The National League has been all about power starting pitching this season. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs, dominate the leaderboard for the league's Cy Young Award, separated by the slimmest margins of batting average against and runs allowed. Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets finished with a 2.60 ERA, good enough in some seasons to be named the league's top pitcher. The Pittsburgh Pirates' Gerrit Cole was just a smidge behind.
All of these starters will take the mound in the postseason, which suggests runs may be at a premium. Will they shine on the biggest stage? Or will offense rule the day?
The Cubs and the Pirates will face off in the National League Wild Card Game, Wednesday night at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Arrieta will start for the Cubs, Cole for the Pirates. Arrieta hasn’t allowed a run since September 16, when the Pirates scored two off of him, and still lost. In his last three starts, Arrieta's given up only six hits, total. Cole is the Pirates' ace, and can be as unhittable as Arrieta when he's on. He'll need to be very on Wednesday night.
So will Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, the perennial MVP candidate who powers the Pirates’ offense. McCutchen is 8-for-23 with three walks against Arrieta in his career. Such small sample sizes don’t often mean much in the postseason. The Pirates hope it’s a sign of things to come. For the Cubs, look for Anthony Rizzo to have a big impact. The slugging first baseman doesn’t get as much ink as rookie superstars Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, but Rizzo hit 31 home runs this season and reached base at a nearly .400 clip.
The winner of the Wild Card Game will meet the St. Louis Cardinals in one of two National League Division Series that start Friday. The Cardinals survived a mess of injuries to key players and still led the majors with 100 wins thanks to a farm system stocked with talent. Jason Heyward, who the Cardinals acquired in a trade last winter, drove the team’s offense and played his usual stellar defense in right field. He will be a difference maker for St. Louis, which is looking for its fifth consecutive appearance in the National League Championship Series.
The Mets are back in the postseason for the first time since 2006, and their reward is facing Kershaw and Greinke in Games 1 and 2 of the other National League Division Series. New York has their own set of aces, led by de Grom, Matt Harvey, and Noah Syndergaard. The Dodgers' secret weapon on offense is Justin Turner, the ginger-haired third baseman with the hipster beard. The Dodgers took a chance on Turner by inviting him to spring training in 2014 after the Mets let him go, and Turner's returned the favor by batting .312 with 47 doubles and 22 home runs over the last two seasons. The Mets’ top offensive weapon is no secret. Yoenis Cespedes seemed to single-handedly propel the Mets to the division title after coming over from Detroit in late July with 17 home runs in 54 games, and he's a big reason why the National League playoffs offer up some of the most compelling baseball storylines in recent memory.