I previewed the American League Division Series before Thursday's games; now it's time to preview the NLDS.
Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals had the best record in the majors in 2015 and have a legitimate claim that over the course of the 162-game season, they were truly the best team in either league. Unfortunately for St. Louis, the roster the Cardinals bring to the division series isn't representative of the team that won 100 games during the regular season, and some of the changes hurt their chances in this particular matchup.
The Cardinals are without their best starter from 2015, Carlos Martinez, who is out with a shoulder injury; Martinez struck out a quarter of the batters he faced this year and would have been the Cards' best option against the Cubs' numerous right-handed bats (and no one gets lefty Anthony Rizzo out anyway). The remaining rotation of Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn and John Lackey in some order is still very good, as deep through four names as any playoff team's rotation other than the Mets', but losing their de facto ace for one or potentially two starts in a five-game series hurts against a very potent lineup.
Then again, perhaps it won't matter, because the Cubs can swing and miss with the best of them, striking out 10 percent more frequently than any other NL team -- yet still scoring runs at an above-average rate thanks to a strong walk rate (second in the league) and home run total. They're the NL version of the Houston Astros, but for whatever reason their whiff-heavy approach hasn't attracted the same sort of negative attention that Houston's has. Now they're going up against a pitching staff that was one of the stingiest with the long ball in the NL and a rotation that doesn't allow a ton of walks. It's generally true that the team that hits more home runs wins any postseason series, and in this specific matchup, it seems even more critical: If the Cubs can't put balls in the seats, they seem unlikely to score enough runs to win.