The MLB playoffs are underway as action kicks off today with the American League’s Wild Card Series. Now USAbetting turns to the NL Wild Card Series and postseason playoffs on Wednesday.
The NL’s postseason field is wrought with surprises. The Miami Marlins are in, just one year after losing 105 games. The Milwaukee Brewers are in, despite a sub-.500 record that saw them claim their spot on the last day of the season. The San Diego Padres are in and may well be the favorites to take down the juggernaut that is the Los Angeles Dodgers. Also in are the NL East winning Atlanta Braves, and for the first-time ever, four teams from the same division as joining the Brewers are everyone in the Central not named the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The NL field looks to be competitive and the action kicks off with the #2 Atlanta Braves hosting the #7 Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday afternoon.
#2 Atlanta Braves vs #7 Cincinnati Reds (12:08 PM ET Wednesday)
There are eight games of playoff baseball being played on Wednesday and it all starts with game one of the Braves/Reds series. Atlanta’s road to the postseason was somewhat easy. The NL East’s best team for yet another year in a row, Atlanta finished with a 35-25 record despite facing a schedule of four playoff teams. The Reds went 31-29 to secure a wildcard spot and a return to the playoffs. They did so in what continues to be the closest division in baseball, the NL Central.
While other teams faltered at the finish line, the Reds blazed their underdog trail to an 11-3 record in the last two weeks of the season, including winning each of their last five series. Cincinnati is red hot and that makes them dangerous, even against the juggernaut of Atlanta. Trevor Bauer will get the ball in game one which is promising for Cincy, but he’ll have his hands full facing Atlanta’s lineup led by the ever consistent, Freddie Freeman. Bauer will be opposed on the mound by one of the NL Cy Young favorites in the young Max Fried. That’s not exactly a matchup the .212 hitting Reds, the worst such average in MLB, would have wanted to see to get the dormant bats going.
Offense has not been the sweet spot for the Reds but it has been for the Braves, no doubt. While the team struggled with starting pitching consistency beyond Fried and at times, Ian Anderson, their lineup produced as expected. By contrast, what the Reds lacked in hitting, they made up for in pitching, both in their rotation and bullpen, which emerged as one of the best in baseball after a slow start to the season.
- Game one is going to be a tone-setter and in a short series, it could make all the difference. The Braves haven’t played a meaningful game in some time whereas the Reds have been fighting all year long. The momentum is with Cincinnati, who we’re picking to upset Atlanta in a 2-1 series win.
#6 Miami Marlins vs #3 Chicago Cubs (2:08 PM ET Wednesday)
There’s going to be a common thread here as every NL wildcard series features an NL Central team. This one is the Chicago Cubs, who won the division with a 34-26 record. They’ll be opposed by the surprise team of the playoffs, the Miami Marlins, who not only finished in second in the NL East, but did so with a 31-29 record while facing some of the best teams in baseball.
From 105 losses to a playoff bid, all in one year’s time, the Marlins’ 2020 year was anything but smooth-sailing. The team opened the year with a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies that was halted after just one game was played due to a COVID outbreak. The Marlins had over a dozen players miss time due to the virus and their season was delayed over a week. That meant a lot of doubleheaders and even a seven-game series, all of which saw the Marlins perform better than expected.
The Cubs didn’t have to worry about those kind of concerns as the year was largely formulaic for Chicago. Winning their third division title in the last five years, the Cubs continued to ride their core of top-level pitching and top-level hitting (despite struggles at times), into yet another postseason appearance. The team that won the World Series just four years ago has largely stayed intact and the indication is clear, these guys have the talent to add another ring to the collection.
As we talk about top pitching matchups to watch for in this first round, Yu Darvish vs Sixto Sanchez has to be one of them. Darvish’s 2020 year has him in the Cy Young discussion and Sanchez’s year has opened eyes to someone who could be one of the future great pitchers in the league. Beyond Sanchez though, the Marlins don’t have as much pitching depth as the Cubs, who will pitch Kyle Hendricks in game two. Chicago also has the better bullpen, anchored by Craig Kimbrel.
- This should be a close series but we like the Cubs here to win 2-1.
#5 St. Louis Cardinals vs #4 San Diego Padres (5:08 PM ET Wednesday)
Needing a late season surge to reach the playoffs, the St. Louis Cardinals finished their 58-game season with a 30-28 record, marking a rare occasion where one team played less games than the rest of the league. This was an unintended consequence of a COVID outbreak that led to the Cardinals having to take over a week off in the middle of the year.
Their opponents didn’t need to take any time off and their offense certainly didn’t have off days as the San Diego Padres surged to a 37-23 record. Their record was third best in all of baseball. The best just happened to be in the Padres’ division however, leading to San Diego only able to claim the second spot in the NL West.
The Padres were one of baseball’s best teams though they do enter this series a little banged up from the starting pitching side of things. That said, San Diego, in reaching the playoffs for the first time in the last 12 years, found its biggest strength with one of the best 1-2 offensive punches in baseball. Fernando Tatis Jr. lit the league on fire as he emerged as a top offensive threat. The Padres huge investment in Manny Machado is beginning to pay off big time. Thanks to these two leading the way, the Padres finished the regular season with the league’s third best offense.
Offensively, the Cardinals struggled as their best asset on the year was pitching. Jack Flaherty will likely go in game one but this hasn’t been his best year. If the Cardinals get the 2020 version of their top starter, this series could be over before it really begins. Playing on the West Coast for the first time this year coupled with the sprint to which the Cardinals had to finish their regular season schedule helps favor the Padres here as well.
- Louis will put up a fight but look for San Diego to take this series 2-0.
#8 Milwaukee Brewers vs #1 Los Angeles Dodgers (10:08 PM ET Wednesday)
Perhaps the most foregone conclusion series, at least on paper, puts a team that was among the first to clinch its playoff spot against one who was the last to do so. The Los Angeles Dodgers entered the season tied with the New York Yankees as favorites in the top sports betting firms’ odds to win the World Series and so far, they’ve done nothing to show they aren’t capable of achieving a championship. LA won an MLB-best 43 games (43-17) and never really struggled. The Brewers needed everything to fall right for them on the final day of the season in order to squeeze in with a 29-31 record.
The Dodgers are easy favorites in this one and anything less than a sweep would be a huge disappointment. Offensively, defensively, from the mound, LA has every advantage over Milwaukee. The Dodgers will pitch Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw in games one and two, and that’s a pitching duo that will be tough for the Brewers to handle. The Dodgers have had some surprisingly early postseason exits in the past, but this year won’t be one of them.
- LA feels cheated out of a World Series due to the offseason reveals of the Houston Astros’ cheating in 2018. This team is on a mission and it all begins with a 2-0 series win over the Brewers.