ATLANTA -- The Braves’ powerful offense will be matched against the Reds’ strong starting rotation when the National League Wild Card Series begins at Truist Park on Wednesday.
Paced by top NL MVP Award candidate Freddie Freeman, the Braves won their third consecutive NL East title this year. Top NL Cy Young Award candidate Trevor Bauer helped the Reds win 11 of their last 14 games to secure a Wild Card berth.
• NL Wild Card Series presented by Hankook Tire, Game 1: noon ET on ESPN
Here is a look at how these teams match up heading into Game 1:
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Game 1 will be played on Wednesday at Truist Park (noon ET, ESPN).
What do the starting lineups look like?
1) Nick Senzel, CF
2) Nick Castellanos, RF
3) Joey Votto, 1B (L)
4) Eugenio Suárez, 3B
5) Mike Moustakas, 2B (L)
6) Aristides Aquino, LF
7) Jesse Winker, DH (L)
8) Kyle Farmer, SS
9) Curt Casali, C
Because Max Fried is a left-handed starter, manager David Bell is likely to field a right-handed-heavy lineup if he sticks with his regular-season style. But if Fried doesn’t go deep, Bell can pivot with several lefty bats including Shogo Akiyama and Brian Goodwin. The Reds rely heavily on home runs, with a Major League-leading 61.1 percent of their runs coming via the long ball.
1) Ronald Acuña Jr., CF
2) Freddie Freeman, 1B (L)
3) Marcell Ozuna, DH
4) Travis d’Arnaud, C
5) Ozzie Albies, 2B (S)
6) Adam Duvall, LF
7) Dansby Swanson, SS
8) Nick Markakis, RF (L)
9) Austin Riley, 3B
This will be the first time the Braves have faced Bauer since the right-hander made his Reds debut on Aug. 3, 2019. An Albies triple and Freeman double in the fifth led to Bauer lasting just 4 2/3 innings that night. Atlanta has a right-handed-heavy lineup, but this group has had success against right-handers. Freeman produced a MLB-best 1.228 OPS against righties. d’Arnaud (1.026) and Acuña (1.020) also ranked among the league leaders in this category.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Reds: Trevor Bauer
Bauer (5-4, 1.73 ERA) rolls into the postseason as one of baseball’s best pitchers and a leading candidate for the NL Cy Young Award. He demonstrated during the regular season that he’s hard to build rallies against. Of the nine homers Bauer allowed, eight were solo shots. Over his final five starts, he walked six batters and struck out 46. He has significant experience pitching in the postseason with Cleveland, posting a 3.81 ERA over 10 games, including six starts.
Braves: Max Fried
Fried (7-0, 2.25 ERA) will be making his first career postseason start and attempting to prove he can be as sharp as he was during the season’s first six weeks. The lefty was a Cy Young candidate when he produced a 1.60 ERA through his first eight starts. But he has thrown just six innings since developing back spasms following his Sept. 5 start against the Nationals. Fried turned his ankle during the first inning of his last regular-season start this past Wednesday, but he has since thrown a pain-free live batting practice.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Reds: Bell has many options depending on how the game goes. If Bauer, who worked six or more innings in 10 of his 11 starts in 2020, goes deep in the game, Bell can go right to the back end of the bullpen with more power arms like Amir Garrett, Lucas Sims, Archie Bradley and closer Raisel Iglesias. If Atlanta can knock Bauer out early, Cincinnati can turn to Michael Lorenzen, Tejay Antone or Tyler Mahle to provide multiple innings and try to hold things down for the offense to mount a comeback effort.
Braves: Given Fried hasn’t completed more than five innings since Aug. 26, look for the Braves to dip into their bullpen before the seventh inning. This has been a deep and effective relief corps, but the depth may have been weakened when Chris Martin exited Sunday’s game with a sore right groin. Shane Greene and Martin have consistently preserved leads to hand off to closer Mark Melancon. Now Atlanta needs to get more dependability from All-Star Will Smith. Opponents have hit just .190 against the lefty. But seven of the 11 hits he’s allowed have been home runs.
Any injuries of note?
Reds: No key players are missing from the lineup. Bradley has not pitched since Sept. 20 because of what Bell termed only as “soreness.” Bradley has been available since Friday, however, but didn’t get into any games of the final series.
Braves: Acuña was scratched from Sunday’s lineup because of a sore left wrist. This is the same wrist that sidelined him for two weeks in August. But the Braves are confident he will be in Wednesday’s lineup.
If Martin’s groin proves to be a problem, Braves fans will hope his absence does not prove to be as detrimental as it was last year, when he strained his left oblique muscle while warming up to throw his first career postseason pitch in Game 1 of the NL Division Series.
Who is hot and who is not?
Reds: Akiyama overcame a rough start to lead the team in September batting average (.317) and on-base percentage (.456). Moustakas has three homers, five doubles and nine RBIs over his last eight games. Votto has eight homers in his last 29 games since being benched for three games.
After a sensational first month, Winker batted just .104 in September. Since returning from missing 27 games on the injured list, Senzel is 1-for-25 (.080). Castellanos batted .185 over the final month.
Braves: Freeman and Ozuna were the National League’s top offensive players in September. Freeman produced a 1.246 OPS and Ozuna constructed a 1.238 OPS during the regular season’s final month.
Former Reds outfielder Duvall hit 11 homers in September, but he produced just a .529 OPS over his final 10 games.
Anything else fans want to know?
The last time the Reds and Braves met in the postseason was the 1995 NL Championship Series. Atlanta swept the series, 4-0, to advance to the World Series.
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.