The Wild Card Series for the National League begins on Wednesday, September 30. All games in this series will be played at the home stadium of the higher seeded team. Following this best-of-three series, the National League Division Series will be held at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas and Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. The NLCS will then be held at Globe Life Field, followed by the World Series, which will be held at the same site. Sixteen teams made the playoffs in the MLB’s newly-expanded format, with eight coming from each of the American and National Leagues. Each of the matchup previews below will give you the information you need to know about each team before tuning in. Further details on the location of games and the admittance of fans are included in the American League Postseason Preview article, which you can see here.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (43-17) vs 8. Milwaukee Brewers (29-31)
The Dodgers played up to expectations this season, earning the league’s best record. Their offseason acquisition of RF Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox proved to be beneficial, as Betts added a boost with a .292 batting average, 16 home runs, and 39 RBIs. Their pitching staff holds the lowest ERA in the National League this season, yet their starters only averaged throwing 4.7 innings per outing, which is 4th lowest in the MLB. None of their starters has thrown 100 pitches in a game this season. While the Dodgers may have the most complete roster in the league, they will not be able to sustain a deep playoff run by constantly leaning on their bullpen, as all games will be held on consecutive days except for the World Series.
The Brewers join the Houston Astros as the first teams to make the playoffs with a record below .500. LF Christian Yelich, the 2018 league MVP, is hitting just .205 this season, a drastic drop from his .329 average in 2019. The Brewers struggled this year, but can pull off an upset if their starters can give them length in games. The back of the Brewers bullpen is their strength. RP Devin Williams has a 0.33 ERA in 27 innings pitched this season. CP Josh Hader is one of the best closers in the league, with 31 strikeouts in 19 innings pitched. If the Brewers starters can give them six to seven innings, Williams and Hader should be able to shut any opponent down. However, that is a tall task, especially against this Dodgers lineup.
4. San Diego Padres (37-23) vs 5. St. Louis Cardinals (30-28)
After years of rebuilding, the Padres made the playoffs for the first time since 2006. They made a big splash two years ago by signing 3B Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million contract. Experts believed that Machado would give the San Diego lineup a much needed boost, and while he did hit 32 home runs, he only hit .256. Machado is having a better season this year, as he is hitting .304, but he has been outshined by budding star SS Fernando Tatis Jr. Tatis’ speed, power, and fielding ability captivated fans across the country, as he added energy to a lineup that desperately needed it. San Diego set an MLB record by hitting grand slams in four consecutive games this season, earning the nickname “Slam Diego”. The Padres acquired SP Mike Clevinger from the Cleveland Indians at the trade deadline, adding shut down pitching to an explosive lineup. However, the Padres cooled off in September, as Tatis, 1B Eric Hosmer and IF Jake Crowenworth, who was once considered to be the frontrunner to win NL rookie of the year, fell into a slump in the last month of the season. Additionally, Clevinger and SP Danielson Lamet are injured and were left off the team’s wild card roster, meaning that they will not pitch against the Cardinals this series. While the Padres had a promising outlook on the postseason earlier this month, they now face multiple obstacles just to get out of the first round.
The Cardinals are nearly the exact opposite of the Padres. St. Louis ranks last in the league in homeruns and 27th in slugging percentage. The Cardinals will benefit from keeping the score low, which they have been able to do in games this season, allowing only a .222 batting average to opponents with runners in scoring position. Veteran SP Adam Wainwright brings a career 2.81 ERA in the postseason and will be key to keeping San Diego at bay. CP Andrew Miller also has performed well in the postseason, as he holds a 0.95 ERA in his appearances. At some point, the Cardinals will have to match the run production of the Padres, which will prove to be difficult, as just five of their hitters hit above .250 this season. 1B Paul Goldschmidt leads the group with a .304 average and 6 home runs. He’ll likely need to spark the lineup with production of his own. If not, the Cardinals will likely be defeated very quickly.
The winner of this series will face the winner of the Dodgers-Brewers series.
2. Atlanta Braves (35-25) vs 7. Cincinnati Reds (31-29)
The Braves are the second highest scoring offense in the MLB. They average 5.8 runs per game, behind only the Dodgers, who average 5.82 runs per game. Their lineup features 1B Freddie Freeman, DH Marcell Ozuna and C Travis D’Arnaud, all of whom are hitting over .300. OF Ronald Acuna Jr., 2B Ozzie Albies and SS Dansby Swanson also pose a threat to opposing pitchers. Their starting pitching has been decimated by injuries, but Max Fried and rookie Ian Anderson have pitched well, as they hold a 2.25 and 1.95 ERA, respectively. The Braves have won the NL East in each of the last three seasons, but have not made it out of the NLDS in either of the last two seasons. Atlanta’s lethal offense could finally allow them to get past the NLDS this season.
However, the Reds are the worst possible matchup for the Braves in the first round. The Reds pitching staff is led by SP Trevor Bauer, the NL Cy Young favorite. He holds a 1.73 ERA and has struck out 100 batters in 73 innings this season. Behind Bauer are SPs Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray, who both average only .6 home runs given up per 9 innings pitched. With this starting pitching depth, the Reds will be able to challenge the high-scoring Braves lineup. The Reds batting order could weigh them down, however. Their batting average on balls in play is .245, the lowest of any team since 1968. They rank last in runs scored by non-home runs this season. Despite this, the Reds have as good a chance as any to pull off an upset in the Wild Card round, as their starting pitchers proved throughout the season that they could stop any lineup.
3. Chicago Cubs (34-26) vs. 6. Miami Marlins (31-29)
The Marlins were the surprise of the season as the team was not expected to be anywhere close to the postseason. The likelihood of them making the postseason seemed even lower after 17 players tested positive for coronavirus early in the season, threatening to cancel the entire season. However, the Marlins were able to control their outbreak and came back better than before. They have four young starting pitchers in Sixto Sanchez, Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara and Taylor Rogers that have picked up their play at the right time. The Marlins have never lost a playoff series in postseason history, as they won the World Series in 1997 and 2003, their only playoff appearances.
The Cubs would like to bring an end to the Marlins’ streak. Their starting pitching will likely be able to help them with this. SP Yu Darvish has a 2.01 ERA this season and is having the best season of his career. SP Kyle Hendricks has a 2.88 ERA and will challenge the Marlins hitters as well. However, the Cubs have just two hitters that are hitting above .250. They are getting back 3B Kris Bryant from injury at the right time, and he will be an important addition to the lineup. The Marlins could be a bigger challenge than most people think for the Cubs.
The winner of this series will face the winner of the Reds-Braves series.