The MLB playoffs are always great theater, and that should definitely be the case this year in the National League, which boasts four of the top six teams in baseball. The NL Central, in fact, boasts the top three: the Cardinals (99-58), the Pirates (95-62) and the Cubs (92-65).
But looking at the league overall, which team is the most complete?
“Boy, that’s a really good question and a tough question because I think every team seems to have their Achilles heel,” MLB on TBS analyst Ron Darling said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “If you look at the Mets team that I cover all the time, you’re talking abut a team that might not be the best defensively, and their bullpen (Clayton) Kershaw – who are just so great – their rotation is a little weaker than it’s been in the past. If you look at the Chicago Cubs, they got a lot of young players (but) an untested bullpen themselves. The Cardinals, of late, haven’t played well, have had a lot of injuries, but we know they’re the Cardinals. They always seem to get it done.”
So where does that leave us?
“I’m going to say the most complete team that might not make it through – because you know how this crazy system works – is the Pittsburgh Pirates,” Darling said. “They’ve got a great rotation, they’ve got probably the greatest athletes in outfield of all the National League, and their bullpen has been just spot-on magic all season long. They might be the best all-around team, but the way it’s set up, especially for the National League Central, it’s going to be hard for them to get through.”
Indeed, the Pirates have the second-best record in the majors, but by virtue of playing in the same division as the Cardinals (99-58), they’re going to have to play the Wild Card game. Even worse, they’re going to have to face Jake Arrieta, has had one of the most dominant second halves in MLB history. The 29-year-old is 11-1 with a 0.80 ERA and has 106 strikeouts in 101.1 innings since the All-Star break.
“A lot of people have picked Greinke for the Cy Young and Kershaw threw another shutout last night with 13 K’s,” Darling said, “but Arrieta in the second half – I don’t know if you can do any more for a ball club.”
While it’s easy to feel sympathetic for the Pirates, it’s even easier to feel sympathetic for the Cubs, who, despite having the third-best record in baseball, will not only have to play in the Wild Card, but also play it on the road.
The Cubs were 51-46 on July 26, but have been arguably the best team in baseball ever since, going 41-19. Winning in Pittsburgh, where the Pirates are 50-26, won’t be easy, but as mentioned, Arrieta has been lights out.
“Especially when you consider that Jon Lester was supposed to be their No. 1 starter,” Darling said. “Jake Arrieta, over this year anyway, (has been) their No. 1 guy.”