After MLB’s field of 16 playoff teams was quickly narrowed to eight in the new wild-card series, the postseason is back to normal — sort of.
The Division Series begins Monday, with the AL playing at neutral sites in Southern California. The NL will play at neutral sites in Texas starting Tuesday. Every series, oddly enough, features actual divisional matchups, so these teams are familiar with each other — even after a shortened, travel-limited 2020 season.
The No. 6 seed Marlins pitched their way to an upset of the Cubs in the wild-card series, highlighted by rookie Sixto Sanchez’s stellar start in Game 2. They will need to hope that momentum continues against the No. 2 seed Atlanta Braves. This is, after all, the same matchup that produced a 29-run outburst from the Braves offense earlier this season. Do the Marlins have more October magic up their sleeves?
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) October 2, 2020
Game 1: Tuesday, Oct. 6, (2:08 p.m. ET) (FS1)
Game 2: Wednesday, Oct. 7, (2:08 p.m. ET) (MLB Network)
Game 3: Thursday, Oct. 8, (2:08 p.m. ET) (FS1)
Game 4*: Friday, Oct. 9, (2:08 p.m. ET) (FS1)
Game 5*: Saturday, Oct. 10, (4:08 p.m. ET) (FS1)
The entire series will be played at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Atlanta will be the “home team” and bat last in Games 1, 2 and 5.
The Braves bested the Marlins in the regular-season series, taking six of 10 games. Atlanta outscored Miami 68-44 during those games, though that run differential was skewed by Atlanta’s 29-9 win on Sept. 9. In their most recent series from Sept. 21-24, the Braves won three of four games.
This will be the second postseason meeting between the Marlins and Braves. The then-Florida Marlins defeated Atlanta four games to two in the 1997 National League Championship Series. Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. was born two months later.
Why the Marlins will win
Need for speed: The Marlins aren’t what you’d call an overpowering team. On the pitching side, their 4.86 team ERA ranked 21st in MLB and their 451 total strikeouts ranked 28th. Offensively, Miami finished near the bottom in runs scored (21st) and home runs (25th). The only area where they really excelled was stealing bases. Their 51 steals ranked second to San Diego. Against a Braves team that just completely shut out Cincinnati, swiping bases and putting pressure on the defense could be an advantageous weapon.
Nothing to lose: The Marlins are not supposed to be here. Not after losing 105 games last season, and certainly not after going through a COVID-19 outbreak that threatened to derail the entire MLB season. But here they are, using every bit of doubt as fuel to continue shocking the world. They will obviously need more than that to beat Atlanta, but sometimes playing without expectations is an edge.
Why the Braves will win
Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman: The best two players in this series are in Atlanta's lineup and they are poised to dominate. After posting a .987 OPS during the regular season, Acuña stayed hot with four hits in the wild-card series. As for Freeman, he hit .350 against Miami this season with two homers and 11 RBIs.
Starters hitting stride: During the regular season, Atlanta’s starting pitchers posted a collective 5.51 ERA. That would seem to be bad news. Here’s the good news: There’s some talent in this rotation that is hitting its stride at the right time. Max Fried, who’s been brilliant all season, along with Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright now look like a formidable top three. If that trend continues, Atlanta will be a tough matchup for Miami.
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