Every team in the National League playoff field is built for success in the playoffs. Every team has a legitimate shot at taking the National League crown and the World Series bid that goes with it.
However that does not mean that these teams are equals. There is a distinct tiered hierarchy among the five playoffs teams: the elites (the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds), the upper crust (the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves) and the underdogs (the St. Louis Cardinals).
The top seed will be the Washington Nationals who are the Eastern Division champions after holding first place for 176 out of the 185 days of the season.
The Nationals are the most balanced team in these playoffs both second in runs scored and runs allowed among the playoff teams. Their +133 run differential, a basic measure of team quality, is the best in the Majors. They are also one of the best teams in the Majors in terms of home (49-31) and away (48-33) record.
With Cy Young Candidate Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, and Edwin Jackson the Nationals boast one of the best rotations in the playoffs. Overall the team has very few holes or “breathers” for opponents on the mound or at the plate. Every player is a threat to bring in a clutch hit or strikeout, making them a formidable opponent.
Their closest competitor will be the Cincinnati Reds the Central Division champions and their star slugger Joey Votto.
Votto would have been a leading MVP candidate if not for a lengthy injury; however the Reds fared just as well without him going 31-15. The Reds also have some playoff experience after winning the Central in 2010, which gives them an advantage over the less experienced Nationals.
The Reds boast a multitude of all-stars in Votto, 2B Brandon Phillips, OF Jay Bruce, P Mat Latos and P Aroldis Chapman as well as a Cy Young candidate of their own in Johnny Cueto. Like the Nationals with Bryce Harper, the Reds have their own special rookie in 1B/3B Todd Frazier, who is a Rookie of the Year contender.
At the next tier of teams the first Wild Card winner Atlanta Braves are one of the hotter teams in baseball. After a sluggish start with serious pitching issues, the Braves have finally found a winning combination and are looking strong entering the postseason.