Handicapping the NL postseason teams

Baseball's postseason starts with a historic twist in the National League Central: For the first time since the three-division format became reality in 1994, the three best records have come from the same division.

The division-winning Cardinals won 100 games, the Pirates 98 and the Cubs 97.

The only other season that teams from the same division finished with the two best records was in 2001, when Seattle won 116 and Oakland 102.

Who is the scariest team in the NL postseason?

We report. You decide. Here's what you need to know

Chicago: So much for the rebuilding Cubs being on target to contend in 2016. The wild card Cubs are in a position where anything can happen, like win their first World Series since 1908. They could also stop a streak of losing seven consecutive World Series from 1910-1945, the last year they appeared in the Fall Classic. ... The last time the Cubs were in the postseason, in 2007 and 2008, they were eliminated in the Division Series. ...The Cubs rotation is led by former Oriole Jake Arrieta, who might win the NL Cy Young Award after going 22-7 with a 1.77 ERA. Lefty John Lester, who has won a World Series in Boston, has a 3.34 ERA, and the rest of the rotation has Kyle Hendricks, Dan Haren and Jason Hammel. ...The Cubs have a good blend of young (Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell) and experienced (Dexter Fowler, Anthony Rizzo and Miguel Montero) in their lineup, which had the second-best run production in the NL. ... Bryant is the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award after hitting .275 with 26 home runs and 99 RBIs. Rizzo will get MVP votes because of his .278-31-101 season.

Los Angeles: The Dodgers, winners of three consecutive NL West titles, are making their third consecutive postseason appearance, something the team has never done in its history, even going back to the Brooklyn days. ... With lefty Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, a modern-day version of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, the Dodgers have a realistic chance of taking a 2-0 lead against the Mets in the first round. ... Kershaw, who had 301 strikeouts during the season to join Sandy Koufax as the only Dodgers to have 300 strikeouts in a season, has won NL Cy Youngs, but needs to prove that he can win in the postseason. He has a 5.12 ERA in 11 appearances, including eight starts in October. ... Greinke won the NL ERA title with a 1.66 ERA. ... The No. 3 starter is Brett Anderson (3.69 ERA), who emerged after season-ending injuries to Hyun-Jim Ryu (shoulder) and Brandon McCarthy (Tommy John). ... Kenley Jansen is a flame-throwing closer with 36 saves in 38 chances, but do the Dodgers have enough in the setup roles to bridge the gap from starter to closer? ... Adrian Gonzalez (.275-28-90) is the Dodgers' most consistent hitter in a lineup hit by injuries. ... The Dodgers' top prospect, Corey Seager, will replace Jimmy Rollins at shortstop. Seager hit .337 with four home runs in 27 games.

New York: The Mets have something in common with the Dodgers, their first-round opponent: Each has been no-hit twice this season. ... The Mets have their first winning record since 2008 and are in the postseason for the first time since losing to the Cardinals in the 2006 National League Championship Series. ... The Mets are 6-20 combined versus the postseason teams, the worst record of all playoff teams. They are 4-3 against the Dodgers and 0-13 combined versus the Pirates and Cubs. The Mets are 46-29 against the NL East. ... Manager Terry Collins has had to navigate a rotation through injuries, innings limits and fatigue with inexperienced - but talented - starters. How many starts will ace Matt Harvey make, considering the Mets want to keep him around 180 innings after his Tommy John surgery? Harvey, who was fined by the team for not attending a mandatory workout Tuesday, has pitched 189 1/3 innings. Will Jacob deGrom (3.06 ERA) and rookies Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz hold up? And how much will the Mets gets from 42-year-old Bartolo Colon. The bullpen, which endured seven injuries and a PED suspension, was remade with Addison Reed and former National Tyler Clippard setting up rookie closer Jeurys Familia, 25, who had 43 saves. ...Yoenis Cespedes, acquired from Detroit minutes before the July 31 deadline, helped transform the worst run-producing lineup in the NL to one of the most dangerous. The Mets led the NL in runs with 373 in the second half. Cespedes, a free agent after the season, hit .287 with 17 home runs as a Met.

Pittsburgh: The Pirates, who are in the postseason for third consecutive year for the first time since 1990-1992, are trying to get back to the World Series for the first time since 1979. They won the World Series in 1960 against the Yankees and in 1971 and 1979, years when they beat the Orioles. They haven't lost a World Series since losing in 1927 to the Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. ... The Pirates have been in the wild card game in each of the past two seasons, winning once and losing last year to Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner. ... The Pirates have faced Arrieta, the opposing pitcher in the wild card game, five times and beaten him once this season. ... The Pirates' top two pitchers, Gerrit Cole, and Francisco Liriano, each have 200-plus strikeouts, Liriano with 205 and Cole with 202. Cole starts the wild card game. The rest of the rotation includes A.J. Burnett, Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton. ... The Pirates, with the fourth-best run producing lineup in the NL, have five players who have hit double figures in home runs, led by Pedro Alvarez's 27 and Andrew McCutchen's 23. McCutchen has a .292 average with a .410 on-base percentage. ... The Pirates lost their folk hero and second-best hitter, shortstop Jung Ho Kang, to a knee injury. He was hitting .287 with 15 home runs, and they'll miss his bat. ... If the Pirates can get by the wild card game, then their bullpen, possibly the best in the NL, will be a factor going deep. Their closer, Mark Melancon, had a team-record 51 saves.

St. Louis: The Cardinals are in their fifth consecutive postseason on the strength of their ninth 100-victory season in club history. They are making their 12th postseason appearance since 2000, winning the World Series in 2006 (over Detroit) and 2011 (over Texas). ... This year is an amazing story because they have hit triple digits in wins, despite losing their best pitcher, Adam Wainwright; a solid reliever, Jordan Walden, and two of their best hitters, Matt Adams and Matt Holliday, as well as rookie Randal Grichuk, who helped fill in for the injured players. ... Wainwright, coming back from a torn Achilles on April 25, is back and will work out of the bullpen in the postseason, although he probably won't be saving games as he did in 2006. But he gives manager Mike Matheny nice options. ... Holliday and Adams are also back, giving the Cardinals the power bats they missed. ... John Lackey has been the Cardinals' most consistent starter (2.77 ERA, 218 innings) in a rotation that finished with a league-best 2.99 ERA. The Cardinals are the third team in the last 25 years - joining the 2011 Phillies and 1992 Braves - to have a rotation with an ERA of less than 3.00. ... The rotation also has Lance Lynn (3.03), Michael Wacha (3.38) and Jamie Garcia (2.43.). ... Matt Carpenter is their leading home run hitter with 28. Grichuk was second with 17 in 103 games. ...Jason Heyward, acquired from the Braves in the offseason, has turned into a typical Cardinals hitter: Not a lot of home runs, but a productive average and on-base percentage. Heyward hit .289 with a .359 on-base percentage. ... The surprise in the Cardinals' lineup was rookie Stephen Piscotty, who hit .305 when he got a chance to play because of injuries.

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