Tag Archives: Yasiel Puig

First-place Phillies host last-place Reds at Citizens Bank Park

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The last-place Cincinnati Reds visit the first-place Phillies

Things were really looking bleak for the Philadelphia Phillies (35-27) just a few days ago. The club had dropped the first four games on a west coast trip and had lost starting outfielder and leadoff man Andrew McCutchen for the season.

But then the Phillies turned things around, fighting back to capture the final two games of the trip in San Diego. Now as they return home to Citizens Bank Park for the next week, the Phillies lead the National League East Division by two games. They have sat on that perch atop the division for all but seven days in this 2019 regular season.
The opposition for the weekend will be the Cincinnati Reds (28-33), who find themselves at the bottom of the NL Central Division standings. But don’t let that fool you, the Reds are an interesting team that is not out of the postseason hunt by a long shot.
After winning their season opener, the Reds proceeded to lose their next eight straight and 12 of their first 17 games. However, since that time, Cincinnati has gone 23-20. They have not lost more than two straight games since April 17, and have not won more than three in a row in that same span.
The Reds have scored 265 runs so far this season, which is just 11th of the 15 teams in the National League. They rank just 12th in OPS, and are at the bottom of the league in doubles. However, they can hit the long ball, as Cincy hitters rank 7th in the NL with 85 home runs.
Pitching and defense, that is where Cincy has buttered their 2019 bread. Reds pitchers have the NL’s second-best ERA and batting average against marks. They also rank second in the league in strikeouts.
Cincinnati excels with their gloves. The Reds have the National League’s second-highest fielding percentage, and their 25 errors committed rank only behind the Arizona Diamondbacks, who happen to be following the Reds in to Citizens Bank Park next week.
The Reds have played exactly .500 ball this season at home in Great American Ball Park, but have just a 13-17 road mark. The Phillies the season series a year ago by a narrow 4-3 margin after Cincy captured four of the six meetings between the two teams in each of the previous three seasons.
Generally, Cincinnati is a sound ball club. They won’t beat themselves, so for the Phillies to take the series they are going to need to hit the ball consistenly while not giving away runs themselves. With the weather warming up, you can expect to start seeing more balls flying over the walls at Citizens Bank Park. That could well become a factor this weekend in South Philly. Keeping the ball in the yard will be a key for each team.

CINCINNATI REDS

TOP LINEUP THREATS

Joey Votto: The now 35-year-old first baseman is one of the best hitters of the last decade. The 2010 NL Most Valuable Player (top 7 in voting five more times), runner-up for the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year Award, 2011 Gold Glover, 6x NL All-Star. Age may finally be slowing him down, as Votto is slugging just .246/.338/.362 with four homers and 11 RBIs this year. But don’t count him out this weekend. His 10 doubles and 30 runs scored are both second on the team, and he is hitting .293 for his career at Citizens Bank Park with 13 extra-base hits over 30 games.
Eugenio Suarez: The 27-year-old third baseman was a first-time NL All-Star a year ago. He is slashing .277/.353/.527 and leads the Reds with 40 RBIs, 27 extra-base hits, and 32 runs scored. His 14 homers are second on the club.
Derek Dietrich: One of MLB’s biggest breakout hitters this season, the 29-year-old signed as a free agent back in February after playing his first six big-league seasons with the Marlins. Dietrich is slashing .263/.369/.684, leads the team with 17 home runs, and is second with 37 RBIs. All that damage was done in just 157 plate appearances, as he has bounced around the lineup, used at four different positions. He has spent most of the year as the club’s starting second baseman, however.
Yasiel Puig: “The Wild Horse” is now 28-years of age. The right fielder came to Cincy in a December trade from the LA Dodgers, with whom the Cubano had spent his first six big-league seasons. Puig remains wildly inconsistent at the plate, slashing just .210/.257/.388 to this point. But his 11 homers and 33 RBIs are both third on the club and demonstrate that he can still be extremely dangerous on any given night.
Jose Iglesias: The Reds 29-year-old starting shortstop leads the team with a .294 batting average, and his 21 RBIs are fourth-best in their lineup.

SPOTLIGHT PLAYER

Nick Senzel: One of baseball’s top rookies, Senzel was handled similarly to Scott Kingery in that he was a natural infielder who was bounced around by the Reds organization in order to find a place for his bat. They moved him from third base to second, and now Senzel is their starting center fielder.
The 24-year-old was the club’s first round pick at 2nd overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, chosen right after the Phillies had selected Mickey Moniak at first overall. The 24-year-old Senzel is holding his own in his first taste of big-league life, slashing .266/.331/.453 with 14 extra-base hits in 143 plate appearances since being promoted from Triple-A on May 3.

SCHEDULED STARTING PITCHERS

Tyler Mahle (FRI): 24-year-old RH, 2-5, 4.26 ERA, 1.255 WHIP, 63 hits over 61.1 IP across 11 starts with a 67/14 K:BB
Tanner Roark (SAT): 32-year-old RH, 4-4, 3.47 ERA, 1.396 WHIP, 62 hits over 62.1 IP across 12 starts with a 65/25 K:BB
Sonny Gray (SUN):29-year-old RH, 2-5, 3.54 ERA, 1.213 WHIP, 51 hits over 61 IP across 12 starts with a 68/23 K:BB

KEY BENCH & BULLPEN PIECES

Kyle Farmer: 28-year-old utility infielder has come off the bench to provide five homers and 16 RBIs over 82 plate appearances.
Curt Casali: 30-year-old backup catcher is slashing .292/.347/.438 in 38 games and 98 plate appearances.
Raisel Iglesias: The Reds 29-year-old Cuban closer has a 2.93 ERA and 1.301 WHIP. The righty has allowed 26 hits over 27.2 innings across 26 games while recording a dozen Saves with a 39/10 K:BB. He can be alternatingly dominating and disheartening at the end of games for Cincy.
Michael Lorenzen: 27-year-old righty setup man has allowed 36 hits over 33 innings across 27 games with a 31/10 K:BB
David Hernandez: Former Phillies 2016 reliever and a 10-year big-league veteran righty has allowed 28 hits over 27 innings across 29 appearances with a 35/10 K:BB ratio.
Amir Garrett: The top lefty out of the pen, the 27-year-old has a nice 1.69 ERA. Has allowed 20 hits over 26.2 innings with a 39/12 K:BB ratio. If you examine these numbers so far, you will see that the Reds truly have a power bullpen, as far as striking out hitters and keeping walks to a minimum.
Jared Hughes: 33-year-old, 9-year big-league veteran righty has allowed 21 hits over 25.2 innings with a 17/8 K:BB

THE SKIPPER

David Bell: Phillies fans who were around to follow the team as Citizens Bank Park first opened should be very familiar with Bell. After signing as a free agent in December 2002, he was the Phillies starting third baseman from 2003 into the 2006 season. He was then dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers just prior to the 2006 MLB non-waiver trade deadline. Bell slashed .258/.331/.385 over 470 games with the Phillies, almost all of those at the hot corner, and produced 137 extra-base hits. In 2004 at Citizens Bank Park, Bell hit for ‘The Cycle’ against the Montreal Expos, the last Phillies player to accomplish that feat.

SERIES WEATHER REPORT

FRIDAY: Partly cloudy, 81 degrees at 7:05PM first pitch, dropping into the mid-70’s during the game with light winds and no chance of rain whatsoever.
SATURDAY: Cloudy, 80 degrees at 4:05PM first pitch, temps holding with a moderate breeze about 10mph throughout and no chance of rain whatsoever.
SUNDAY: Cloudy, 78 degrees at 1:05PM first pitch with a moderate breeze at around 12mph and a slight chance of showers. Conditions steady throughout the game. Precipitation does not look like a real factor at this point.

Harper and Machado may prefer Yanks, Dodgers to Phillies respectively

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The Dodgers appear to have passed the Phillies as leaders for Harper

It has long been speculated that the Philadelphia Phillies would be spending big money this off-season. The primary focus of such speculation has been on the two biggest free agents available, outfielder Bryce Harper and infielder Manny Machado.

The Phillies have tons of available cash and a desperate need to add impact offensive punch to their lineup. Each of these 26-year-olds will be looking for monster financial deals. Seems like a perfect match.
Problem has always been that the Phillies are not the only team interested in the two players. They are also now increasingly looking like a second choice, at best, for each superstar player.
Machado is rumored to have long held a desire to play for the New York Yankees. Jim Bowden at The Athletic reported today the following:

“Machado has told friends in Miami that his preference is the Yankees, and if the offers are close, he’ll be headed to the Bronx.”

However, Bowden and others also believe that the Yankees are not prepared to make the same commitment in years and dollars, possibly as much as $350 million over 10 years, that the Phillies are believed willing to spend.
If that is indeed the case, then the Phillies may slip past the Yankees and win his services. Machado has reportedly told the three teams with whom he met this week – the Phillies, Yankees, and Chicago White Sox – that he won’t be making his decision until 2019.
Of course, 2019 is now just over a week away. It is very possible that the Phillies made the best financial offer, and that he and his wife now have to decide whether to accept less, perhaps tens of millions less, in order to fulfill his Yankees dream. That could well  be what is taking place over the next couple of weeks in the Machado power circle.
Harper may also have the Phillies as a second choice. He appears to have more options than Machado, with the Phillies joining the White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers as the leaders of a group that could also include the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants.
The Dodgers just completed a major trade this afternoon with the Cincinnati Reds. In that deal, Los Angeles sent starting pitcher Alex Wood, outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, and catcher Kyle Farmer to Cincy in exchange for pitcher Homer Bailey and two prospects.
Bailey is simply a contract move here, as the Dodgers have no intention of keeping the frequently injured veteran. The two prospects, shortstop Jeter Downs and pitcher Josiah Gray, are enough return for them.
For the Dodgers, this deal was more about clearing some of their outfield backlog, as well as moving contracts. Per Alden Gonzalez at ESPN, this could well have been a Harper precursor deal:

“In the deal, the Dodgers will save roughly $15 million off their luxury tax payroll for 2019 and will clear enough room in their outfield to potentially pursue free agent Bryce Harper or other targets.”

While the Dodgers could be positioning for a better run at Harper, they could also have their sights set on a number of other moves. It is believed that they are in the mix for catcher J.T. Realmuto and ace starting pitcher Corey Kluber in trade talks.
Both the Phillies and White Sox are believed to be willing to give Harper a similar deal to the one mentioned earlier for Machado, something in the neighborhood of $350 million or more over a decade. It is believed that the Dodgers would be willing to beat the average dollars, but do not want to commit that same length.
Bowden commented on this very possibility in his piece: “…Phillies and White Sox could end up offering the biggest and longest contracts, which means Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, might very well be recommending one of those teams to his client when the process is completed.
From rumblings inside the Phillies organization it does not appear that the club is willing to pay out the huge money it would take to land both Harper and Machado. The latter is believed to be their preferred target. Thursday’s meeting at Citizens Bank Park went “pretty awesome” according to Machado,

Let’s presume that in their perfect world, Machado wants the Yankees and Harper wants the Dodgers. Both players decide that the money is huge enough, and each decides to take those offers. What then, after owner John Middleton stated that the club could spend “stupid money” this off-season?
Club president Andy MacPhail was quoted as follows by Mike Rosenstein at NJ.com:
“…while he did say that we could be spending a little bit stupid, he also went to great lengths to say that one of those two signings were not going to be a prerequisite for a successful off-season. You can have a very successful off-season and not include either one of those. That may or may not be the case.”
There are other options available to the Phillies. They could pursue a shorter term deal with someone like Troy Tulowitzki at third base. They could pursue trades and other short term free agent deals, and then go after Nolan Arenado next season. The following year it would be the long-awaited free agency of Mike Trout.
While there are other options for the Phillies, the fan base would no doubt be at least a little disappointed to not land one of the two young superstar free agents this winter. No decision appears to be forthcoming from either player in short order.
Enjoy Christmas and New Year’s, and we’ll likely be heating up this segment of the Hot Stove again in early January.

Red October: Justin Turner beats the champs

Turner’s walkoff homer wins NLCS Game Two for Dodgers

The drama of October postseason baseball continued to unfold in a big way in Sunday night’s Game Two of the 2017 National League Championship Series.

The host Los Angeles Dodgers held a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven NLCS. Now they were battling the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs into the bottom of the 9th inning with the two teams tied at 1-1 on the Dodger Stadium scoreboard.
There is an old sports axiom that states “if you want to be the champ, you gotta beat the champ.” That is exactly the task in front of this latest version of what has become a perennially disappointing Dodgers ball club.
The Dodgers have not won a World Series championship in nearly 30 years. Not since a gimpy Kirk Gibson caused Vin Scully to disbelieve what he had just seen in October of 1988. Not since Orel Hershiser was acing it on the mound, rather then commenting on aces from the broadcast booth.
Ten times since, Los Angeles has advanced to the postseason. Ten times they and their fans have gone home disappointed. Six times the team didn’t even advance past the NLDS.
The disappointment has been particularly difficult in recent years. The Dodgers have now captured five consecutive NL West crowns. But their regular season successes have ended in postseason failure each of the previous four years.
The Dodgers organization and fans wear those recent years and even decades of disillusionment like an albatross around their collective necks.
So as the game rolled on still tied, the specter of a tough loss haunted their thoughts. If the Cubs pulled it out, the series would be tied at a game apiece with the next three scheduled for Wrigley Field in Chicago.

BOTTOM OF THE NINTH OPENS
The mercurial Yasiel Puig led off the bottom of the 9th by drawing a walk from Cubs lefty reliever Brian Duensing. The Cuban native known as ‘The Wild Horse’ was then bunted to second on a sacrifice from pinch-hitter Charlie Culberson. When yet another pinch-hitter, Kyle Farmer, struck out swinging, there were two outs.
Farmer had pinch-hit for Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who had struck out two while throwing just 13 pitches in the top of the 9th inning. The big lights-out righty from Curacao was now out of the game, a boon to the Chicago hitters.
Joe Maddon, the Cubs respected skipper, strode to the mound and took the ball from Duensing’s hand. He motioned out to his bullpen, calling in right-hander John Lackey to face a pair of right-handed hitting Dodgers bats.
Lackey is normally a starting pitcher. This was the second season in Chicago of his now 15-year career, and 59 of his 60 appearances in a Cubs uniform have come in a starting assignment.
But here in the postseason, Lackey has become the odd-man out of the rotation. In fact, Maddon had just used him out of the pen the previous day in Game One, with Lackey tossing 27 pitches over 1.2 innings of work.
Chris Taylor was the first of the Dodgers right-handers that the 38-year old would face. The two battled to a full count, and then Lackey buried a fastball low into the dirt for ball four.
Now there were runners at first and second with two outs. Striding to the plate was Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner.
WHO IS JUSTIN TURNER?
Turner has hair as fire-engine red as there has been in the game in some time, perhaps since the early days of ‘Le Grande Orange‘ himself, Montreal Expos and New York Mets icon Rusty Staub. Not only the coloring makes him distinctive, but Turner also wears his hair long and wild, and he highlights the look with a long, full, red beard.
A local kid from Long Beach, California, Turner will turn 33 years old late next month. He played at Mayfair High School in Lakewood, less than an hour south of Los Angeles. Turner then became a seventh round selection of the Cincinnati Reds in the 2006 MLB Draft out of Cal-State Fullerton.
Over the next eight years, Turner bounced from Cincy to Baltimore to the New York Mets. Only once, in the Big Apple in 2011, did he see more than 100 games. He registered a career high of 51 RBI and 49 runs scored that year, and in 2013 he hit seven home runs for the Mets, also a career high.
As spring training was approaching for the 2014 season, Turner signed for $1 million as a low-cost free agent with the Dodgers. In a utility infield role, Turner played 59 games at third base, 15 at shortstop, and 14 at second base. He hit for a fantastic .340 average with a .404 on-base percentage as well.
The following year he became the full-time starter at the hot corner for the Dodgers, and set career highs with 16 homers, 60 RBI, and 55 runs scored. He also continued to hit for average with a .294 mark. And then he changed his offensive game.
A year ago, Turner began selling out a bit more for power. Though his average dipped to a still-respectable .275, he crushed 27 homers, drove in 90 runs, and became a force in the middle of the lineup. He finished 9th in the 2016 NL MVP voting following the big season.
This year, Turner has been able to find a happy medium, making him an even more dangerous and valuable all-around hitter. He slashed .322/.415/.530 with 21 home runs, 32 doubles, and 71 RBI. All that production while missing nearly a full month to injury from mid-May to mid-June.
RED OCTOBER IN DODGER BLUE
This was the setup as Turner stepped into the batter’s box to face Lackey. Two outs in the bottom of the ninth, one out away from tense extra innings. The winning run out at second base with speed in Puig. The veteran hitter and pitcher set for their confrontation.
With the game-winning run at second base, Lackey buried a first-pitch cutter in the dirt to fall behind. For his second offering to Turner, he tried to come over the strike zone with a four-seam fastball. Either Lackey was hoping that Turner would take a strike, or he simply made a mistake, or both.
Lackey’s four-seamer broke right over the center of the plate, coming down the pike at 92 miles per hour. Turner wasn’t taking. He put a perfect swing on the ball, driving it high and deep to center field. Lackey turned and looked up immediately, praying that the actual trajectory of the ball wouldn’t be what his veteran senses told him. 
Center fielder Leonys Martin, who came in as a defensive substitute in a double-switch with Lackey, was playing shallow, hoping to cut off a single and keep Puig at third or throw him out at the plate. He broke back and ran full tilt to the wall, knowing this was bad. The only chance the Cubs had now was if somehow Martin could run this one down.
Martin hadn’t even reached the warning track before he knew the effort was futile. He pulled up, hands outstretched as they touched the wall. The ball sailed an easy 10-15 feet over that wall, into the waiting glove of joyous Dodgers fan Keith Hupp.

Turner put out both arms, both index fingers extended in celebration as he rounded first base. The Dodger Stadium crowd was roaring the whole way, and Turner was mobbed by his delirious teammates as he reached home plate.
WEIGHT OFF LA – FOR NOW
The three-run walkoff home run gave Los Angeles a 4-1 victory, and put them ahead by two games to none as the series now heads to Chicago.
Just as importantly, the blast gave the Dodgers some mental and emotional breathing room. They still need to win two more games. But the task just went from doubtful to something more than hopeful. 
Los Angeles will now take the field in Chicago buoyed by that Turner long ball. The man with the flowing red hair and beard had turned would could have been a Dodger blue nightmare into his own red October dream.

NLCS: Los Angeles Dodgers vs Chicago Cubs preview and prediction

The Dodgers and Cubs meet in a repeat NLCS

For the second consecutive season the National League Championship Series will be contested by the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.

The two teams engaged in a spirited series last October, eventually won by the Cubs in six games. Chicago would then go on to defeat the Cleveland Indians, winning the franchise first World Series in more than a century.

A year ago, Chicago took the opener. But LA then received back-to-back pitching gems from Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, shutting out the Cubs twice to take a 2-1 series lead.

After that, it was all Chicago. The Cubbies bats awoke with a vengeance to take the final three games by a combined 23-6 score.

This season, the Dodgers staggered out of the gate, going 10-12 over the first few weeks of April. But from April 27 through August 25 they accumulated an unreal 81-24 record.

That four month stretch of dominance allowed the Dodgers to run away with the National League West Division race. Even a month-long slump over which they lost 20 of 25 games would not allow either the Arizona Diamondbacks or Colorado Rockies, both eventual NL Wildcard teams, to make a dent in the division.

Los Angeles would recover to take eight of their final 10 games, finishing with 104 wins and an 11-game cushion over Arizona. The 104 victories gave them the best mark in all of Major League Baseball, and were the most by any Dodgers team in more than four decades.

The Dodgers would stay hot in the postseason as well, sweeping the 93-win Diamondbacks in three games in a National League Division Series.

Over in Chicago, the defending World Series champion Cubs had a much tougher go of things in the 2017 regular season. They would ultimately win 92 games and a second consecutive NL Central crown by six games. But that would not be decided until September, following spirited challenges from the upstart Milwaukee Brewers and arch-rival Saint Louis Cardinals.

That tougher road would continue in their NLDS against the Washington Nationals. The Cubs and Nats split the first four games, with Chicago taking a pair of low-scoring 3-0 and 2-1 affairs. Washington won by 6-3 and then in a 5-0 shutout behind Stephen Strasburg to send the series to a deciding game.

In that decisive Game Five, the two National League giants threw hay makers at one another. At the end of the battle in our nation’s capital, it was the Cubs left standing following a 9-8 victory.

The Dodgers are led by skipper Dave Roberts in his second year at the helm. Roberts has guided the LA club to division crowns in each of those two seasons.

The Cubs manager is the colorful Joe Maddon. The longtime skipper in Tampa Bay, Maddon guided the Rays to a pair of AL East crowns and the 2008 American League pennant. Now in his third season in the Windy City, he has an all-time managerial record of 1,073-922 and that 2016 World Series crown.

The Dodgers lineup receives most of their offense from five players. Two of them, shortstop Corey Seager and first baseman Cody Bellinger, are the 2016 NL Rookie of the Year and the likely 2017 ROY respectively.

A pair of 27-year olds have emerged as the most pleasant surprises this season. Left fielder Chris Taylor hit for a .288/.354/.496 slash line with 21 homers, 72 RBI, 85 runs scored, and 17 steals. Austin Barnes has taken over primary catching duties. His big 6th inning homer off Dbacks ace Zack Greinke in the NLDS Game Three helped the Dodgers clinch that series.

The mercurial Cuban right fielder known as “the Wild Horse”, Yasiel Puig, put together his finest season. The final influential lineup piece is third baseman Justin Turner. Known for his long red hair and beard, Turner is also one of baseball’s most underrated superstars.

There are plenty of veterans to provide Roberts with lineup support. They include Logan Forsythe, Chase Utley, Andre Ethier, and Yasmani Grandal.

On the mound, Roberts will go with his ace Kershaw in the opener. You can expect to see the lefty, one of the top pitchers of this generation, to come back twice more in the series if needed.

The lefty Hill will go in Game Two, followed by right-hander Yu Darvish in Game Three. Another lefty, Alex Wood, will start Game Four. If the series continues beyond that, expect Kershaw to start Game Five, and then to be available in a decisive seventh game.

The Dodgers bullpen is anchored by one of baseball’s top closers. Kenley Jansen is a big, 30-year old right-hander. He saved 41 games this year with a 1.32 ERA and 0.746 WHIP in his second consecutive NL All-Star campaign. Jansen allowed just 44 hits over 68.1 innings with a dominating 109/7 K:BB ratio.

Between his starting pitcher and his lights-out closer, Roberts will lean heavily on righties Kenta Maeda and Brandon Morrow, and left-handers Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson. He is likely to also have right-handers Pedro Baez and Josh Fields available.

Maddon is well aware of what it takes to beat good pitching in October. “Mr. Kershaw, obviously, and they’ve got Darvish, etc. Listen, we just went through Strasburg and Scherzer, and that’s no day at the beach either. When you get to this time of the year, you really have to be prepared to beat good pitching, which they have.

The Cubs group of hitters have proven they can beat that good pitching. One of the deepest and most versatile lineups in the game today is led by the 2016 NL MVP in third baseman Kris Bryant and clutch first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Jason Heyward are all 20-somethings and all are talented enough that they can be difference-makers in a particular game.

The old man of the team is versatile 36-year old Ben Zobrist, who followed Maddon from Tampa to Chicago and still contributes heavily. When he takes the field in the opener, Zobrist will be participating in his 60th MLB postseason game over the last decade.

The biggest question mark in this series may be what Maddon decides to do with his starting rotation. Even as late as Saturday morning, the starter for Game One has not been announced.

Maddon could choose to go with lefty summer acquisition Jose Quintana, who tossed 2/3 of an inning in relief during Game Five against Washington just two days ago in the NLDS.

He could also come with righty John Lackey, who won a dozen games and started 30 games in the regular season. The veteran turns 39 years old in a couple of weeks, has 26 games of postseason experience, and is well-rested after not seeing any NLDS action.

I would expect to see Maddon go with those two as starters in the first two games in some order. They would be followed by Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks. But that’s only what I would do.

The good news is that whomever becomes the choice to start, there is plenty of talented bullpen support available should they get into early trouble. Maddon should have righties Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, and closer Wade Davis available. From the left side it would be Justin Wilson, Brian Duensing, and Mike Montgomery. And if he doesn’t start, Lackey would be available as well.

The Dodgers had the best record in Major League Baseball this season and swept their NLDS opponent. The Cubs are the defending world champions and play with confidence and swagger. This should be a fascinating matchup.

During the regular season, the Dodgers took four of the six meetings between the two clubs. But I am going to call it for the defending champs. I believe that the Cubs have the talent to take out the Dodgers by that same margin. Call it Chicago in six games.

NLDS Prediction: Arizona Diamondbacks over Los Angeles Dodgers

Dodger Stadium hosts the first two games of a 2017 NLDS

Through four games of the 2017 Major League Baseball postseason, home teams are 4-0. Those hosts have outscored the visiting squads by a 31-14 margin to this point.

For my prediction in this National League Division Series to come true, that is going to have to come to an end. I am picking the Arizona Diamondbacks to top the NL West Division rival Los Angeles Dodgers in what some might consider an upset.

I say “some”, because knowledgeable baseball fans who have been following these teams know that, despite the Dodgers finishing with a better overall record, the Dbacks have actually been the better team for some time.

Guided by second-year skipper Dave Roberts, the Dodgers finished with an MLB-best record of 104-58. That was 11 games better than Torey Lovullo and his Diamondbacks, who had to settle for the top NL Wildcard position.

But as late as August 25, that Dodgers lead had ballooned up to 21.5 games. Over the next month, LA collapsed, losing 20 of their next 25 games. The Dodgers did ultimately recover their equilibrium at the end, winning 10 of their final dozen.

The Dbacks, meanwhile, were nearly polar opposites. They won 20 of 25 between August 21 and September 16 to take complete command of a Wildcard playoff berth.

In that NL Wildcard Game, held on Wednesday night, Arizona blitzed out to an early 6-0 lead over the division-rival Colorado Rockies. The Diamondbacks ultimately powered their way to an 11-8 victory in the slugfest that many had predicted.

The Dodgers offensive attack is led by two of the top young players in the game today in second-year shortstop Corey Seager and rookie first baseman Cody Bellinger.

Seager, was the 2016 NL Rookie of the Year. He also won a Silver Slugger a year ago, and has been an NL All-Star in each of his first two big league seasons. This year he slashed .295/.375/.479 with 22 homers, 77 RBI, and 85 runs scored.

Bellinger is the odds-on favorite to follow him in winning those ROY honors. He slashed .267/.352/.581 after his late-April promotion. The 22-year old slammed 39 homers, drove in 97 runs, and scored 87 times. He logged 37 games in left field, but just four of those came after June.

Third baseman Justin Turner was a first-time NL All-Star this year at age 32. He slashed .322/.415/.530 with 21 homers in just 130 games.

The Dodgers attack also features 26-year old right fielder Yasiel Puig, who enjoyed the best season of his five-year career. The Cuban native belted 28 home runs, second on the club to Bellinger.

Catcher Yasmani Grandal and left fielder Chris Taylor add pop, each surpassing the 20-homer mark this year. And the strong veteran presence of Chase Utley, Curtis Granderson, Andre Ethier, and Logan Forsythe should prove valuable in a tough series.

On the mound, Roberts will send the best pitcher on the planet out to the mound in the opener. Clayton Kershaw missed the entire month of August, and was a bit inconsistent in a half-dozen starts during the month of September.

Kershaw will be followed to the mound by 37-year old righty Rich Hill for Game Two, and then trade deadline acquisition Yu Darvish toes the rubber for Game Three in Arizona.

Roberts has also announced that lefty Alex Wood will start Game Four. There had been consideration to using him as a weapon out of the bullpen, bringing the ace Kershaw back on short rest.

Obviously logic says that any pitcher that’s used to a routine and going on regular rest is probably stronger, and has a better chance of success,” said Roberts in a press conference published by the LA Times. “I just think that with the guys that we have in our clubhouse, the guys who can take the ball, in this case Alex Wood, for us it’s a no-brainer.

Lovullo will matchup 25-year old righty Taijuan Walker, a big trade acquisition last November, against Kershaw. The Dbacks manager has yet to announce who will take the mound on Saturday.

With his top two starters, Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, both logging multiple innings in the Wildcard Game, it could be either right-hander Zack Godley or lefty Patrick Corbin getting the Game Two nod. However, Ray threw just 34 pitches on Wednesday, and he could end up being the choice as well.

The Arizona lineup is led by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who slashed .297/.404/.563 with 36 homers, 120 RBI, 117 runs scored, and 18 steals. The NL MVP runner-up in both 2013 and 2015, the 5x NL All-Star should be a strong contender for those honors once again.

The Dbacks received a huge lineup boost at the trade deadline with the acquisition of right fielder J.D. Martinez from the Detroit Tigers. In 62 games with Arizona, Martinez slashed .302/.366/.741, banging 29 homers and driving in 65 runs in that time.

Slugging third baseman Jake Lamb banged 30 homers and knocked in 105 runs. Center fielder A.J. Pollock slugged 14 homers while scoring 73 times and swiping 20 bases in just 112 games. He is one of the most underrated players in the game today.

To some extent last year, but especially in this current postseason, the importance of effective arms out of the bullpen has revealed itself to be more important than ever. Both teams have a variety of such weapons from which to choose.

Lovullo will have righties Jimmie Sherfy, David Hernandez, Archie Bradley, closer Fernando Rodney, and possibly Godley ready out of his bullpen. From the left side he can call on the trio of Andrew Chafin, Jorge De La Rosa, and possibly Corbin.

Roberts will likely lean heavily on right-hander Brandon Morrow, and has one of the best closers in the game available in Kenley Jansen. Starter Kenta Maeda is likely to be used out of the pen from the right side as well.

From the left side it’s likely to be a pair of Tony’s, Cingrani and Watson, seeing most of the action, though starter Alex Wood could also be called upon.

This was not at all an easy call for me. I don’t like making gut calls, and this is purely a gut call in what I see as a tight series.

But the Diamondbacks took 11 of the 19 games between the two squad this season. That includes a late August sweep at Chase Field, and then an early September sweep at Dodger Stadium. They are in no way intimidate by the champions of their division. The addition of Martinez, particularly in giving Arizona a righty hitter against tough lefty Dodgers pitching, has proven an equilizer.

I am calling it Dbacks in four games. I think they find a way to steal one of the first two, though beating Kershaw in the opener will be a tall order. Then I see them easily capable of sweeping in front of their home fans out in the desert.