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2020 National League wild card series preview and predictions

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Four NL Central teams have made the tournament.

Chris Taylor of the Dodgers and Keston Hiura of the Brewers during a 2020 spring training game
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll have a full preview of the Cubs/Marlins wild card series coming up tomorrow morning — I want to wait to post that until we’re more clear on the pitching matchups — but there are three other National League series that begin Wednesday, and all of them will involve one of our National League Central rivals. It’s unlikely, but we could see NL division series matchups that involve nothing but NL Central teams.

None of the NL eight played each other during the 60-game season. The Brewers and Dodgers met twice in spring training before everything was shut down and split the two games, for whatever that’s worth.

#8 Brewers at #1 Dodgers

The Brewers sneaked in on the last day of the season despite losing five of their last eight and seeing their offense pretty much disappear: They didn’t score more than three runs in any of those eight games and for the season, their 247 runs ranked 12th in the National League.

They’ll be facing a team, the Dodgers, that led the league in pretty much everything: Wins, runs, home runs, fewest runs allowed — need I go on? Beyond that, the Brewers are the only NL team with a losing record in this year’s tournament.

The Brewers are still a pretty good ballclub despite their record. Anything can happen in a three-game series, but the Dodgers’ power — they hit 18 home runs in their last eight regular-season games — and pitching, with solid starters 1 through 5, makes L.A. a prohibitive favorite.

Milwaukee’s best shot is if they can get these games into the late innings with a lead. Their bullpen is probably superior to the Dodgers’, with Devin Williams and Josh Hader a top late-inning combo, better at this time than Kenley Jansen and Blake Treinen.

I’ll be surprised if this series result is anything but Dodgers two games, Brewers none.

Poll

The winner of the Brewers/Dodgers series will be...

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Brewers
    (36 votes)
  • 90%
    Dodgers
    (355 votes)
391 votes total Vote Now

#7 Reds at #2 Braves

This series has the highest possibility of an upset of any of the eight.

The Reds went 16-9 in September to finish third in the NL Central and wrapped their season by taking two of three from the Twins — in Target Field, where Minnesota was 24-7 this year.

Cincinnati’s biggest issue most of the year was not scoring runs. They’re still not really doing that, as they scored even fewer runs than the Brewers did (243). But their pitching stepped up, especially in September, and they wound up allowing 243 runs, making them the classic .500 ballclub. But then, there are a fair number of those in this tournament.

Like the Cubs’ offense, Reds hitters didn’t hit for average this year, the highest BA on the team was recorded by Jesse Winker (.255). But they’ve got power hitters, four in double figures, and they hit 90 homers, fourth in the league.

And they line up a strong rotation with Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray (order still to be determined).

That would be tough on any team, but the Braves might be able to solve them. Atlanta hit 103 home runs and finished just one run short of the Dodgers for the most in the NL. Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna are both MVP candidates.

Pitching? Uh... don’t ask. Between injuries and ineffectiveness, only Max Fried really had a good season among Atlanta starters. They did get six good starts out of Ian Anderson, and you’ll forgive me if I think “Jethro Tull” every time I hear that name. They might not need more than that in this series, anyway. (Two good starts, that is, not Jethro Tull.)

The Reds will put up a good fight, but the Braves will win this series two games to one. If the Cubs win their series against the Marlins, they will face the winner of this series.

Poll

The winner of the Braves/Reds series will be...

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Braves
    (147 votes)
  • 61%
    Reds
    (236 votes)
383 votes total Vote Now

#5 Cardinals at #4 Padres

Well, you have to give the Cardinals credit: They survived a COVID-19 outbreak and almost three weeks without playing, played 10 doubleheaders (sweeping two, losing one, splitting seven) and barely avoided having to play an 11th the day after the season ended by winning their final game Sunday.

Remember above, where I talked about how few runs the other NL Central teams scored? The Cardinals bring up the rear with 240 runs (although, of course, that was in 58 games instead of 60). Offensively, only Paul Goldschmidt (.304/.417/.466) and Brad Miller (who tormented the Cubs by hitting .280/.419/.600 with two home runs against them), had decent seasons.

Cardinals pitching led the way, allowing the second-fewest runs in the NL (again, with two fewer games than anyone else).

They’ll need to be that good to hold down the Padres, who finished third in the league in runs, home runs and OPS. Fernando Tatis Jr. was the talk of baseball for a while. He faded a bit, but still hit .277/.366/.571 with 17 home runs. Second baseman Jake Cronenworth is the likely NL Rookie of the Year, and of course Manny Machado is still there and producing.

Padres pitching was surprisingly good, with Dinelson Lamet a dark-horse Cy Young candidate and former Brewer Zach Davies posting a solid season. Former Cub Pierce Johnson, signed back to MLB after an outstanding 2019 in Japan, had a very good season for San Diego in middle relief. (Hey, Theo! You drafted Pierce Johnson in 2012. Why didn’t YOU sign him?)

I had to mention this: Yadier Molina is 38 and is a free agent after this season. If he does in fact retire, this was the result of his last regular-season at-bat [VIDEO].

We have often spoken of Cardinals “pixie dust” when we can’t figure out how they’re doing what they’ve been doing. There seems to have been a lot of that this year. It ends here. The Padres will take the first two games and move on to the next round.

Poll

The winner of the Cardinals/Padres series will be...

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Cardinals
    (61 votes)
  • 84%
    Padres
    (322 votes)
383 votes total Vote Now