKER— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622601795.0
The idea of effort is something that was lacking on the purple and gold side last night though. It didn't take long after Booker started hitting everything that the Lakers team started playing sloppy and launching up bad threes in a failed attempt to not let the game get out of hand. Well it did.
The two teams were among the best defensive teams in league this season, the Suns finished seventh in overall team defensive rating and the Lakers first. The Lakers typically like to use their defensive prowess to control pace and work in the half court with their combination of speed on the wings and their combination of big men down low that includes Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis (when healthy), and former Sixth-Man of the Year winner Montrezl Harrell. Incase you forgot Harrell does in fact still play for the Lakers, but before last night if you blinked for too long you would've missed him on the court.
WHY ISN’T MONTREZL HARRELL GETTING PLAYING TIME?????@MONSTATREZZ #FreeMontrezl https://t.co/j55u9zg9kN— NBALakersReport (@NBALakersReport)1622603465.0
For some unknown reason Trez has been an afterthought in Frank Vogel's rotations, not only in this series, but throughout parts of the regular season. With AD being ruled out for Game 5, it would've been logical to think that we'd see an uptick in minutes for the high energy reserve, and we did. But not until the game was far out of hand in the second half. While the Suns were building a 30 point lead we saw Phoenix's guards cooking the slower big men of the Lakers off pick and rolls.
30 points is the largest lead at half in Suns playoff history. 🔥🔥🔥 https://t.co/UoozhMf6Io— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622604230.0
It's understandable to want some size to limit Deandre Ayton, but when it's Booker, Payne, and Bridges hurting you offensively why not see how a quicker and more agile defender like Harrell might fare slowing down the pick and rolls? We saw Jae Crowder having success doing that on the other side for the Suns all night!
It's not fair to just talk about how bad the Lakers were, in fairness it looked like they were getting open looks and were just collectively having an unlucky shooting night. Maybe they all got it out of their system now? But the Suns would have beat anyone on that home court last night. Let's give all credit to them by playing one of the best games ever seen against a LeBron James-led playoff team. Devin Booker is an absolute star and this team plays with a very focused chip on their shoulder which has been manicured by Chris Paul. His leadership has made ALL the difference for this Phoenix team and it can be seen most on the defensive side of the ball. The Suns players have adopted Paul's attitude and intensity on that end and it all paid off last night.
We've seen LeBron actively frustrated during playoff games on the court, and last night is one of the most cringe-worthy to have seen. James spent way too much time talking to officials about calls, and not just between whistles. It would be interesting to know how many possessions the Lakers played four on five because James never made it back on defense before the Suns put more points on them. LeBron was seen leaving the court with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and sure it could be to start receiving treatment on the injured ankle. But we know the real reason he left. We can only hope he didn't punch anything on the way to the locker room.
While the teams will travel back to L.A. for Game 6, the Lakers know they are in a must-win situation. We saw the rest of the team around LeBron scrambling because they felt the pressure. James was the only Laker in the second half that kept the team functioning. When we've seen a visibly dejected James like we did last night, it's been because he knew his team didn't have it. I don't think that's the case with this Lakers team.
There's plenty of talent on the roster even without Anthony Davis. Maybe Game 6 is when we get to see Harrell getting some meaningful minutes. Maybe Vogel can devise a way to get Andre Drummond more involved offensively. Maybe AD plays and isn't slowed by the groin injury. Or maybe you should've listened to us back in January when we told you the Suns were a pretty good basketball team.