Around the Hill: Who will be the MLB team to watch in the 2017 Postseason?

By Eric Fishbin, National Sports Editor

I’ll be forward, I’m writing this while wearing a Mets shirt. With that said, any baseball fan will know how painful it will be for me to write about the Washington Nationals. They are a team I despise, and I only wish the worst for them. However, Bryce Harper is coming back…

The Washington Nationals won the NL East for the third time in the last four seasons and locked up home field advantage in the first round of the MLB Postseason. Likely to face the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, the Nationals will be tested in Game One at Nationals Park. In this three out of five series, having three of the top four ERA leaders on your team has to give them some comfort. Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg would each be the best pitcher on almost any other MLB team, so the pitching advantage clearly goes to the Nats. However, besides Scherzer’s one World Series appearance, the aces lack significant playoff experience. This might be a red flag, but I think it will prove to be extra motivation.

Strasburg is longing to win his first playoff game, after losing his one appearance in 2014 to the San Francisco Giants. Similarly, Gonzalez has yet to capture his first postseason win, having dropped each of his four chances in his career. These arms are ready to come out firing in October.

Pitching is huge in any playoff series, but sometimes it is not enough (see Noah Syndergaard in last year’s NL Wildcard game). The bats have to produce runs, and despite being fourteenth in home runs, the Nationals are in the top five for runs scored this season. This shows they do not rely on the long ball and can rack up hits.

With a deep lineup, opposing pitchers can find themselves in a hole early. With Trea Turner at leadoff, the Nats can find themselves with a man in scoring position after a few pitches considering the 24-year-old can steal bases at will. Ryan Zimmerman has knocked 103 RBIs and hit 34 HRs, leading the team in each category. Opposing pitchers can choose to walk Harper when he’s back from injury, but they will have to face the bat of Daniel Murphy, who’s hitting .315, next. Needless to say, Daniel Murphy is capable of all sorts of magic in October. Everyone remembers his remarkable tear during the Mets’ World Series run in 2015 in which he smacked seven home runs and tallied 11 RBIs.

If the Nationals can take out the defending World Series Champions, it might propel a deep playoff run. Teams in the National League may not want to face the Cubs in the postseason, but seeing the Nationals come into town might not make them feel any better. Once again, Bryce Harper is coming back in time for the playoffs.

By Theo Asher, National Sports Editor

If you told me a year ago that I would be picking the Arizona Diamondbacks as the dark horse for the 2017 MLB playoffs, I would think you’re crazy. As a diehard Dodgers fan, it truly pains me to say this, but the D-Backs have all the tools for a Cinderella October run.

There haven’t been many serious impacts of the trade deadline from July, but J.D. Martinez’s performance since he was dealt to Arizona has been nothing short of Ruthian. With 43 homers and 90 RBIs, Martinez has regained the form he once had in Detroit, and the rest of his teammates are following his lead. Paul Goldschmidt, who has weathered the darkest of days in the desert, is the front-runner for NL MVP. His stat line of 36 home runs, 126 RBIs, .306 average and .579 slugging percentage, coupled with his stellar, consistent defense, firmly establishes him as a superstar ready for October stardom.

Furthermore, Arizona’s pitching staff has been brilliant this season. Zack Greinke, a Cy Young candidate at 17-6 with a 3.18 ERA, has led a pitching staff that is 2nd in the NL in earned runs and strikeouts. Robbie Ray has risen from the dead with 212 strikeouts, good for 2nd in the NL despite only starting 26 games to date.

The most important factor fueling the charge of the Arizona Diamondbacks is their momentum. They are 21-9 in their past 30 games, which is the 2nd best record in MLB during that span. They also have all the confidence against their most daunting rivals: they have an 11-8 record against the formerly immortal LA Dodgers, and their most recent series resulted in a three-game drubbing of the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Adding insult to injury, the Dodgers are an abysmal 9-21 in their past 30 games, which is 2nd-worst in MLB during that span. So, it’s safe to say that Arizona is licking their chops at the idea of playing LA in the first round. The postseason is on the horizon, and the Diamondbacks are ready to strike at their prey.