We have arrived at the National League portion of the wild card round, a day after the American League started their wild-card round. Several notable changes include an expanded wild card round from one game to four best-of-three series, designated-hitter in the NL and the entire series will be hosted by the team who either won their division or has a better record. To kick off the NL wild card is a battle of strengths in the Cincinnati Reds and the Atlanta Braves.
The Reds are anchored by their lethal starting rotation. Trevor Bauer is a Cy Young-contender with a 5-4 record and a 1.73 ERA. Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo add a 3.7 and 3.21 ERA respectively. Their team ERA is 3.84, which ranks seventh in the MLB.
Their hitting has been average this season with a team On-base + Slugging Percentage (OPS) of .715, which ranks 19th in the MLB. Jesse Winker, Nicolas Castellanos, Mike Moustakas and long-time veteran Joey Votto have stepped up as all players have an OPS of .781 or better. However, the leader is third-baseman Eugenio Suarez, who hit 15 home runs while driving in 38 batters on the season. Despite a poor .202 batting average, he has always been a threat to produce for this team.
The Reds are in the postseason for the first time since 2013 where they lost 6-2 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. They look to win their first playoff series since 1995 where they defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS before losing to the Braves in the NLCS.
Speaking of the Braves, their starting pitching has been rocked with injuries as Mike Soroka and Cole Hamels suffered season-ending injuries. The Braves will rely on Max Fried to be the ace of their rotation. Fried has had a phenomenal season with a perfect 7-0 record and a solid 2.25 ERA in 11 starts. The pressure is on Fried to deliver for the Braves this postseason. Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson are the other two main starters, carrying respective ERAs of 5.21 and 1.95.
However, their hitting has been elite, topping all of MLB in team OPS. The lineup is stacked everywhere with role hitters such as Dansby Swanson and Travis d’Arnaud. However, the three standouts are Ronald Acuna Jr., Marcell Ozuna and Freddie Freeman. Despite missing 14 games, Acuna was still productive with 14 home runs and 29 runs batted in, but struggled to make contact throughout the season with 60 strikeouts. Ozuna and Freeman are at the top of the MVP conversation. Ozuna topped the NL in home runs with 18 and RBI with 56 and was third in batting average and OPS with a .338 BA and 1.067 OPS. His teammate, Freeman, was just as good if not better. Freeman topped the NL in runs scored with 51, was second in RBI with 53, second in batting average with .341 and second in OPS with 1.102.
The Braves are looking for postseason redemption after being embarrassed by the St. Louis Cardinals last year. In the deciding Game 5 in the NLDS, the Braves gave up 10 runs in the first inning and went on to lose 13-1. It was a humiliating loss and they look to make amends.
When looking at this series, it is easy to assume the Reds will win due to their superior pitching. However, unlike the Yankees-Indians series, the Reds’ pitching is not as strong as Cleveland’s and could struggle against a mighty Braves lineup. I think Fried gives the Braves one win and their lineup does just enough to overcome the Reds. Braves advance to the NLDS.
Prediction: Braves in three