The National League Division Series pits the Milwaukee Brewers against the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Atlanta Braves. Here is Tim Kurkjian's pick for each series, with three reasons why that team will win -- and one reason why it might not.
Three reasons the Brewers will beat the Rockies
The teams with the two best records in the National League in the second half, the Brewers and Rockies, now play in a division series. Neither one has ever won the World Series. Both beat the Cubs on the road this week. Both are on a serious roll, with one major difference: The Brewers will be working with an extra day of rest, critical time to unwind and heal, while the Rockies needed 13 innings -- the longest winner-take-all game in postseason history -- and nearly five hours of wild-card baseball to get to this round.
Brewers' bullpen: It is the hottest one in the game right now. Their bullpen ERA in September/October is 1.98. Corey Knebel, with that riding four-seam fastball, has three walks and 33 strikeouts since the start of September; he has the second-best strikeout percentage of any NL reliever this season. The best belongs to teammate Josh Hader, who struck out nearly 50 percent of the batters he faced; only Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel (twice) have had a higher strikeout percentage in any season in history. Hader had 143 strikeouts, most by any reliever since Brad Lidge in 2004. Closer Jeremy Jeffress had a 1.29 ERA in 73 appearances; Eric Gagne and Ted Abernathy are the only pitchers to post an ERA that low in a season of 70 appearances. The Brewers are nearly unbeatable when they lead after six innings and have Knebel, Hader and Jeffress lined up.
Christian Yelich: He is going to win the NL MVP. He has carried this team to 96 wins and a division title with a fabulous second half, and he got so many big hits, especially when they were needed most. "He has been so good, our guys look at him and they can't comprehend, they shake their heads as if to say, 'How can anyone be this great?'" Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. Brewers infielder Travis Shaw said, "Yellie's bat-to-ball skills are better than any player I've ever played with. And he knows his swing better than anyone I've played with." Yelich has hit so many balls on the barrel this year, he estimates -- when pressed to give a number -- that he has broken maybe six bats all season (that is remarkably low). But the Brewers are more than just Yelich. They hit the second-most home runs in the NL. Shaw hit 32 homers. Ryan Braun had a great September. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain has solidified the leadoff spot with an OBP of .402. "This team reminds me of the Royals' championship team with the way we pitch out of the bullpen and the way we play defense," said Brewers third baseman Mike Moustakas, who was a member of that Kansas City squad. "But the one thing that this team has the Royals didn't was a hitter that was as great as Yellie."
Defense: The Brewers have had one Gold Glove winner -- Carlos Gomez in 2013 -- since Robin Yount in 1982. Yet they have really upgraded their defense this season; only the Diamondbacks had more defensive runs saved. Cain has made a huge difference, as have Moustakas and Yelich, and Orlando Arcia is a magician at shortstop. But a difference also has been made by Counsell, who played 15 years in the big leagues mainly because of his defense. Counsell is the rare, if not the only manager who carries a glove around with him during batting practice every day, another reminder of the importance of defense.
One reason I will be completely wrong
The Rockies are rolling: They have won 10 of their past 12 games. They played the past three games in three different time zones, under intense pressure, and won two of them. "I love this team, nothing phases us," manager Bud Black said. They can beat you so many ways, mostly with the power of Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, and now David Dahl, who hit seven homers through August, but nine in September. Arenado and Story anchor an excellent infield defense, which helped win the wild-card game against the Cubs. But the biggest difference in the Rockies recently is their bullpen; since Sept. 1, it has posted the second-best ERA in the NL, trailing only the Brewers. Adam Ottavino, Seunghwan Oh and Scott Oberg have thrown up a lot of zeroes lately, including in the wild-card game, getting the ball to closer Wade Davis.
Three reasons the Dodgers will beat the Braves
Los Angeles and Atlanta are 2,000 miles apart, as were the expectations of these teams going into the 2018 season. The Dodgers were determined to win the World Series for the first time since 1988. The Braves were hoping to get to the corner, then turn it and contend in 2019. Instead, the Dodgers needed to win a tiebreaker to clinch their sixth straight NL West title, and the Braves, from nowhere, won the NL East. Now these two teams, from different directions, meet in the NLDS.
Power: Teams win these days by hitting the ball out of the ballpark. The Dodgers hit the most home runs, 235, in the NL this year. They hit more homers than any team in Dodgers history. Late in the season, they hit a home run in 23 straight games, tying a club record. They have hitters from 1-8 in the order who can go deep. They had 10 players with at least 13 home runs. They had seven with at least 20, led by Max Muncy, who came from nowhere to hit 35. And their depth is so great, they recently played a game in which they had 100 home runs sitting on the bench. There is no escaping the Dodgers' power.
Starting pitching: Clayton Kershaw, on full rest for Game 1, is not the Clayton Kershaw of old after battling various injuries, including a back ailment, the past three years. But he is still a very, very good pitcher. He had a 2.73 ERA this year, a 1.04 WHIP and struck out nearly a batter per inning. His postseason numbers are famously un-Kershaw-like -- 7-7, 4.35 ERA in 24 games (19 starts) -- but it's time to bury the narrative that he can't win a big game in October, because he can, and he has. He is wildly competitive and is driven as hard as anyone to win the World Series. He also has a lot of help this year with the emergence of rookie Walker Buehler, who won the tiebreaker game against the Rockies with another dominating performance. Rich Hill is in line to start in this series, also. The Braves will counter in Game 1 with Mike Foltynewicz, who has overpowering stuff and a 2.85 ERA, but after him, it doesn't appear the Braves can match up with the Dodgers' rotation. It helps the Dodgers that they have the home field.
Experience, and hunger: The Dodgers who were there last year will never forget the feeling of losing in Game 7 of the World Series. It surely will drive them to not let it happen again. With Kershaw, Chase Utley, Kenley Jansen and others around to remind everyone of their mission, you have to like the Dodgers' mindset going into the postseason. Plus, they have guys who were acquired to get them there this year, including shortstop Manny Machado and second baseman Brian Dozier. They are free agents at the end of the season, meaning they are playing for a new contract as well as a chance to advance in the playoffs.
One reason I will be completely wrong
Youth and talent: There is an old cliché in baseball that a team can be too young and too talented to know the pressure that comes along with playing in the postseason for the first time. Such is the case with the Braves. Ronald Acuna Jr., age 20, is so gifted he just overpowers the game with his athleticism and skill. The lift he has given the Braves since his recall in April, and his insertion into the leadoff spot in July, cannot be overstated. He is not alone. Second baseman Ozzie Albies is awfully impressive. Plus, the Braves have a nice veteran blend with Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis and others. But another of the young guys, shortstop Dansby Swanson, might not play due to a left-hand injury suffered late in the season. The Braves will have to be 100 percent healthy if they are going to beat L.A.