NL playoff teams


Braves (90-54)

What they do well: Pitch, though the starting rotation hasn't been quite as overpowering as in the past. Greg Maddux (19-2) is the best pitcher in the game. Tom Glavine and John Smoltz have lots of postseason experience. They're so good that Steve Avery doesn't even make the postseason rotation. The bullpen also is solid, from closer Mark Wohlers to a host of tough middle and setup men. And, oh yeah, they can hit. Four players had 20 or more home runs and two more were in double figures.

Achilles' heel: They don't really have one, but perhaps Glavine's difficult history in the playoffs would qualify. He's 1-4 with a 5.40 ERA in five NLCS starts, but pitched much better in four World Series appearances (2-2, 2.08 ERA).

Critical player: Maddux. If he is as dominant in the postseason as he has been the past four years, the Braves could be unstoppable, but he also has so-so postseason numbers. In four playoff starts -- in 1989 and '93 -- he is 1-2 with an 8.10 ERA.

Intrigue: Best team in National League vs. unpredictable expansion club. Should be fun.

Postseason history: The Braves made three straight NLCS appearances during 1991-93 and reached World Series in '91 and '92, but don't want to become the Buffalo Bills of baseball. Their last World Series title was in 1957, when club was still in Milwaukee.

If they win, this will be why:If they win, this will be why: Braves' pitching should be able to shut down the big-swinging Rockies, and Atlanta's offense should be able to take advantage of a thin Colorado staff.

Reds (85-59)

What they do well: This solid, all-around club can send five capable starters to the mound. Pete Schourek is the ace, but John Smiley also has outstanding numbers, and new acquisitions David Wells, Mark Portugal and Dave Burba contributed to a late-season runaway. Good bullpen. Good speed. Ron Gant and Reggie Sanders led a strong top-to-bottom offensive attack. Davey Johnson may be the best manager in the game.

Achilles' heel: Smiley was terrible in two previous postseason starts, giving up eight runs in a total of 2 2/3 innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1991.

Critical player: Gant, who has been one of the offensive leaders of this club all year. He has the ability and the postseason experience (31 games) to lead the Reds into the NLCS, but was not a particularly clutch October player in three postseasons with the Braves.

Intrigue: Johnson is supposed to be a lame duck in Cincinnati. Ray Knight already has been promised the managerial job next year. That could change -- by popular demand -- if the Reds go all the way.

Postseason history: Pulled stunning upset of the Oakland Athletics to win the 1990 World Series. Before that, they had made just one postseason appearance ('79 NLCS) since the Big Red Machine won back-to-back World Series in 1975 and '76.

If they win, this will be why:If they win, this will be why: Owner Marge Schott has gotten them this far by rubbing lucky fur from her dead St. Bernard on selected uniformed personnel.

Rockies (77-67)

What they do well: Hit . . . and hit . . . and hit. The Rockies have taken advantage of the thin air in Denver to hit more home runs than anyone else in the National League. Dante Bichette, Larry Walker, Vinny Castilla and Andres Galarraga recently became only the second foursome to each hit 30 or more home runs in the same season. Bullpen by committee has performed surprisingly well, with three pitchers finishing with at least 10 saves.

Achilles' heel: Pitching. They went out and acquired Bret Saberhagen for the stretch run and postseason, but they still give up too many runs to be a serious threat to go all the way.

Critical player: Saberhagen. He got hammered Sunday, but only threw 63 pitches. If the Rockies can split at home, he would be in position to give them a pivotal Game 3 in Atlanta.

Intrigue: Not much. The Rockies are just happy to be appearing in a postseason series in only their third year. Rockies fans will have fun one way or the other.

Postseason history: None, and still may not have much after this series with the powerful Braves.

If they win, this will be why:If they win, this will be why: They will score in double figures in each of the first two games and Saberhagen will step up with an outstanding performance in Game 3 to complete a shocking sweep.

Dodgers (78-66)

What they do well: The Dodgers feature a solid, though sometimes unpredictable, starting rotation. Japanese import Hideo Nomo and Ramon Martinez have been overpowering and Ismael Valdes also has pitched impressively. Tom Candiotti went 7-13 despite a decent ERA. Closer Todd Worrell has had a terrific season. Offensive lineup features three of the top young hitters in the game in Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi and Eric Karros.

Achilles' heel: Despite outstanding young talent, had the worst record of any division winner in either league. This team is not always the sum of its parts.

Critical player: Nomo, who will again be under a national microscope as he appears in the major-league postseason for the first time. Has shown he can handle pressure.

Intrigue: Is this Tommy Lasorda's final year as Dodgers manager, or will his eighth division title buy him a 20th season in the job?

Postseason history: Dodgers have reached the postseason seven times in the past 20 years. No team has been there more times over the same period. Won two World Series titles in the 1980s.

If they win, this will be why: Nomo and Martinez will step up under pressure and combine for three victories in the five-game series.

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