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Ranking the National League contenders as the MLB playoff picture comes into focus

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Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

As the postseason draws closer, there are two juggernauts in the National League, and then everybody else.

The Atlanta Braves, with the best record in all of baseball, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are headed to their 11th consecutive postseason, have clinched playoff berths. No other NL teams have, although the Milwaukee Brewers are close to adding their names to that list.

Even when they do, the NL will be perceived as a two-team race, unlike the American League, which we featured Tuesday and appears to be a little less top heavy.

But we know from experience that being the favorite doesn’t mean you win it all. The Dodgers are no stranger to that concept. And, really, would any of us be surprised if the Philadelphia Phillies kick it into gear and head back to the World Series for consecutive years?

Here’s a ranking of NL teams in pursuit of the World Series with fewer than two weeks to play.

1. Atlanta Braves, Projected seed: No. 1

atlanta braves
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a slight notion to end this list here. These Braves do everything well. They clobber the baseball. They can run and field and, of course, really pitch. They are deep everywhere – they even, somehow, have two, legitimate starting catchers. These Braves are young enough to be hungry and veteran enough to be savvy. There really is no reason they shouldn’t win their second championship in three seasons.

And yet we all know it doesn’t work that way, especially in a best-of-five or best-of-seven. The Braves will have home-field advantage for however long they last in the postseason. And they have won 65 percent of their games at Truist Park this season. They are unquestionably the favorites to win the World Series, but they still must play the games.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers, Projected seed: No. 2

los angeles dodgers
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

This has not been your typical dominating Dodgers club of the past decade, especially from the pitching side. The Dodgers have had only two pitchers make at least five starts while posting a season ERA under 4.00: 35-year-old Clayton Kershaw, who is pitching through left shoulder discomfort, and Dustin May, who had season-ending elbow surgery in July.

These Dodgers are getting older, and they may not quite have the superstar replacements set up to continue their long run of postseason ball, which includes three World Series appearances (and one win) since 2017. Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Max Muncy and J.D. Martinez are all 30 or older, but they still make up a formidable core.

In last year’s NLDS, the Dodgers lost in four games to the San Diego Padres, and another early exit wouldn’t be a shocker, especially if they end up getting a tough match-up like the Brewers in the second round. Still, they are the Dodgers. And have earned the second spot here.

3. Philadelphia Phillies, Projected seed: No. 4

philadelphia phillies
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves are by far the best team in the NL, but their pesky rivals, the Phillies, may be the most fun to watch. The energy of Bryson Stott is worth the price of admission, so is Kyle Schwarber’s power and Brandon Marsh’s follicle game. Oh, and they also have Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and J.T. Realmuto, among others.

Their rotation should be better – ace Aaron Nola has a 4.62 ERA in a walk year – but it’s still loaded, and they have done a nice job assembling a stout bullpen after years of juggling. This feels like a club that is toying with everyone in the NL, laying low until it is time to pounce.

A second-round matchup against the Braves would be must-see TV.

4. Milwaukee Brewers, Projected seed: No. 3

milwaukee brewers
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

An apology should go out to all baseball fans in Wisconsin. It seems like many observers continue to look past the Brewers and dream on other clubs in the Central. Once the St. Louis Cardinals were tossed aside, the focus was on the young Cincinnati Reds. And now the question is whether the old lovable Cubbies can make a run.

Meanwhile, the steady Brewers simply win games. They have had only one, full losing month – an 11-16 May – and they’ve hit their stride in the second half, playing .600 ball since the All-Star break. If pitching indeed wins championships, then the Brewers have a shot.

They arguably have the best trio of starters in the game with Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and a now healthy Brandon Woodruff; they also have a pretty good fourth in the once-again-resurgent Wade Miley. Closer Devin Williams leads a superb group of bullpen arms. The only question is whether the Brewers can hit enough against elite pitching to surprise higher-profile clubs and get to their first World Series since, gulp, 1982.

5. Miami Marlins, Projected seed: No. 6

miami marlins
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s fair to call this one recency bias but sweeping the Braves last weekend to position themselves better in the wild-card race opened eyes. And if the Marlins can outlast these other wild-card contenders, they could be dangerous in the postseason.

Their young rotation is impressive and would be even better if reigning NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara returns from an elbow ligament sprain to pitch again this season. This is not an offense that scares teams, but Jorge Soler and Luis Arraez can do some damage when hot. The Marlins currently are outside looking in for the postseason, but a softer schedule to finish the season, which includes the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates to close the year, is helpful.

6. Arizona Diamondbacks, Projected seed: No. 5

arizona diamondbacks
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Another great story here. The Diamondbacks lost 110 games in 2021 – the same as the Baltimore Orioles that year – and then picked up 22 more wins the following year. This season, they are on an 85-win pace, and that should get them into the postseason. Their remaining schedule is OK, with visits to the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox, but then they return home to face the Houston Astros.

Although electric rookie outfielder Corbin Carroll understandably gets most of the attention, Ketel Marte and Christian Walker also have an OPS over .800. And the Diamondbacks have a 1-2 starting punch in Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly that can match up with nearly anyone. They may not get very far, but just making the postseason would be an incredible accomplishment for the Diamondbacks.

7. Cincinnati Reds, Projected seed: Fall short

cincinnati reds
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

It would be so much fun if the Reds made the playoffs. They are young, fast, talented and spirited. And seeing what players such as Spencer Steer, Elly De La Cruz and Will Benson can do on the brightest stage is intriguing. Their schedule is pretty soft going forward, but I just don’t think that rotation can get the Reds to the postseason, especially with Graham Ashcraft undergoing season-ending toe surgery.

8. Chicago Cubs, Projected seed: Fall short

The Cubs keep improving since losing 91 games in 2021, and they made enough noise this year to be relevant again. But they are stumbling at the wrong time. They lost eight of their last 10 to the Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. And they finish the season at Atlanta and at Milwaukee. It feels like ‘wait until next year’ for the Cubs.

9. San Francisco Giants, Projected seed: Fall short

I never really believed in the Giants this season. They just seemed destined for mediocrity. They went 35-20 in May and June, but the shoe seemed like it would drop eventually. It did with a resounding thump; the Giants have played .450 baseball in the second half.

Dan Connolly is an MLB Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.