Predicting Which 5 NL Teams Make the 2021 MLB Playoffs

By Nick Sterling in MLB
| July 13, 2021 11:51 am PDT

The NL playoff picture is beginning to take shape. However, I’d say there are still realistically 10 teams alive for the five playoff spots.

We are at the halfway point in the 2021 MLB season. This is a great time to look at the potential playoff teams in the NL.

Without further ado, here are my MLB playoff predictions for the NL in 2021.

Note: Pricing for each team reflects odds to win the 2021 World Series.

Los Angeles Dodgers (+175)

The Los Angeles Dodgers have made the playoffs every season since 2013. After years of heartbreak, including back-to-back seasons of losing the World Series, the Dodgers finally broke through in 2020.

They won their first World Series since 1988 by defeating the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-2.

As the defending champs, nobody is shocked to see them as the favorites again with the +175 odds you see above.

A lot of teams entered the season with high expectations, but the Dodgers were on another level. Multiple MLB betting sites had their preseason win total over 103. That was the highest preseason win total since the 1999 New York Yankees.

Everyone knew the Dodgers would be good, but could they be this good?

Early in the season, it looked like Los Angeles would crush that preseason win total. They began the season 13-2 with an eight-game win streak. They already led the NL West by 4.5 games.

Surprisingly, the Dodgers lost 15 of their next 20 games, dropping to third in their division. They got back to second in the NL West on June 10. The Dodgers went 19-8 following their losing skid, going from 18-17 to 37-25.

The Dodgers were as far back as 4.5 games in late June, but a nine-game win streak brought them within a half-game. They currently have a 54-34 record, one game behind NL West and NL leader San Francisco Giants.

Los Angeles’s offense is always loaded with talent. They lead the NL in runs, RBIs, walks, and on-base percentage. Max Muncy, Mookie Betts, and Chris Taylor will represent the Dodgers in the All-Star Game. Muncy leads the NL with 55 walks and a .414 on-base percentage. He’s also second in the NL with a 4.1 WAR.

Justin Turner was an All-Star snub in my mind. He leads the Dodgers with a .303 batting average and 89 hits.

We know the Dodgers rotation is always among the best in the majors. This season is no different. They lead the majors in ERA, quality starts, and opponent batting average. They are also second in the majors in hits, earned runs, strikeouts, and WHIP.

Somehow, none of their pitchers made the All-Star Game.

Walker Buehler has a 2.49 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 107 strikeouts. Trevor Bauer has a 2.59 ERA and is third in the majors with 137 strikeouts. I know the NL is stacked this season with pitchers, but the Dodgers should’ve got at least one.

Of course, the Trevor Bauer situation will be worth monitoring.

There may be a drop-off if he doesn’t make his way back to the active roster, but this team is still so loaded that even losing Bauer shouldn’t stop them.

The Dodgers are on pace for 99 wins, so they may not reach their preseason total. Nonetheless, they have a great chance to win the NL.

San Diego Padres (+400)

The San Diego Padres combined a methodical rebuild with big-name free agent signings to return to the playoffs in 2020. They won their first playoff series since 1998 but lost in the second round.

Following the season, San Diego upgraded their pitching staff by trading for Yu Darvish and Blake Snell.

For the first time this century, the Padres had World Series aspirations.

San Diego got off to a solid 15-12 start through April. However, they turned it on during May. San Diego won 12 of 13 games to give them the division lead for the first time all season on May 21.

Following a nine-game win streak, the Padres lost 15 of their next 23 games. They went from leading the NL West to third place, trailing by six games. That rough stretch had them 38-32 on June 16.

They briefly got back to second in the NL West after a seven-game winning streak, but they immediately lost six of their next 11 games. The Padres are now 52-38, four games behind NL West leader San Francisco Giants.

Not really a surprise, but the Padres have one of the best offenses in the NL. They lead the majors with 79 stolen bases. They also rank second in the NL in hits and walks. The leader of that offense is none other than All-Star phenom Fernando Tatis Jr.

Tatis leads the NL in home runs, stolen bases, slugging, on-base plus slugging percentage, and WAR (leads the majors). The only reason he isn’t up there in RBIs or total bases is because he missed 19 games.

Jake Cronenworth also made the All-Star Game. He is an all-around solid player, batting .278 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs. His 3.3 WAR ranks seventh in the NL.

As good as their offense is, the Padres are still among the teams that could be buyers ahead of the 2021 MLB trade deadline.

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The Padres offseason move to upgrade their pitching staff paid off. They have the fifth-best ERA in the majors. They also have the third-most strikeouts in the majors.

Starting pitcher Yu Darvish and closer Mark Melancon will join Tatis and Cronenworth in the All-Star Game. Darvish has a 2.65 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 123 strikeouts. Melancon leads the majors with 26 saves.

According to FanGraphs, the Padres have the second-best chance to make the playoffs in the NL. I’d have to agree with that assessment. This team isn’t going anywhere and should contend for the NL West title.

Milwaukee Brewers (+500)

Just three seasons ago, the Milwaukee Brewers won an NL best 96 games. They nearly made it to the World Series that season, but they lost 4-3 in the NLCS.

Milwaukee lost in the first round of the last two seasons. This season, they look a lot closer to their 2018 form.

The Brew Crew got off to a good start this season. On May 1, they were 17-10 with a two-game lead in the NL Central. However, they went 5-13 over their next 18 games, falling to third in the division at 22-23.

From June 5 to June 22, the Brewers were either tied for the division lead or a game behind. That finally changed when the Brewers went on an 11-game win streak. That streak coincided with their competitor, the Chicago Cubs, losing 11 straight games.

Just like that, Milwaukee leads the NL Central by seven games with a 53-36 record.

Their offense isn’t anything special this season. The only stat they rank top five in the NL in is walks. Former MVP Christian Yelich missed over 30 games early in the season. Avisail Garcia leads the Brewers with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs.

On the other hand, their pitching staff is no joke. They lead the majors with 891 strikeouts and rank second in the NL in shutouts, quality starts, and opponent batting average.

They have arguably the best pitching trio in the majors in these three titans.

  • Brandon Woodruff
  • Corbin Burnes
  • Freddy Peralta

All-Star Brandon Woodruff leads the rotation. He has a 2.10 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 13 quality starts, and a 4.2 WAR. All those stats rank top four in the NL.

Corbin Burnes is the other All-Star in the rotation. Burner has a 2.36 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. He also has a very impressive 128 strikeouts to just 15 walks.

Somehow, Freddy Peralta didn’t make the All-Star Game, even though his stats are better than Burnes. He’s, without a doubt, one of the biggest 2021 MLB All-Star Game snubs from the NL. He ranks top six in the NL in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, and WAR.

Closer Josh Hader is the other Brewers pitcher to make the All-Star Game. He has a 0.80 ERA, 57 strikeouts, and just 12 walks.

It seems like a given that the Brewers make the playoffs, but if they want to compete for the World Series, we’re going to have to see more from their offense.

San Francisco Giants (+650)

Where in the world did this season come from? After winning three World Series from 2010-2014, the Giants only made the playoffs once since then. Coming into the season, they had just a 5.7 percent chance to make the playoffs.

Needless to say, that number has gone up.

The Giants got off to a good start, going 16-10 in April. They led the NL West all the way up to May 22. They fell as far back as third, two games back over the next two weeks. However, they took the division lead back at the end of May with a 34-20 record.

They had a very impressive 10 wins in 11 games in June to stretch their division lead to 4.5 games. San Francisco’s lead is down to just one game, but they have the best record in the majors at 54-32.

San Francisco’s turnaround is impressive and certainly unexpected. Their offense and pitching have played an equal hand in it.

Whatever the case, they’ve morphed into a legit threat to win the NL West in 2021.

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Their offense leads the NL in home runs, total bases, slugging, and on-base plus slugging percentage. They also rank top three in the NL in runs and RBIs.

Despite missing nearly 30 games, Buster Posey made the All-Star team for the seventh time. He hasn’t played enough games to qualify for the league leaders, but he’s hitting .328 with 12 home runs and 28 RBIs. He also leads the Giants in on-base percentage, slugging, and on-base plus slugging percentage.

Shortstop Brandon Crawford will make his third All-Star Game appearance. Usually known for his stellar defense, Crawford is hitting .275, 17 home runs, and 55 RBIs. His 3.6 WAR ranks third in the NL.

While their offense is good, I think their pitching staff is even better. They lead the majors in saves, shutouts, fewest walks, and WHIP. Their 3.28 ERA ranks second in the majors.

Their rotation is not scary based on name recognition. Here are the guys they’re largely leaning on defensively these days.

  • Kevin Gausman
  • Anthony DeSclafani
  • Johnny Cueto
  • Alex Wood

Journeyman pitcher Kevin Gausman is on his fourth team in four seasons. Prior to this season, he never had a sub 2.70 ERA.

He seemingly came out of nowhere this season to become one of the best pitchers in the majors. His 1.74 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and 4.4 WAR all rank top three in the majors. If you didn’t already figure it out, Gausman made the All-Star Game.

Starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani is also having a great season with a 2.84 ERA and 1.02. However, he did not make the All-Star Game. Cueto and Wood chip in as two more serviceable arms to give San Francisco a pretty underrated pitching rotation.

The Giants entered the season as playoff longshots. At the halfway point, they have the best record in the majors and a legit shot to win the World Series.

Atlanta Braves (+1800)

The Atlanta Braves entered the 2021 season with championship aspirations. They made the playoffs the previous three seasons, including an NLCS appearance in 2020.

The Braves held a 3-1 lead in the series but lost the final three games. A lot of people expected them to be one of the top teams once again in the NL. However, things haven’t gone according to plan.

Atlanta began the season on a four-game losing streak. Unfortunately for them, that basically set the tone for the season so far. It took the Braves 34 games to get to .500.

From there, it was a battle just to stay at .500.

On June 13, they sat third in the NL East, a season-high 7.5 games behind the division-leading New York Mets. Since then, they are 12-9 and currently have a 42-44 record. They did make up some ground in the division, but they are still 4.5 games back.

While the Braves’ offense may struggle to hit for contact, their power numbers are right at the top of the NL. They rank top three in the NL in doubles, home runs, total bases, slugging, and on-base plus slugging percentage.

Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman will start in the All-Star Game, while Ozzie Albies comes off the bench. Acuna has had a fantastic season and is one of the 2021 MVP front runners in the NL. He ranks top three in the NL in runs (leads the majors), home runs, total bases, stolen bases, slugging, and on-base plus slugging percentage.

Freeman has taken a step back from his MVP season, but he still leads the Braves with 86 hits and 52 walks. Lastly, Albies is top five in the NL in doubles, triples, and RBIs.

Offensively, it’s clear what the Braves are capable of. They’re not where they need to be yet, but they can still get there.

Their price is great for both the NL East (+450) and the World Series (+1800). If you’re ever going to bet on Atlanta, now could be the best time before their price bumps.

What’s really holding Atlanta back is their pitching. Their ERA, WHIP, and opponent batting average all rank 10th or worse in the NL.

Ian Anderson is their best pitcher with a 3.27 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and a 2.9 WAR. Outside of him, Charlie Morton is their only other pitcher with a sub 4.00 ERA.

It will be tough for Atlanta to overcome their pitching and get in the playoff picture, but I think they have what it takes. The NL East is tight with four teams within 4.5 games. Usually, in a tight battle like this, the most experienced team emerges from the pack. The Braves have three consecutive playoff appearances.

The Mets are their biggest competitor, but I just don’t trust their offense that is second to last in runs scored.

Which NL Teams Will Make the 2021 MLB Playoffs?

The NL seems a lot less predictable than the AL. Milwaukee is really the only team I feel confident about winning their division.

Three teams should make the playoffs from the NL West, but who knows what order they’ll make it in.

Finally, I think Atlanta has what it takes to make a playoff run. Even if you prefer New York, I don’t think they have the best value.

Ultimately, that has the following teams shaping up as the most likely options to make the NL playoffs this season.

  • Brewers
  • Braves
  • Dodgers
  • Padres
  • Giants

The way the math looks right now – and how these teams have performed – these five teams are the best bets. The NL East is probably producing one playoff team, which could be the case for the NL Central.

Barring something catastrophic, the NL West is also too loaded to not get those three teams in. There is still a lot of time left, of course, but for now, this is where things stand for my NL playoff predictions.

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