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How will the NL East fare in the playoffs?

With the Nationals season having concluded, how will their NL East foes fare in the expanded playoffs?

Boston Red Sox v Atlanta Braves Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Major League Baseball’s shortened regular season has concluded, and it felt like it took no time at all. Unique to this season, 16 teams made the cut for the postseason, two of which hail from the National League East, the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves. What are the chances going forward for the two NL East representatives?

Let’s start with the Marlins.

Early on, Miami was a team that was embroiled in everything skeptics thought could go wrong in a season outside of a “bubble.” With their seemingly widespread COVID-19 contractions, allegedly stemming from a night out in Atlanta, some began thinking that Major League Baseball would ultimately have to shut the whole enterprise down – others thought that, at the very least, the Marlins wouldn’t be able to play as many games as their counterparts. Both camps were wrong.

Not only did Miami play the full 60, they finished with a winning record and a playoff bid. At season’s end, the Fish had amassed a 31-29 record, despite a dismal -41 run differential, which was worst in the division. Nonetheless, they made it work and drew the Chicago Cubs for a three-game set. The last time these two teams met, one Mr. Steve Bartman was in attendance (which, by the way, the Cubs’ fan base was atrocious towards him – no coming back from that, North Siders).

Chicago has since lifted their “curse” after defeating the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series. But the Marlins gave the Cubbies fits in 2003, ultimately signaling the loveable losers exit from the playoffs. Does lightning strike twice? Not in this case.

Odds are this series goes three games. The Marlins pitching hasn’t been good – their 4.86 ERA is 21st in baseball. Fortunately for them, the Cubs’ 91 wRC+ is 21st in baseball, while their 74 home runs are 17th in baseball. This means that the Cubs aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, which could lead to some interesting outcomes over the next few days.

The problem here is the Cubs’ pitching versus Marlins’ hitting: The Cubs boast a 3.99 team ERA, which is 10th in baseball. The Marlins 95 wRC+, while better than Chicago’s, doesn’t scream success. In the postseason, it’s alleged that pitching wins championships. At the risk of simplifying my conclusions here, the Cubs marginal edge in that department will play out on the field, resulting in a first round Miami exit.

Not to mention, each team’s head-to-head against opponents with a winning record is won by the Cubs. Chicago went 14-9 against teams above .500, which includes much of their division. Meanwhile, the Marlins were 9-14 under the same circumstances.

I know the Marlins are undefeated in the playoffs by series, but I can’t see them overcoming the Cubs.

GAME 1 RESULT: Marlins 5-1 over Cubs

Now, onto the Braves.

The Braves were expected by many to take control of the East this season. That’s something they managed to do, holding on to first place for the majority of the season, capturing that spot for good on August 16th. They ultimately managed a 35-25 record – an output that mirrors their expected wins-losses given their +60 run differential.

For their fortitude on the diamond, they were gifted the first Wild Card team, the Cincinnati Reds. The Redlegs were 31-29 in a tougher division – ultimately, four central division teams gained entry to the postseason, the most of any division in baseball.

The Braves were one of the top offensive teams in all of baseball, commanding a 121 wRC+, ranking them third in MLB. The team’s home run total (103) was good for second place.

Finally, Atlanta’s run scoring capability (348) was second only to the Dodgers. In short: This is an offensive heavy, run scoring team.

But they didn’t see as much success on the pitching side of the ball, with a meager 4.46 ERA, which put them squarely in the middle of all of baseball. Their 4.42 FIP says they’re about exactly where they should be.

By contrast, the Reds boast a 3.89 team ERA, ranking them eighth in baseball. The starters’ put up a 3.50 ERA, fourth-best in baseball. Again, in departure with their opponent, the Reds come in with only a 91 wRC+, putting them down with the Mariners and Tigers. They like the home run ball (90), but not as much as the Braves. You’ve got to figure that some of that power is a result of having played their home games at Great American Ball Park.

Lastly, in one-run games, the Braves take edge once again: 11-6 versus 7-8.

It would take a very strong effort from the Reds to best the Braves in this series. Atlanta’s firepower, though perhaps slightly dampened by Cincinnati’s pitching abilities, will likely be too much in the end – particularly if the Reds are having trouble scoring runs, which could be a very real possibility.

A series win to open things up would pit the Braves against either the Marlins or Cubs.

Given what we’ve already learned about those two teams, it seems likely that Atlanta would make their way through to the NLCS to face one of four teams – but most likely the Dodgers.

Though it’s boring to assume both of the top seeds make their way to the NLCS with a shot at the World Series on the line, it seems that no other route is possible. But by the time Atlanta gets there, they’ll likely have met their match and ultimately succumb to the only team that’s been consistently better in the batter’s box this season.

To conclude, the NL East won’t see a champion like it did a year ago, but the Braves will make a bid for the World Series, coming up just short.

GAME 1 RESULT: Braves 1-0 over Reds in 13 innings