Postseason breakdown: National League

MINNESOTA — While the American League was pretty much decided by the time the final week of the 2010 regular season began, the National League came down to the final Sunday.


Heading into the playoffs, the mystery continues. 

Three of the four NL postseason clubs were watching from home at this time last year. Can anyone from the Reds, Braves and Giants knock out the red-hot Phillies, who have won the pennant two years in a row? 

Have a look … 
Phillies (97-65)

Potential lineup

Jimmy Rollins, SS

images2.jpg

Placido Polanco, 3B
Chase Utley, 2B
Ryan Howard, 1B
Jayson Werth, RF
Raul Ibanez, LF
Shane Victorino, CF
Carlos Ruiz, C

Potential rotation

Roy Halladay, RH
Roy Oswalt, RH
Cole Hamels, LH
Joe Blanton, RH

Key relievers

Brad Lidge, RH (CL)
J.C. Romero, LH
Ryan Madson, RH
Jose Contreras, RH

Key reserves

Brian Schneider, C
Wilson Valdez, INF
Ross Gload, INF/OF
Ben Francisco, OF

Why they’ll win: They’re calling them “H2O” now. But however you want to identify them — “The Big Three,” “Cole Oswaday” (that was me) — the starting-rotation trio of Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels is looking untouchable heading into this postseason. So untouchable that they’re pretty much all you need, especially in a short AL Division Series. Throw in the fact that their offense — when it’s right — is one of the most deadly in baseball, and the Phils look poised for a third straight trip to the World Series. 

Why they won’t: Just like last year, the Phillies and Charlie Manuel aren’t sure what they’re going to get in the ninth inning from Lidge, even though he has closed out the season very well. Also, the offense has been inconsistent this year, to say the least, and that’ll be something to watch out for, too — especially with J-Roll not looking too healthy. 

Giants (92-70)

Potential lineup

Andres Torres, CF

Timma.jpg

Freddy Sanchez, 2B
Aubrey Huff, 1B
Buster Posey, C
Pat Burrell, LF
Juan Uribe, SS
Jose Guillen, RF
Pablo Sandoval, 3B

Potential rotation

Tim Lincecum, RH
Matt Cain, RH
Jonathan Sanchez, LH
Madison Bumgarner, LH

Key relievers

Brian Wilson, RH (CL)
Sergio Romo, RH
Jeremy Affeldt, LH
Santiago Casilla, RH

Key reserves

Eli Whiteside, C
Edgar Renteria, INF
Cody Ross, OF
Aaron Rowand, OF

Why they’ll win: The Giants’ duo of Lincecum and Cain is as good as any in baseball and will keep games close, and Sanchez, the No. 3 man, has been an under-the-radar stud. San Fran is also a hot team going in, having gone 19-10 since the start of September to take the NL West from the Padres. Their bullpen is lights-out, too. The Giants finished the regular season with the best ERA in baseball, and the second-best relief-pitcher ERA. 

Why they won’t: This department has been better lately, but the Giants’ offense is still a big question mark heading into the postseason. Does Bruce Bochy‘s club have enough punch to compete with some of the NL’s best? Can they manufacture runs without having to rely on the long ball? And can Posey, the potential NL Rookie of the Year, bust out of his recent slump — 6-for-42 — and come up big in his first postseason? They’ll need him to. 

Reds (91-71)

Potential lineup

Brandon Phillips, 2B

votto.jpg

Orlando Cabrera, SS
Joey Votto, 1B
Scott Rolen, 3B
Jonny Gomes, CF
Jay Bruce, RF
Drew Stubbs, CF
Ramon Hernandez, C

Potential rotation

Edinson Volquez, RH
Bronson Arroyo, RH
Aaron Harang, RH
Travis Wood, LH

Key relievers

Francisco Cordero, RH (CL)
Arthur Rhodes, LH 
Nick Masset, RH
Aroldis Chapman, LH

Key reserves

Ryan Hanigan, C
Miguel Cairo, INF
Paul Janish, INF
Laynce Nix, OF

Why they’ll win: Some may be surprised to learn that Cincinnati finished the regular season with the most runs in the NL, but the Reds are a very good offensive ballclub despite the lack of sexy names. Whether they hit against the Phillies and, perhaps eventually, the Giants remains to be seen. Their bullpen has some weapons, especially in Chapman — a wild card for this team. 

Why they won’t: Dusty Baker‘s club just has too many inconsistent parts. It starts with Volquez, the Game 1 starter who’s been up-and-down since coming off ’09 Tommy John surgery, and it ends with Cordero, who’s blown eight saves this season. Then you can sprinkle Phillips and others in between. And then there’s this: The Reds went a combined 7-12 against the three other NL playoff teams this season. 
Braves (91-71)

Potential lineup

Omar Infante, 3B

bobby_cox_cigar.jpgJason Heyward, RF

Derrek Lee, 1B
Brian McCann, C
Matt Diaz, LF
Alex Gonzalez, SS
Brooks Conrad, 2B
Rick Ankiel, CF

Potential rotation

Derek Lowe, RH
Tommy Hanson, RH
Tim Hudson, RH
Brandon Beachy, RH

Key relievers

Billy Wagner, LH (CL)
Takashi Saito, RH
Jonny Venters, LH
Peter Moylan, RH

Key reserves

David Ross, C
Troy Glaus, INF
Eric Hinske, INF/OF
Rick Ankiel, OF

Why they’ll win: Because fate says they should, considering this will be Bobby Cox‘s last season at the helm. Need a more concrete reason? The Braves can still pitch with just about anybody, and it can be enough to keep them in contention despite a myriad of injuries. 

Why they won’t: Because of what I just mentioned — injuries. Chipper Jones was first, then Martin Prado, and now Jair Jurrjens has been shaken up and won’t be starting in the NLDS. The Braves’ offense will be relying on an inconsistent Lee, Ankiel, McCann and Gonzalez, and a rookie in Heyward. That’s a lot of question marks that need to turn into solid answers. 

NL CHAMPION: Phillies. 
— Alden Gonzalez

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