The 1996 National League Division Series (NLDS), the opening round of the 1996 National League playoffs, began on Tuesday, October 1, and ended on Saturday, October 5, with the champions of the three NL divisions—along with a "wild card" team—participating in two best-of-five series. The teams were:(1) Atlanta Braves (Eastern Division champion, 96–66) vs. (4) Los Angeles Dodgers (Wild Card, 90–72): Braves won series, 3–0.
(2) San Diego Padres (Western Division champion, 91–71) vs. (3) St. Louis Cardinals (Central Division champion, 88–74): Cardinals won series, 3–0.
The higher seed (in parentheses) had the home field advantage, which was not tied to playing record but was predetermined—a highly unpopular arrangement which was discontinued after the 1997 playoffs. Also, the team with home field "advantage" was required to play the first two games on the road, with potentially the last three at home, in order to reduce travel. The Padres played the Cardinals, rather than the wild card Dodgers, because the Padres and Dodgers are in the same division. Had the 1996 NLDS been played under the post-1997 arrangement, then Atlanta (1) would have still faced off against Los Angeles (St. Louis had a worse record, but would have faced Atlanta because of the mandate of no teams from the same division playing against each other in the Division Series) and San Diego likewise would have still faced off against St. Louis.
The St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves both swept their Division Series, and went on to meet in the NL Championship Series (NLCS). The Braves would rally to win that series four games to three and become the National League champion, but would lose to the American League champion New York Yankees in the 1996 World Series.
St. Louis won the series, 3–0.
Atlanta won the series, 3–0.
Busch Stadium (II) in St. Louis
The Cardinals and Padres began their rivalry in this series. The Cardinals' first of three postseason victories against the Padres took place here. Their dominance is overwhelming to the tune of only one loss against the Padres lifetime in the postseason. A three-run homer by Gary Gaetti off Joey Hamilton put the Cardinals up for good. Todd Stottlemyre pitched masterfully, allowing only one earned run on a solo home run by Rickey Henderson. Rick Honeycutt and Dennis Eckersley shut the Padres down for the win.
Busch Stadium (II) in St. Louis
A well fought Game 2 saw the Cardinals squander two leads. Scott Sanders faced Andy Benes. Willie McGee put the Cardinals on top on the third with an RBI single. Ken Caminiti tied the game with a leadoff homer in the fifth. Ron Gant cleared the bases with a double in the Cardinals fifth to make it 4–1. A two-run single by Tony Gwynn made it a one-run game in the Padres sixth. An RBI ground out by Steve Finley tied the game in the Padres eighth, but the Cardinals would score a run in the eighth on an RBI ground out that scored Brian Jordan. Dennis Eckersley got his second save of the postseason.
Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego
In Game 3, the Cardinals looked to Donovan Osborne to put the Padres away. Opposing the potential sweep would be Andy Ashby. Brian Jordan put the Cardinals ahead when he singled to center field to score Royce Clayton. A would-be double play ball in the bottom of the second helped the Padres take the lead 2–1. Then Ken Caminiti homered to make it 3–1 in the third. An RBI single in the bottom of the fourth made it 4–1 Padres and Osborne was done. But the Cardinals were not about to let the series go another game. A leadoff homer by Ron Gant made it 4–2 in the sixth. Then, a one-out triple by John Mabry scored Jordan and a single would bring him home to tie the game at four. The Cardinals would take the lead in the seventh when Ray Lankford scored on a double play. The Padres were now six outs from being eliminated, but when Caminiti hit his second homer of the game to tie it at five, the Padres were still alive. However, the Cardinals put the game away in the top of the ninth when Jordan hit a two-run homer that proved to be the series winner. A one-out single by Rickey Henderson in the ninth put the tying run at the plate but nothing would be made of it as Eckersley got his third save in as many tries to win the series.
1996 NLDS (3–0): St. Louis Cardinals over San Diego Padres
Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles
The Braves were heavy favorites against the Dodgers, who sneaked into the playoffs on a Wild Card berth. This would be manager Bill Russell's only postseason series as Dodgers manager. The Braves sent 24-game winner John Smoltz to the mound for Game 1. Opposing Smoltz would be Ramón Martínez. The Braves struck first when Fred McGriff's sac fly brought Marquis Grissom home in the fourth. Todd Hollandsworth tied the game with an RBI-double in the fifth. Smoltz and Martinez dueled for eight innings, when Martinez left the game. When the game moved to extra innings, eventual playoff MVP Javy López hit the go-ahead homer in the tenth. Mark Wohlers recorded the save and the Braves led the series 1–0.
Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles
Greg Maddux faced Ismael Valdez in Game 2. Another pitcher's duel took place. Thanks to an error by Ryan Klesko, the Dodgers got on the board in the bottom of the first to lead 1–0, but Klesko would homer with one out to correct his error to tie the game at one. An error by Marquis Grissom allowed another run to score to make it 2–1 Dodgers in the fourth. It remained 2–1 Dodgers until the seventh. Fred McGriff led the inning off with a solo homer to tie the game at two. After Klesko was called out on strikes, Jermaine Dye hit a solo homer to give the Braves the lead. Maddux would get the win and Valdez the loss as Wohlers got another save in the ninth. The Braves now led the series 2–0 going home.
Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta
Another great matchup pitted Hideo Nomo against Tom Glavine for Game 3. The night would sour for Nomo as he gave up a first-inning run, thanks to a McGriff double that scored Chipper Jones, and would squander the series in the fourth. Glavine doubled with two outs, then Grissom walked. A double by Mark Lemke scored both Glavine and Grissom. Then Jones homered to put the Braves up 5–0. Nomo was finished and so were the Dodgers. They would scratch out a run apiece in the seventh and eighth, but no more. Wohlers got his third save in as many tries to end the series.
1996 NLDS (3–0): Atlanta Braves over Los Angeles Dodgers