With four games remaining, the Braves magic number to lock up the #2 seed is two. Considering they have a three-game set with the Red Sox to end their season, finishing second in the NL is extremely likely. That means they will be playing the seventh seed in the Wild Card round, which is only three games long. Here’s how the NL playoff picture would look if the season ended today.
#1 Dodgers vs. #8 Reds
#2 Braves vs. #7 Giants
#3 Cubs vs. #6 Marlins
#4 Padres vs. #5 Cardinals
However, spots 5-10 are all separated by a game or less, meaning there are actually six possible teams the Braves could face next week in the Wild Card round, and some of those are much more dangerous than others.
*I’ll be ranking the teams from least fearful to most.
6. San Francisco Giants
The Giants have gotten some tremendous efforts from their veterans that just never seem to get any worse, and you have to give first-year manager Gabe Kapler credit for putting them in a position to get into the postseason. I do think San Francisco’s offense could give the Braves’ starting pitchers some problems. However, the Giants’ staff might be more uninspiring than Atlanta’s, at least at the top. Two ex-Braves — Kevin Gausman and Trevor Cahill — have the best numbers in their rotation. I don’t see any way the Braves lose this series unless their bats go cold for a couple of games at the wrong time.
5. Miami Marlins
The Marlins are currently the sixth seed, but that’s only because they are second in the NL East. If they are overtaken in the NL East but still make the playoffs, there is a chance they end up facing the Braves.
You could make the argument that the Marlins pitching staff — led by Sixto Sanchez — could be dangerous in a three-game series. However, we saw last night what the Braves are capable of doing to Sanchez, and in their past four games versus the Fish, Atlanta has racked up an absurd 54 runs. Of course, one of those games was their 29-run outburst, but still, scoring against the Marlins does not scare me. And at the end of the day, their lineup is the worst among the rest of the playoff contenders.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
The fact that the Milwaukee Brewers come in at fourth on this list show just how difficult the Wild Card round will be. They’ve had a rough time hitting the ball — only one everyday player currently wields an OPS over .900, and only two are over .800. Christian Yelich is hitting just .210. However, their top two starting pitchers, consisting of Cy Young candidate Corbin Burnes (4-0, 1.77 ERA) and Brandon Woodruff (2-5, 3.43 ERA), could give the Braves fits, and since its a three-game series, they only have to shut down the Braves’ lineup once.
3. St. Louis Cardinals
Personally, I’d love nothing more than to play the Cardinals. I think they got incredibly lucky to play the Braves when they were banged up in last year’s NLDS, and then they had the guts to talk crap afterward. Since last October, I’ve been hoping that the Braves would get their revenge, and if the cards fall the right way, they might have their opportunity.
Still, if St. Louis showed us anything last year, they are a scrappy, veteran bunch that will be a tough out in the postseason. They also have some solid starting pitching, led by Jack Flaherty, who is having a down year, but everybody knows what he is capable of. And at 38-years-old, Adam Wainwright is still producing for the Cardinals, boasting a 5-2 record with a 3.05 ERA.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
If the season ended today, the Phillies wouldn’t even make the playoffs. I hope it stays that way because if they find their way in, they are a dangerous team, especially in a three-game series.
Their top two of Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler is as good as any in baseball. That alone makes them a dangerous team in the postseason. Then you take a glance at their lineup, and you wonder how the hell they haven’t already clinched a playoff spot. I thought long and hard about putting them as the worst matchup for the Braves, but given their bullpen woes still are not fixed, and Rhys Hoskins may not be available, they come in as my second most dangerous potential opponent.
1. Cincinnati Reds
After starting the season terribly, the Reds opted not to trade any of their pieces away after just one month, and instead hoped to make a push for the playoffs. They’ve done just that and are currently the eighth seed in the National League. However, if they finish the season strong, they could end up as high as the fifth.
Frankly, the Reds offense is terrible. There isn’t a single player in their lineup hitting over .259, but that doesn’t matter. Cincinnati has three reasons why they are the scariest Wild Card team to face in the opening round — Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray. I’m not saying the Braves couldn’t do it, but their bats would be put to the test early against three of the best pitchers in the National League.