19 October 2020

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Previewing the Matchups of the NLDS

The MLB playoffs have advanced to round 2, the Division Series. Typically seen as the first round, the adjustment for the Wild Card games to now be a full series as opposed to a one-game playoff has changed the DS round to round 2. The DS (also known as the “Division Series”) typically features the 3 Division winners, with the winner of the Wild Card game as the final team. The Wild Card winner faces the Division winner with the best record, and the remaining two Division winners face each other. Had this season been under the normal format, the Dodgers would have the #1 seed and face the winner of Padres/Cardinals, and the Braves and Cubs would play each other in the other series. In this year’s playoff format, there are 16 teams instead of 10, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres, and Miami Marlins all won their respective Wild Card rounds to advance to the bubble eliminating the Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, and Chicago Cubs. Like in the AL where all AL Central teams were eliminated in round 1, all 4 NL Central teams were eliminated in the first round, thus making each matchup to be a Divisional rematch that makes the Division Series quite an appropriate name. Like in the AL, playing each other are the beasts of the easts and the best in the west.

Los Angeles Dodgers (1 Seed) vs San Diego Padres (4 Seed)

This matchup is one of the most exciting in all of baseball. On one hand you have the San Diego Padres, a team that has endured 14 playoffless seasons, 9 consecutive losing seasons, years of tanking and replenishing their farm system with young talent and all of it is beginning to show how successful the rebuild has been. They have a talented 1-9 lineup that have not only taken the league by storm, but also are one of the most fun teams to watch in baseball. Front and center is Fernando Tatis Jr. who is electric on the field, and has established himself as one of the brightest young stars of the game. Around him is Manny Machado who’s been living up to his $300 million contract in 2020, Eric Hosmer who is also living up to his big contract, and Wil Myers who’s been having the best year of his career. The rest of their great lineup includes Trent Grisham, Austin Nola, Jurickson Profar, Tommy Pham, and Jake Cronnenworth.

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The pitching has surprisingly been good with breakout years from Zach Davies, and Dinelson Lamet, with big trade deadline acquisition Mike Clevinger leading the rotation. Unfortunately, Lamet and Clevinger who are the two best pitchers have both been dealing with recent injuries. Clevinger looks like he could be back for the DS but Lamet’s timetable isn’t completely certain. What helps out is their bullpen, who pitched a 9 inning shutout to beat the Cardinals using 9 different pitchers. They have a bullpen full of workhorses including Trevor Rosenthal, Drew Pomeranz, Tim Hill, Craig Stammen, Pierce Johnson, Emilio Pagán, Austin Adams, and Matt Strahm. The Padres offense came alive against the Cardinals after being kept in check during game 1. They have one of the most exciting offenses to watch, but the big concern will be over whether or not their big pitchers will be available. They can’t afford to bullpen a game since they won’t have any days off, so they need their starters to be productive. 

If only the Padres could have it so easily for their big breakout year. Standing in front of them is the best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers are the only team that can really be seen as a complete team. When it comes to hitting, bullpen, and starting pitching, the Dodgers are elite. For starters, the Dodgers’ lineup is so deep, with potential all-stars from top to bottom.

Hitters on the Dodgers include Mookie Betts who’s been playing as advertised when he was acquired via trade and given a massive 12-year, $365 million extension. There’s also reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Enrique Hernández, Max Muncy, Will Smith, Justin Turner, AJ Pollock, Chris Taylor, Austin Barnes, Edwin Ríos, Gavin Lux, and Matt Beaty. Pitching is just as loaded, with Clayton Kershaw returning to his prime form of the past. There’s also rookies Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, and rounding it all out are Julio Urías and Walker Buehler who both have phenomenal postseason resumes. The Dodgers also boast the best bullpen in the National League, filled with Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, Victor González, Caleb Ferguson, Adam Kolarek, Jake McGee, and Pedro Báez.

The Dodgers swept the Brewers in the Wild Card round and that was never going to be a question, but what was is how they did it. The Dodgers weren’t as dominant against a significantly weaker team in the Brewers and they only scored 7 runs in two games when they were projected to do much better. The Dodgers are in the postseason for the 8th consecutive year and they know the whole song and dance. The only team that can stop them are themselves, but unfortunately, that’s happened for the past 7 postseasons.

The Padres matchup against the Dodgers better than people might give them credit for. The season series was 6-4 in LA’s favor, but for a good majority of the season, the Padres were keeping it close against them in the division race. While yes, LA is the clear favorite to not only win this series but win the World Series, the Padres have a real chance at upsetting them. The Dodgers biggest weakness is themselves and if they undermine and don’t take their opponent as seriously as they should, it will cost them a series they should’ve won like it did in 2019. Either team has a real shot at winning this series, but LA is still the clear favorite and should be going forward.

Atlanta Braves (2 seed) vs Miami Marlins (6 seed)

For the Eastern rivalry we have the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves. Both teams have had very different journeys during the 2020 season and are just as much of a David vs Goliath scenario as the Padres and Dodgers are. The Marlins have made an improbable run to reach the postseason for the first time in 17 years all while in a year they shouldn’t even be competitive. They dealt with a massive Covid outbreak and over half the team had to be quarantined after just the first weekend of play. After resumption of play, the Marlins took the league by storm and made the playoffs thanks to the expanded format.

The Marlins are a team that on paper doesn’t look all that impressive but they’ve been able to pull off astounding victories nonetheless, even sweeping the Cubs in the Wild Card round. Their big bats have been Miguel Rojas, Jesús Aguilar, Corey Dickerson, and Brian Anderson all while being backed up by young talent like Garrett Cooper, Jazz Chisolm, Magneuris Sierra, and Monte Harrison. The big loss however is Starling Marte who is out indefinitely with an injury as he was actively one of the best performers on the team. What has been even more surprising however is their young pitching staff led by Pablo López, Sandy Alcantara, and rookie sensation Sixto Sánchez.

The bullpen has also kept up its slack with Brandon Kintzler having an underrated season, followed by Brad Boxberger, James Hoyt, and Richard Bleier. The Marlins have the toughest NLDS matchup in terms of both the team they face, and if what they’ve achieved is just overachieving for 60 games. That being said, the Marlins have never lost a postseason series in their existence and they continue to keep their streak alive after beating the Cubs. 2020 has been a weird season, so counting out the Marlins isn’t so easy to do. 

Standing in Miami’s way are the Braves. Atlanta has had a much smoother run in 2020. They were easily the best team in their division and had an easy run to reach the postseason. What’s fueled the Braves is their lineup. Needless to say, they are absolutely loaded. Ronald Acuña Jr. has been hitting nothing but bombs leading off games, Freddie Freeman is the likely NL MVP, Marcell Ozuna, and Adam Duvall have been mashing home runs left and right, and Ozzie Albies, Travis d’Arnaud, and Nick Markakis round out the supporting cast, all of whom are dangerous in their own right. What they have in strong hitting, they somewhat have in strong pitching. Max Fried has been nigh unstoppable all year and rookie Ian Anderson has had a great first year in the big leagues.

Where the real pitching strength is in, is the bullpen which is one of the best in baseball. Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Chris Martin, Will Smith, AJ Minter, Darren O’Day, Grant Dayton, and Tyler Matzek are all formidable on their own and make holding a lead easy for the Braves to do, especially with how many runs they’ve been scoring. The big weakness however is the starting pitching. Aside from Fried and Anderson there isn’t much else being offered. They would have more reassurance had Mike Soroka not had a season ending injury early in the year and if they had made more than one move at the trade deadline and that acquisition wasn’t released prior to the playoffs. 

The Marlins have a much better chance of overcoming the Braves than people may give them credit for. If the Marlins can win just one against Fried or Anderson in games 1 or 2 then they have the real advantage. What will be challenging for Miami is trying to hold off a Braves team that has given them trouble all year, including walloping them for 29 runs in one game. For the Braves, they know they can gain and hold a lead, it’s just a matter of if they can continue their torrid pace after being limited to just 6 runs in 22 innings against Cincinnati. 

The NLDS begins on Tuesday, October 6th, at 2pm in Houston for Marlins-Braves, and at 9:30pm in Arlington for Padres-Dodgers. Both on FS1. 

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