Fall Classic Preview, Part 1: NL East

by Ian Kollar

The familiar sounds of fall are back, and they’re music to many sports fans’ ears.

The raucous crowds. The shrill whistles. The crunch of body-to-body collisions and 800-plus-pound pileups. And of course, the drowned-out playcalling on a mic’ed up field general.

Yes, sports fans, football is back.

But you know what? I’m not your typical sports fan.  

I’d prefer the pop of a glove, the crack of the bat, the whistle of the ball, the call of an umpire muffled behind a mask.

And hey, they don’t call it the “Fall Classic” for no reason.

I’m no baseball apologist and openly admit that football is low on my list of favorite sports; I just never got it as a kid. But baseball, oh my beloved baseball, how it quells all cravings through a good portion of the year, tiding over the time of year where no football games are played with contact, no meaningful basketball is played, and hockey sticks are stowed away til colder weather comes. Yes, the World Cup gave soccer center stage for a few weeks this July, but the focus of the sports world is solely on baseball for the longest out of the “major” sports.

As well it should. Baseball is not for everyone, but for those who enjoy it, they deserve it to be their sole focus.

While football teams have a couple weeks to feel out one another and, to borrow a cliche’, separate pretenders from contenders, Major League Baseball’s hottest month is coming to a boil. Pennant races are open in both leagues, wild card berths to be had. Eight teams will make the playoffs in October; right now, 14 teams are contending and no spot is settled with just three weeks left in the season.

So where do we go from here?

Oh yeah, to a preview of what’s to come. In the upcoming days, I will preview the rest of the divisions in each league, and make bold predictions for the playoffs. Enjoy baseball while you can. Football can wait. So can hockey. And basketball. Because before you know it, October will be gone, snow will be on the ground in the Northeast, and all other sports will enjoy their time in the spotlight. Then, once the snow thaws, it’ll be all about America’s Pasttime once again.

National League East

The NL East has been the hub of attention for a multitude of reasons:

  1. Most media coverage is East Coast-centric.
  2. The Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies, two well-known teams, are rekindling a rivalry after several years of Atlanta dormancy.
  3. The Phillies, who recently overtook the Braves for the division lead (and best record in the NL), are fresh off back-to-back NL champions and World Series appearances.

Whichever team wins this division will likely have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs thanks to a surprising National League victory in the All-Star game. The Phillies, a local favorite of mine, have a top-tier pitching rotation that, according to some experts, could send a Roy Halladay-Cole Hamels-Roy Oswalt trio at the Atlanta Braves in BOTH upcoming series. The Braves aren’t slouches either, with Tim Hudson having a fantastic season and second-year pro Tommy Hanson pitching solidly behind him. Derek Lowe and Jair Jurrjens, despite uncharacteristic ERAs above 4, bring big-game experience to the table.

The problem with the Braves is that their offense is slumping at the wrong time. Their August acquisition of 1B Derrek Lee has done little (he was hitting under .250 for a good portion of his tenure with Atlanta), and were averaging under 4 runs per game in September. A lack of run support could doom a team this late in the year.

The Phillies’ bats, meanwhile, woke up at the right time; rather, I should say the players wielding them got healthy at the right time. Most of Philadelphia’s roster dealt with time on the disabled list, but the team has adjusted, other players have stepped up, and as previously mentioned, the starting pitching has been excellent at least 60 percent of the time.

Hamels knows a bit about run support – he lacked it for a good part of the year. In September, though, Philly is averaging 5.5 runs per game in that same span.

One might argue that the Phillies might be overusing the three aces’ arms in September, and that it could come back to haunt them. To those critics, I say this: they have to get there first.

Atlanta is struggling at the wrong time. The Braves and the Phillies face each other six times down the stretch, including the final three games of the regular season. Atlanta’s offensive studs this season have been Omar Infante and Martin Prado, while rookie Jason Hayward has been very good and Brian McCann has lived up to his All-Star status. The four of them, however, pale in comparison when laid out next to the Phillies’ roster, including a scalding hot Shane Victorino, a clutch Carlos Ruiz, steadily-stellar Placido Polanco and a healthy Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. That isn’t even mentioning former NL MVP Jimmy Rollins, lefty masher Raul Ibanez or hot-and-cold righty Jayson Werth.

Edge: Phillies