Prior to 1969, the National League champion (the "pennant winner") was determined by the best win-loss record at the end of the regular season. There were four ad hoc three-game playoff series due to ties under this formulation (in 1946, 1951, 1959 and 1962), as also happened once (1948) in the American League (the AL, however, used a single-game playoff).
A structured playoff series began in 1969, when both the National and American Leagues were reorganized into two divisions each, East and West. The two division winners within each league played each other in a best-of-five series to determine who would advanced to the World Series. In 1985, the format changed to best-of-seven.
The NLCS and ALCS, since the expansion to best-of-seven, are always played in a 2-3-2 format: Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 are played in the stadium of the team that has home field advantage, and Games 3, 4 and 5 are played in the stadium of the team that does not. Home field advantage is given to the team that has the better record, unless that team happens to be the Wild Card team. In that case, the team that won its division gets home field advantage.
In 1994, the league was restructured into three divisions, with the three division winners and a wild-card team advancing to a best-of-five playoff round, the National League Division Series (NLDS). The winners of that round advance to the best-of-seven NLCS. The NLDS was first played in 1995 due to the cancellation of the 1994 postseason during another players' strike.
The Milwaukee Brewers are the only team to have not played in the NLCS. However, the Brewers, who were an American League team from 1969 through 1997, played in and won the 1982 American League Championship Series.
A Most Valuable Player (MVP) award is given to the outstanding player in each series, though voters can consider performances made during the divisional series. The Warren Giles Trophy, named for the president of the NL from 1951 to 1969, is awarded to the NLCS winner.
|1969||New York Mets||Atlanta Braves||3||0||NBC|
|1970||Cincinnati Reds||Pittsburgh Pirates||3||0||NBC|
|1971||Pittsburgh Pirates||San Francisco Giants||3||1||NBC|
|1972||Cincinnati Reds||Pittsburgh Pirates||3||2||After Johnny Bench hit a Game 5-tying home run, Bob Moose threw a 9th-inning wild pitch to send the Reds to the World Series.||NBC|
|1973||New York Mets||Cincinnati Reds||3||2||This series is best remembered for a fight between Pete Rose and Bud Harrelson.||NBC|
|1974||Los Angeles Dodgers||Pittsburgh Pirates||3||1||NBC|
|1975||Cincinnati Reds||Pittsburgh Pirates||3||0||NBC|
|1976||Cincinnati Reds||Philadelphia Phillies||3||0||The Reds became the only NL team to sweep the postseason when they went on to defeat the Yankees in a four-game World Series.||ABC|
|1977||Los Angeles Dodgers||Philadelphia Phillies||3||1||Dusty Baker, Los Angeles||NBC|
|1978||Los Angeles Dodgers||Philadelphia Phillies||3||1||Steve Garvey, Los Angeles||ABC|
|1979||Pittsburgh Pirates||Cincinnati Reds||3||0||Willie Stargell, Pittsburgh||NBC|
|1980||Philadelphia Phillies||Houston Astros||3||2||Manny Trillo, Philadelphia||Phillies win their first pennant since 1950. Numerous surveys and articles rank this as one of the best postseason series of all time; the final four games went to extra innings.||ABC|
|1981||Los Angeles Dodgers||Montreal Expos||3||2||Burt Hooton, Los Angeles||A key home run by Rick Monday, off Steve Rogers, eliminated the Expos in their only postseason appearance.||NBC|
|1982||St. Louis Cardinals||Atlanta Braves||3||0||Darrell Porter, St. Louis||Due to a rainout Game 1 of the series had to be played twice.||ABC|
|1983||Philadelphia Phillies||Los Angeles Dodgers||3||1||Gary Matthews, Philadelphia||Philadelphia prevailed despite having lost 11 of 12 regular-season meetings.||NBC|
|1984||San Diego Padres||Chicago Cubs||3||2||Steve Garvey, San Diego||After Garvey hit a walk-off home run in Game 4, the Padres finished their 2-0 comeback in Game 5 after Leon Durham made a crucial error.||ABC|
|1985||St. Louis Cardinals||Los Angeles Dodgers||4||2||Ozzie Smith, St. Louis||The first best-of-seven NLCS. Smith ended Game 5 with his first ever left-handed home run, and in Game 6 Tom Niedenfuer surrendered his second big homer in as many games when Jack Clark struck the deciding blow.||NBC|
|1986||New York Mets||Houston Astros||4||2||Mike Scott, Houston||In the first NLCS between expansion teams, Scott pitched two complete games, but Lenny Dykstra and Gary Carter provided game-winning heroics for the Mets before an epic 16-inning classic in Game 6 closed out the series.||ABC|
|1987||St. Louis Cardinals||San Francisco Giants||4||3||Jeff Leonard, San Francisco||Although Leonard hit home runs in each of the first 4 games of the series, it would not be enough as Cardinal pitchers John Tudor and Danny Cox hurled shutouts in Games 6 and 7.||NBC|
|1988||Los Angeles Dodgers||New York Mets||4||3||Orel Hershiser, Los Angeles||The Dodgers scored a memorable 7-game upset victory over the heavily favored Mets. Hershiser, the series MVP, pitched an LCS-record 24⅔ innings, while Kirk Gibson hit 2 key home runs.||ABC|
|1989||San Francisco Giants||Chicago Cubs||4||1||Will Clark, San Francisco||Will Clark set LCS records with a .650 AVG, 8 runs scored and 24 total bases as the Giants stormed to a 5-game series victory for their first NL pennant since 1962.||NBC|
|1990||Cincinnati Reds||Pittsburgh Pirates||4||2||Rob Dibble and Randy Myers, Cincinnati||Led by "Nasty Boys" Dibble, Myers and Norm Charlton coming out of the bullpen, the Reds won their first pennant since 1976, defeating the Pirates in 6 games in a record fifth NLCS meeting between the two. Ironically, the two had been the only N.L. teams to miss the playoffs every year of the 1980s.||CBS|
|1991||Atlanta Braves||Pittsburgh Pirates||4||3||Steve Avery, Atlanta||Steve Avery's record 16.1 scoreless innings pitched led the unheralded Braves to a 7-game series victory and their first pennant since 1958.||CBS|
|1992||Atlanta Braves||Pittsburgh Pirates||4||3||John Smoltz, Atlanta||Down in the 9th inning, Francisco Cabrera singled home two runs to bring Atlanta their second pennant in a row.||CBS|
|1993||Philadelphia Phillies||Atlanta Braves||4||2||Curt Schilling, Philadelphia||Kim Batiste, in his only postseason at-bat ever, hit the game-winning single in the 10th inning of Game 1 after making a 9th-inning throwing error that led to the tying run.||CBS|
|1994||Not held due to labor dispute.|
|1995||Atlanta Braves||Cincinnati Reds||4||0||Mike Devereaux, Atlanta||The Braves wiped out the Reds in the first-ever four game sweep in NLCS history.||ABC (Games 1-2), NBC (Games 3-4)|
|1996||Atlanta Braves||St. Louis Cardinals||4||3||Javy López, Atlanta||Atlanta came back from a 3-1 deficit by winning 2 of their next 3 games in blowout fashion. The combined score in those games was 32-1.||FOX|
|1997||Florida Marlins†||Atlanta Braves||4||2||Liván Hernández, Florida||Filling in for an injured Kevin Brown, rookie Liván Hernández recorded 15 strikeouts in a crucial Game 5 victory that would tilt the series in Florida's favor and send them to their first World Series.||NBC|
|1998||San Diego Padres||Atlanta Braves||4||2||Sterling Hitchcock, San Diego||Buoyed by strong pitching performances by series MVP Hitchcock, Kevin Brown and Andy Ashby, the Padres raced to a 3-0 series lead before wrapping up their first NL title since 1984.||FOX|
|1999||Atlanta Braves||New York Mets†||4||2||Eddie Pérez, Atlanta||The Mets, in their first LCS appearance since 1988, won on a Robin Ventura hit in the 15th inning of a rainy Game 5. In Game 6, Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones with the bases loaded to give the Braves the pennant in extra innings.||NBC|
|2000||New York Mets†||St. Louis Cardinals||4||1||Mike Hampton, New York||The Mets beat the Cardinals in 5 games thanks mostly to timely hitting and clutch pitching. Mike Hampton's 3-hit shutout in the clinching game gave the Mets their first pennant since 1986.||FOX|
|2001||Arizona Diamondbacks||Atlanta Braves||4||1||Craig Counsell, Arizona||Arizona advanced to the World Series in only their 4th year of existence.||FOX|
|2002||San Francisco Giants†||St. Louis Cardinals||4||1||Benito Santiago, San Francisco||Kenny Lofton's game-winning single wins San Francisco its first pennant since 1989.||FOX|
|2003||Florida Marlins†||Chicago Cubs||4||3||Iván Rodríguez, Florida||In the Cubs' first LCS appearance since 1989, Steve Bartman earned infamy as Florida battled back from a 3-1 hole to extend the Billy Goat Curse. Rodriguez had an NLCS record 10 RBI.||FOX|
|2004||St. Louis Cardinals||Houston Astros†||4||3||Albert Pujols, St. Louis||Pujols set NLCS records with 14 hits, 28 total bases and 4 home runs. Houston's Carlos Beltran matched the latter mark. The Cardinals' first pennant since 1987.||FOX|
|2005||Houston Astros†||St. Louis Cardinals||4||2||Roy Oswalt, Houston||The Astros' first NL championship. Albert Pujols' 3 run home run in Game 5 with 2 outs in the 9th temporarily saved the Cardinals from elimination.||FOX|
|2006||St. Louis Cardinals||New York Mets||4||3||Jeff Suppan, St. Louis||St. Louis won the series behind strong pitching and a home run from Yadier Molina in Game 7. Suppan pitched Game 3 & 7, and had an 0.60 ERA in the LDS & LCS.||FOX|
|2007||Colorado Rockies†||Arizona Diamondbacks||4||0||Matt Holliday, Colorado||This was the first NLCS between two NL West teams. The Rockies, in their first NLCS, became the first team ever to sweep both the division and championship series.||TBS|
|2008||Philadelphia Phillies vs. Los Angeles Dodgers||2||0||TBD, TBD||FOX|