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Miami Marlins starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara throws to a Baltimore Orioles batter during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, July 14, 2023, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Jess Rapfogel)

MLB Playoff Preview: National League

The greatest show in sports in finally upon us: the MLB Playoffs are back.

Here’s everything you need to know about the NL, from the juggernauts to the newcomers.

The favorites

Atlanta Braves (104-58, No. 1 seed, NL East Champions)

The Braves won their division for the sixth straight year and did it in dominating fashion. The Braves put up historic numbers at the dish this year, setting the MLB record for team slugging (.501) and tied the team record for homers (307). They secured the top seed and will have a bye to the NLDS, where they’ll meet either the Phillies or Marlins.

Player to Watch: RF Ronald Acuna Jr. The MVP favorite recorded 41 home runs and 73 stolen bases, all while hitting .337 and playing a stellar right field. He’s absolutely box office. Look for him to be in scoring position early and often in Braves games this October.

Los Angeles Dodgers (100-62, No. 2 seed, NL West Champions)

The Dodgers organization is simply a winning machine. The boys in blue have flown under the radar despite winning 100 games for the fourth straight year. This team has all the pieces to win a title. If there are any question marks on this team, it’s the bottom of the pitching rotation and the drop-off of catcher Will Smith’s production since the All-Star break.

Player to Watch: 1B Freddie Freeman. He’s been one of the most consistent and feared hitters in the league for years. There’s a decent chance he has to step up in a big way against his former team, the Atlanta Braves, if the Dodgers want to win the pennant.

The team no one wants to play

Philadelphia Phillies (90-72, No. 4 seed, NL East Runner-up)

This team won the pennant as a wild card team last year, and they have the potential to do it again. This team has everything you need. A lineup full of bats that can hit for power and average, a good group of starting pitchers and a stellar bullpen. Most importantly, this team has playoff experience, with most players returning after being here a year ago. Combine all of this with the raucous environment of Citizens Bank Park, and we could be looking at another “Red October” in Philadelphia.

Player to Watch: RP Jose Alvarado. Alvarado should be getting the ball late in a bunch of key games for the Phillies this postseason. The righty had a great year on the mound, posting a 1.74 ERA and a .196 BAA. His K/BB was 64/18. However, he was used in just 42 games. In October, he will likely need to be throwing far more frequently than he did in the regular season. His production will be key to Philadelphia’s success.

Underdogs

Milwaukee Brewers (92-70, No. 3 seed, NL Central Champions)

The Brew Crew is back in the playoffs after cruising to an NL Central title. Milwaukee might not have the star power or the power hitting that other teams have, but they do have one thing going for them. The Brewers have the best team ERA in baseball. The pitching staff has been lights out all year. The rotation features four sub-4.00 ERA hurlers in Wade Miley, Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta. In the bullpen, Devin Williams and Joel Payamps await to shut opposing teams down in the late innings. If the pitching shows up, the Brewers could make some noise against these homer-hitting teams.

Player to Watch: LF Christian Yelich. Yelich looked much more like his MVP level self this year, batting .278. His power has fallen off a bit, but he is still one of, if not the, best hitters on the Brewers. Everyone knows the stars come out in October, and if Yelich could put on a 2019-esque performance in this final month of baseball he could be the latest to etch his name in history.

https://twitter.com/MLBNetwork/status/1705221091143061749

Arizona Diamondbacks (84-78, No. 6 seed, NL West Runner-up)

Led by young outfielder Corbin Carroll and ace Zac Gallen, Arizona has been a thorn in the side of the NL West all year. After slumping towards the middle of the season, the D-Backs picked it up at the end of the year and went on a winning streak to ensure their first playoff appearance since 2017.

Player to Watch: SP Merrill Kelly. Gallen is Arizona’s ace, but Kelly has also been brilliant for the Diamondbacks this year. He led all starters with a 3.29 ERA and only allowed a .220 BAA. He can strike guys out too, with 187 punch outs this year (22nd best in the league).

Miami Marlins (84-77, No. 5 seed, NL East Third Place)

The Fish are back in the playoffs in a 162-game season. The last time that happened was 2003, when the organization won its second World Series. The odds will be stacked against this year’s Marlins team, but once you get into the dance, anything can happen. Now that the Marlins are here, they’ll be looking to ruin some other team’s seasons. They begin their Cinderella quest against the Brewers Tuesday.

Player to Watch: 2B Luis Arraez. He throws a barrel on anything and everything, leading to a whopping .354 average this season. He is the first player in MLB history to win back-to-back batting titles in different leagues after winning it in the AL with the Twins last season.

https://twitter.com/MLB/status/1708614312955171167

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