The Chicago Cubs may be the team to beat in the National League, but getting through the division series will demand they beat one of the past two pennant winners.
The San Francisco Giants met the mid-season recess with the best record in baseball. In playing the second half to a 30-42 record, though, they were no match for the Cubs, who finished a MLB-best 103-58.
Injuries slowed the New York Mets all season long. Luckily, they have one remaining ace — from a pitching staff that once boasted three — with which to give the explosive offense a chance in the winner-take-all National League Wild Card game against the Giants.
Winning that game will be no gift, as the victor will board a plane for the “Windy City” to face this season’s MVP and last season’s Cy Young.
On the other side of the NL bracket, a pair of former Cy Young winners, the reining MVP and a Rookie of the Year front-runner wait to do battle. Here is how October will play out for the Senior Circuit.
MVP: Kris Bryant (.292/.385/.554 2016 slash)
It’s only logical that the league’s most valuable player be the one who carried his team to the game’s best record. Third baseman and reigning NL Rookie of the Year was among the league leaders in nearly every offensive category.
Among those: 121 runs (No. 1), 7.7 wins above replacement (No.1), 39 home runs (No. 3) and 102 RBIs (No. 6).
Only Nolan Arenado (116 runs, 6.5 WAR, 41 home runs and 133 RBIs) could rival Bryant’s offensive production. The Colorado Rockies third baseman also brings the sport’s top defense at the position — and possibly any position. Unfortunately for Arenado, though, he suffers from disadvantages of playing in a hitter’s haven of a ballpark for a team that finished 12 games under .500, robbing him of the “value” tag.
In his first full season as a big leaguer. the 24-yea-old Bryant has become the very best the National League has to offer.
CY Young: Max Scherzer
The Washington Nationals ace nearly claimed pitching’s triple crown, finishing eighth in the league with a 2.96 ERA. His 20 wins and 284 strikeouts were each tops, as was his 0.97 WHIP, 228-1/3 innings pitched and 6.2 WAR.
Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez (16-8, 2.86 ERA and 253 strikeouts) will certainly get votes, particularly given his untimely death with just one week left in the season. So will Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13 ERA and 170 strikeouts) of the Cubs and San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner (15-9, 2.74 ERA and 251 strikeouts).
In the end, however, Scherzer’s season of dominance is far too much for either to hold a solid argument in their favor.
Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager (.308/.365/.512)
In no other 2015 MLB awards race was there as much of a run-away winner as there was in that of the NL Rookie of the Year.
The Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop finished one home run (26) behind Rockie Trevor Story (27), and tied him with 72 RBIs. But, he was tops among all major league first-year players in games (157), runs (105), hits (193), extra-base hits (71) and walks (54).
Also, in the ever-important metric WAR, Seager’s 6.1 was not only the highest among all rookies, it was fourth-highest among all NL position players.
While Story will get votes, and deservedly so, his missing two months due to a thumb injury robbed him of true contention.
Wild Card: Giants defeat Mets
NLDS: Giants defeat Cubs (3-2) — Dodgers defeat Nationals (3-1)
NLCS: Giants defeat Dodgers (4-3)