10 NL Playoff Matchups We'd Love to See

Ian Casselberry@iancassMLB Lead WriterSeptember 10, 2012

10 NL Playoff Matchups We'd Love to See

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    With advancement toward the World Series at stake, postseason baseball already has plenty of inherent drama. 

    That doesn't mean a particular playoff series can't become even more compelling based on certain matchups.

    We get to see the best hitters face the top pitchers in the league. Veteran players pursue a championship yet again, while new faces experience the chase for the first time. Regular-season rivalries are extended into the postseason. Teams with long histories against one another add a chapter to their shared stories. 

    The National League playoff field has yet to be determined, but we have an idea of which teams have a strong chance of qualifying for the postseason. Based on the various possibilities that might occur, here are 10 matchups we would enjoy seeing in this year's NL playoffs. 

    For the American League version, Zach Rymer has you covered here

    All statistics mentioned here are current as of Sept. 10.

10. Washington Nationals vs. St. Louis Cardinals

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    The new guard vs. the old guard.

    The Washington Nationals are the up-and-coming team in the National League, becoming a division title contender perhaps a year earlier than expected. The Nats already look like they could be the best team in the NL for the next few years.

    The St. Louis Cardinals are the defending World Series champions and a perennial power in the NL. While they may have struggled during the regular season, the Cards are certainly a threat to get back to the World Series if they qualify for the playoffs. 

    In the St. Louis dugout, Mike Matheny is a first-year manager, succeeding despite no prior experience in that role. For the Nationals, 69-year-old Davey Johnson is managing a team back into the playoffs after a 10-year hiatus from the dugout.

    The Cardinals have the best lineup in the NL, while the Nats have the best pitching staff. Who has the upper hand here?

9. Chipper Jones vs. Aroldis Chapman

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    Here's another example of old guard vs. new guard.

    Chipper Jones is the 19-year major league veteran who's playing out his final season and competing for some postseason glory. Aroldis Chapman is in his third season, establishing himself as one of the most dominating closers in baseball with his 100 mph fastball.

    How fun would it be to see a playoff game come down to the old, salty third baseman versus the young flame-throwing reliever?

    Jones and Chapman have only faced each other once, with Jones drawing a walk. But with the outcome of a postseason game on the line, would the 40-year-old veteran be able to knock one out, or would the 24-year-old Cuban missile blow the old guy away?

8. Hanley Ramirez vs. Washington Nationals

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    During his days with the then-Florida and now-Miami Marlins, Hanley Ramirez rung up some big numbers against some terrible Washington Nationals teams.

    For his career, Ramirez is batting .342/.430/.637 with 27 home runs and 74 RBI against the Nats. Even this season, with the Nationals being one of the best teams in MLB, Ramirez is still hitting well against their pitching. In 37 plate appearances, he's batting .355/.432/.613 with two homers and four RBI. 

    If Washington was to draw the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs this season, would Ramirez continue to be a Nats killer? Could he almost single-handedly keep the Nationals from advancing in the postseason? Or would the Nats' pitching finally assert itself and get him out?

7. Atlanta Braves vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Has it really been 20 years since the Braves and Pirates faced each other in the NLCS?

    The two teams played a classic seven-game series that ended with Sid Bream scoring from second base on a Francisco Cabrera single, beating out a Barry Bonds throw to the plate from left field. It's one of the signature moments in Braves history.

    Watch video of the play here.

    That was the beginning of a 15-year run of excellence for the Braves. For the Pirates, losing the 1992 NLCS was the beginning of a 20-year run of mediocrity and failure. The Bucs haven't been back to the postseason since Bream's left foot crossed home plate.

    Of course, the Pirates have a little bit of work to do before this 20-year rematch can take place. As of Sept. 10, Pittsburgh is 2.5 games out of a wild-card playoff berth, while the Braves currently hold one of the two extra postseason bids. 

6. Gio Gonzalez vs. Joey Votto

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    If the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals face each other in the NL playoffs, we'll see a matchup between one of the best pitchers in the league and one of its finest hitters.

    Left-handed batters are hitting .221/.291/.338 with three home runs in 153 plate appearances versus Gio Gonzalez this season.

    Against left-handed pitching this year, Joey Votto is batting .299/.429/.495 with four homers and 11 RBI in 119 plate appearances. 

    With Gonzalez joining the NL for the first time this season, he and Votto have faced each other nine times. The Reds first baseman has two hits in seven at-bats for a .286 average. He's hit one double and drawn two walks against the Nats left-hander. 

    Gonzalez also has to worry about the other left-handed slugger in the Reds lineup. During the six plate appearances in which Gonzalez has faced Jay Bruce, Cincinnati's right fielder has two doubles in five at-bats.

    Small sample sizes, yes, but these will be two key matchups if the Reds and Nats tangle in a playoff series.

5. Johnny Cueto vs. Clayton Kershaw

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    R.A. Dickey will almost certainly have something to say about this, but the NL Cy Young Award race could come down to a two-man competition between the Cincinnati Reds' Johnny Cueto and Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw.

    What makes the race particularly intriguing is that both pitchers have different games.

    Cueto pitches to contact, keeping the ball down and inducing batters to hit ground balls. It's the key to his survival pitching in Great American Ball Park. 

    Kershaw is the classic prototype of a tall, hard-throwing fireballer. He leads the NL with 201 strikeouts, even after being scratched from his start on Sunday (Sept. 9) with a sore hip

    If the Reds and Dodgers face each other in a playoff series, two of the NL leaders in ERA could make up the best Game 1 pitching matchup we'll see in the 2012 NL postseason. 

4. Chipper Jones vs. Bryce Harper

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    Here we have yet another example of old guard vs. new guard.

    We had a preview of this before the 2012 All-Star Game when Chipper Jones alluded to the 19-year-old Bryce Harper playing in the exhibition for the first time, sharing the experience with a 40-year-old veteran who was appearing for the last time. 

    If the Braves and Nationals face each other in the NL playoffs, we'll see the rookie experiencing the postseason for the first time and the old vet trying for one last shot at championship glory. This would be Jones' 12th time in the playoffs. Will Harper see postseason baseball that many times in his career?

    Obviously, each player's team will have much more to say about who advances toward the World Series. At this point, the Nationals look like the better team than the Braves. Of course, that doesn't mean a playoff series would turn out in favor of the upstart Nats. 

    Will the old guy or the kid be more of a factor during the 2012 MLB playoffs?

3. Johnny Cueto vs. St. Louis Cardinals

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    Johnny Cueto was a notable—perhaps we should call it egregious—snub from the 2012 NL All-Star team. 

    Cueto's 10-5 record and 2.39 ERA most certainly deserved All-Star honors, so the general consensus seemed to be that Cueto was kept off the team because of a grudge that NL All-Star manager Tony La Russa held against him for his role in a brawl between the Reds and Cardinals in 2010.

    You can watch video of the melee here.

    The major casualty from the fight, reported at the time by the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay, was Cueto kicking Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue in the head. LaRue suffered a concussion from the blow—an injury that forced him to end his 11-year career and retire

    Two years later, hard feelings obviously still linger. (How could they not for the Cardinals, when they had to watch one of their teammates call it quits?)

    Will that come into play if the Reds and Cardinals face each other in the playoffs? Perhaps not, as the Cards have nothing to gain by attempting to retaliate. (Not to mention that they've had plenty of opportunities to do so since that fight.) But defeating Cueto while advancing in the playoffs would surely make that victory even sweeter for St. Louis.

2. Buster Posey vs. Andrew McCutchen

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    As with the NL Cy Young Award race, the competition for the league's MVP Award is probably now down to two, maybe three players.

    The Brewers' Ryan Braun will certainly make the final vote interesting, but the NL MVP race is most likely between the Giants' Buster Posey and Pirates' Andrew McCutchen for the final month of the regular season. 

    McCutchen and Posey are ranked second and third in the NL batting race, hold the league's top two spots in on-base percentage and are both in the top five in OPS.

    With the Pirates' chances at the postseason looking a bit shaky and the Giants' playoff bid appearing to be more assured, the NL MVP balloting could be determined by which of these two candidates makes it to the playoffs, as last year's race between Braun and the Dodgers' Matt Kemp was. 

    But if both the Giants and Pirates make it to the playoffs, Posey and McCutchen could have something of a rematch in the postseason. Winning the MVP award might be seen as winning the battle, while advancing in the playoffs could be viewed as winning the war. Who will eventually come out on top?

1. San Francisco Giants vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    It's the National League version of Yankees vs. Red Sox.

    Giants vs. Dodgers is the best rivalry the NL has, especially this year, with both teams fighting each other for the NL West title and perhaps only one spot in the postseason. 

    With the Dodgers only 1.5 games away from one of the NL's wild-card playoff spots, they could still make the postseason without winning the NL West. That would continue this year's rivalry beyond the regular season, continuing what has been a great competition between the two teams. 

    Despite their long history with one another, the Giants and Dodgers haven't matched up in the playoffs as the Yankees and Red Sox have. Each team has deprived the other of a division title or league pennant in the past, but they've never had the opportunity to prevent one from advancing in the current postseason format. 

    The Giants lead the season series 9-6, but with three games remaining against each other, the series could end up tied. A playoff matchup would be one heck of a tiebreaker with plenty of star power, including Matt Kemp, Tim Lincecum and MVP candidate Buster Posey. 

    What if one of the big trade deadline acquisitions made by each team turned out to be a determining factor in a postseason series? Would Adrian Gonzalez or Hunter Pence shake off his disappointing performance with his new club by coming through with some big playoff hits? 

    The possibility of a Giants-Dodgers playoff series is so rich with potential storylines that it would seem almost criminal to deprive baseball fans of seeing it happen. Of course, there would be plenty of other fantastic matchups to watch, regardless of who makes the NL playoff field. But how many would carry the history that these two teams share? 


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