The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers are the favorites to meet in the World Series for the second time in three years, and for good reason. The American League-leading Astros won 107 games while outscoring their opponents by an MLB-best 280 runs, and boast three aces in Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke. The Dodgers, the National League’s top seed, are led by MVP candidate Cody Bellinger, won 106 games, outscored their opponents by only seven fewer runs than the Astros and are the two-time defending NL champs.

So why is MLB Network analyst Bill Ripken picking the Nationals to not only beat the Brewers in Tuesday’s NL wild-card game, but then to upset the Dodgers in the NLDS, knock off the Braves in the NLCS and overpower the Astros for their first World Series title?

“I went out there on a limb,” Ripken, the former Orioles infielder, said in a phone interview of his playoff bracket, which he revealed on Sunday’s “MLB Tonight” postseason special. “It seemed like it was too easy to pick L.A. and Houston, and I didn’t want to do that. Now, I’m not going to make a statement if I don’t believe it could possibly happen. I had a little feeling, had a little hunch.”

Ripken approved of Nationals Manager Dave Martinez’s decision to start Max Scherzer in Tuesday’s winner-take-all game against the Brewers. He said Washington’s path to the World Series begins with Scherzer validating that call, and working deep enough into the game to preserve the Nationals’ other front line starters.

“If they win the wild-card game and they don’t use either one of [Patrick] Corbin or [Stephen] Strasburg, that sets you up to go out to L.A.,” Ripken said. “You’ve got Strasburg and Corbin, probably in Games 1 and 2, then you’ve got a day off and Mad Max comes back in Game 3. With the three guys they have in Washington, that’s the one team that I was looking at down the playoff stretch that probably could go out there and handle the Dodgers.”

Ripken picked the Braves to beat the Cardinals in the NL’s other division series, setting up an all-NL East NLCS.

“The Nats would have all kinds of mojo going,” Ripken said of a potential matchup with the Braves, who went 11-8 against Washington during the regular season. “The two guys up at the top of the order, [Trea] Turner and [Adam] Eaton, are playing really well setting the table. I think you can make the argument that the 3-4 [hitters] in D.C. [Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto] are as good as any combination that’s out there in the big leagues. I just like the way the Nationals are playing. They’ve had trouble in postseason, but … they got on a roll and they played well down the stretch. Why not?”

Ripken’s prediction isn’t all that far-fetched. Nothing is guaranteed in a five-game series, as the Nationals can attest. Since the second wild-card was introduced in 2012, the top two seeds have met in the World Series only once, in 2013, when the Red Sox beat the Cardinals. The following year, two wild-card teams faced off in the World Series, with the Giants defeating the Royals in seven games. One of the top seeds has advanced to the World Series in each of the last four years.

Here’s a look at several other expert predictions for the NL wild-card game and beyond:

Twenty-three out of 30 experts pick the Nationals to beat the Brewers.

“Scherzer is pitching,” Jeff Passan explains. “And while he hasn’t been shut-you-down Scherzer leading up to the postseason — nor, it should be noted, in the postseason, either — I’ll leave it to someone else to bet against him. Maybe this is finally the Nationals’ year.”

Twenty-six out of 30 experts pick the Dodgers to win their NLDS matchup, with the other four picking the Nationals. Three experts pick Washington to reach the World Series and one picks the Nationals to win it all. With 19 votes, the Astros are by far the most common pick to win the World Series, followed by the Dodgers (6).

Four out of five experts pick the Astros to win the World Series and the Nationals to advance to the NLDS before losing to the Dodgers.

Seven of nine experts pick Washington to survive the Brewers in the wild-card game, but no one has the Nationals upsetting the Dodgers in the NLDS. All nine pick the Astros to win the World Series, with seven pegging the Dodgers as the runner-up.

Six of eight experts predict the Dodgers will represent the National League in the World Series, with four picking Los Angeles to win its first title since 1988. Jack Dickey’s bold prediction is, uh, not nice: “The Nationals will lose at home to the Brewers because of a disastrous performance by their bullpen and fire Dave Martinez after the game.”

Five Thirty Eight gives Washington a 64 percent chance to beat the Brewers, a 25 percent chance to beat the Dodgers, a 15 percent chance to reach the World Series and a 6 percent chance to win it all.

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