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Harper and Machado face off Tuesday night in Phillies v. Padres NLCS

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Tonight, the San Diego Padres host the Philadelphia Phillies in Petco Park for the first game of the National League Championship series. Neither of these teams was expected to be here. They were both the lowest seeds in their bracket. But last round, the Phillies upset the defending World Series champion, the Atlanta Braves, and the Padres stunned the LA Dodgers, winners of a team-record 111 games. So they are surprise competitors tonight, but their stars - Manny Machado of the Padres and Bryce Harper of the Phillies - have been aiming for this moment since they arrived in the majors more than a decade ago. Marc Carig is deputy managing editor of MLB News at The Athletic.

Hi, Marc.

MARC CARIG: Hi. How are you?

PFEIFFER: I'm good. This Machado-Harper comparison goes back to even before the two of them entered the major leagues. Tell us more about the similarities in the course of their careers.

CARIG: Yeah, you're talking about two elite players that were identified as elite players even as kids. So they were teammates, once upon a time, on a U.S. national under-18 team. And, you know, like you said, they joined the major leagues right about the same time, and they've been elite players ever since. So I think there's always been parallels with these two players, and I think it's super interesting that they're going head-to-head at such a big stage.

PFEIFFER: It is - former teammates now competing. You know, fans on social media had been complaining that the playoffs are broken because the Phillies and Padres are here, even though 100-game winners, like the Dodgers and Braves, are not. Could you make the case that the two best teams in the National League are actually playing right now?

CARIG: I think you could. I think October baseball has always been about who is playing the best, who got hot, who got a little bit lucky. That's always been baseball. We've had 86-win world champions. It happens. So you got to give credit to the Padres and to the Phillies. They're playing their best baseball at the right time. Nobody saw it coming. But, as we know, baseball - once you get to October, a lot of it is luck.

PFEIFFER: Right, luck and chance - part of the game. Harper and Machado are not the only reunion of sorts happening tonight. I understand two brothers will be competing against each other. Tell us about that.

Marc, do we still have you?

CARIG: Yeah. Austin Nola, Aaron Nola. Pitcher and catcher from Louisiana. So it's - you know, it's kind of rare. They've only faced each other three times. This will be the first time in the playoffs. Saw a cool stat - the pitcher Aaron Nola throws harder when he faces his brother.

PFEIFFER: Oh, is that true?

CARIG: Shocker, so...

PFEIFFER: That's actually been measured? Has that been measured?

CARIG: ...It should be interesting.

PFEIFFER: That's actually something that has been measured, and they've...

CARIG: Yeah.

PFEIFFER: ...Checked the speeds and it's true?

CARIG: It is, yeah. I think there's a certain percentage, yeah.

PFEIFFER: Marc, you probably knew...

CARIG: They do. They measure everything. Rob Thomson, the Phillies manager, mentioned it today.

PFEIFFER: Marc, you probably knew I would ask this question, but are you making bets on either team?

CARIG: (Laughter) No, I can't. If I were a betting man, though, I think I'd be taking the Phillies here.

PFEIFFER: Oh, really? Any reason?

CARIG: They hit more homers. When you get to October, it's about putting the ball over the fence, and the Phillies hit a lot of homers this year. So I like them in this matchup. Although, as we know, you can't really predict this kind of thing, so...

PFEIFFER: That's right.

That's Marc Carig. He's deputy managing editor of MLB News at The Athletic.

Marc, thank you.

CARIG: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Megan Lim
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
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