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MLB Playoff Preview: Dodgers vs Braves – NLCS

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Los Angeles Dodgers (7-3)  |  Atlanta Braves (8-2)

 

 

The Dodgers and Braves face off in the National League Championship Series. This year’s format is seven games in seven days. If the Dodgers are to reach the World Series again this year, they’ll do it with no days off.

 

 

Dodgers vs Braves
Photo Credit: Odd Shark

The Dodgers and Atlanta Braves face off in Arlington, Texas, at Globe Life Field in the National League Championship Series. Both teams secured their NLCS berths with NLDS sweeps as the Dodgers swept the San Diego Padres, and the Braves swept the Miami Marlins. Neither team has played since Thursday, so they’re well-rested and ready to go in this best-of-7 series.

The Dodgers and Braves were the two highest-scoring teams in Major League Baseball during the regular season, and it wasn’t incredibly close either. Los Angeles scored 349 runs during the 60-game season, while Atlanta was right behind 348 runs. In comparison, the Padres were a distant third with 325 runs scored.

The Dodgers allowed 213 runs during the regular season, second-fewest in all of baseball. The Braves ranked 15th, with 288 runs allowed. But the big difference now is Atlanta’s pitching staff looking quite a bit different now than it did a few weeks ago. Max Fried is healthy, rookie Ian Anderson has emerged as an impact starter, and Kyle Wright’s pitching adjustments (pitch selection and position on the rubber, specifically) have paid big dividends.

Because there will be no off-days during either of the LDS or LCS this year, the Braves and Dodgers could play seven games in seven days, if necessary. That will affect pitcher usage and availability. We saw some teams resort to openers, or starting a relief pitcher with a new one coming in every inning or so, making it a bullpen game during the LDS round because of the lack of off days. We could see something similar in the NLCS as well. The Dodgers did this in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Padres when they starter Dustin May went just one inning. By the third inning, Julio Urias came in for 4 2/3 innings of outstanding relief.

 

What to expect in this series.

 

Dodgers vs Braves
Photo Credit: Sue Ogrocki/AP

Some would say expect lots of runs, but that may not be the case, even with the numbers each team’s regular-season production. During the 2020 regular season, the two clubs finished atop the leaderboard for slugging, on-base plus slugging, RBI, runs scored, and home runs. Los Angeles sports a deep lineup, led by a pair of former MVPs in Mookie Betts, who may end up being the NL MVP this season, and Cody Bellinger, the reigning National League MVP. Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. highlight Atlanta’s offense, and shouldn’t be far behind in MVP voting.

Add this fact. Globe Life Field is a pitchers park, and runs may be far and few between. While the Dodgers own a potent 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation with Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw, we don’t know who Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will throw after them. Will it be Dustin May, the flame-throwing right-hander with filthy stuff, or Julio Urias, the southpaw, who also brings the heat?

The Braves rotation depth took a major hit this season due to injuries and underperformance. Still, after the recent outings from their top young starters (Anderson, Fried, and Wright) in the NLDS, they’ll look to quiet L.A.’s powerful starting lineup. The other question entering the series is who will the Dodgers have closing games out for them? Kenley Jansen doesn’t have his skipper’s confidence, which leaves a void in the Dodgers bullpen’s backend.

 

Pitching and offensive breakdown:

 

For the Braves, it’s going to start with their starting pitching. Since the postseason started, they’ve been lights out. They have dominated both the Cincinnati Reds and the Florida Marlins in route to the NLCS. The injuries that the pitching staff suffered through during the regular season have helped get their young pitchers ready to go in a position to impact now. Fried, Anderson, and Wright all fit the bill according to what you’d want when you’re on the biggest stage: power pitchers.

The Braves offense is led by Freeman, Acuna, and Marcell Ozuna, another NL MVP candidate. The Braves’ attack is one of MLB’s most balanced and difficult to stop. Acuna is a transcending player who just missed becoming a member of the exclusive “40/40 Club” (40 home runs, 40 stolen bases) a year ago, a club that only has welcomed Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alfonso Soriano, and Alex Rodriguez. Freeman had a career year after he hit .341/13/53, while Ozuna almost won a shortened season Triple Crown by hitting .338 and leading the NL in home runs (18) and RBI (56).

 

Dodgers vs Braves
Photo Credit: OC Register

The Dodgers’ biggest key will be their bullpen. With Roberts saying that Jansen is not the closer as we advance, who will be the person to lock down the 9th inning? Will it be Blake Treinen, the Oakland A’s former closer who the Dodgers brought in coming off an injury-filled 2019? Treinen has been lights-out for LA in the regular season as well as the postseason. He hasn’t given up a run in four games this postseason while striking out three batters.

Or will it be Brusdar Graterol, the young reliever who has a rocket for a right arm? Graterol throws 100+ with a heavy sinker that also reaches triple digits and an attitude full of confidence. This postseason he has yet to give up a run in 2 1/3 innings pitched. Roberts could also use Joe Kelly, another pitcher who throws in the mid-high ’90s and has experience closing out postseason games, as he did with the Boston Red Sox a few years ago.

This is where it gets fun. With a line-up that also features baseball’s most balanced attack, there is no easy out, so the match-up between the Dodgers offense and the Braves staff will be fascinating. Mookie Betts has completely changed the Dodgers’ makeup and how they approach the game and each at-bat. Betts, one of the NL MVP leading candidates, has given LA the speed element and an aggressive approach that forces teams to make mistakes. The Dodgers still have the power that teams fear, they led all of Major League Baseball in home runs in 2020, so it’s pick your poison when facing any one of their hitters.

 

Keys to the series:

 

Dodgers vs Braves
Photo Credit: Bleacher News

There is an old saying in baseball that proves true today: Power pitching wins in the postseason. If you go back and look at the history of postseason play, it rings true more times than not. So Buehler, Kershaw, May, and Urias need to come up big for the Dodgers.

With Kershaw seemingly finding the fountain of youth this season, the Dodgers have four pitchers that are power guys. But the key once again will be Kershaw. He looked dominant against the Milwaukee Brewers, but he looked a lot like the postseason Kershaw of the past against the Padres. The Dodgers can’t afford to have him be that guy against this Braves team. With Globe Life Field playing big in the pitcher’s favor, he needs to trust his stuff more and not be afraid of giving up a big hit.

The Braves are coming into this series red hot and need to continue to play that way. They are playing with swagger, a chip on their shoulder, and without fear. They won’t back down from a team or a challenge. Like the Dodgers, the Braves have a balanced team that can beat you with power, speed, pitching, or defense. If Ozuna, Freeman, and Acuna get going early and force the Dodgers into their bullpen, it could be a long day for the Azul.

This is a heavyweight match-up with two teams that are built similarly. They both have speed, power, play great defense with outstanding starting pitching, and a nice mixture of veterans and young guys. Get your crackerjacks ready. This is gonna be a fun one to watch!

 

Game 2 Preview:

 

Dodgers vs Braves
Photo Credit: LA Times

The Dodgers bullpen let them down in Game 1, giving up four runs to the Braves in a 5-1 loss. But the Dodgers offense also didn’t show up to the party. It needs to be there today if they want to stay in this series. The Braves jumped on pitches early and often on Monday evening, while the Dodgers did what they have done all year, try to get into the opposing team’s bullpen. Los Angeles needs to mix it up at the plate, meaning if they see a pitch to hit early in the count, do it. They can’t afford to fall behind against the Braves.

Clayton Kershaw takes the mound in the Dodgers most crucial game of the year. They need the Kershaw that dominated the regular season the Brewers in the National Wild Card round, not the pitcher who showed up against the Padres last week. Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts also needs to make the switch to Graterol as the closer. He has the best stuff in the bullpen and has been damn near unhittable. The Dodgers need at least six strong innings out of Kershaw since Roberts had to use five relievers on Monday night.

UPDATE 9:30 am:

The Dodgers have announced that Kershaw is scratched from the start due to back spasms and Tony Gonsolin will start in his place. Tuesday will mark the first postseason appearance of Gonsolin’s young career. The second-year righty made nine appearances (eight starts) in the regular season and compiled a 2.31 ERA with 46 strikeouts against just seven walks and two homers allowed in 46 2/3 innings. Gonsolin has not pitched in 17 days, with his last regular-season start coming against the Angels (6 IP, 4 ER) on Sept. 26.

 

Game 3 Preview:

 

The Dodgers strategy heading into the series was to force the Braves pitchers into high pitch counts or force them into throwing one pitch. That isn’t working they need to figure out the Braves young starters quickly or their season will be over.

 

Dodgers vs Braves
Photo Credit: True Blue LA

In years past, the Dodgers offense has struggled in the postseason being too reliant on home runs, but that wasn’t the case in Game’s 1 or 2 of the 2020 NLCS. The Braves pitching has been outstanding and stifled the Dodgers to the point of Dodgers fans saying “it’s the same thing, year, after year, after year.”

Bellinger has to start hitting in the postseason. He is hitting .190 with 58 strikeouts in his postseason career and yet again has looked lost at the plate against Atlanta. Bellinger’s defense is outstanding, but for a guy who won the NL MVP last year, he doesn’t show up on the big stage and the Dodgers can’t afford to have any more of those types of guys. Bellinger had an RBI triple in the ninth to make the score 8-7, so Dodgers fans have a sliver of hope that he can come out of his postseason slump.

In order for the Dodgers to get back in the series, they need to be aggressive and attack the Braves pitchers. They can’t afford to wait for the big shot. Betts, Seager, and Turner have to be the guys to get it started at the top of the order and Bellinger has to start hitting and not be the guy he has been in past postseasons. Betts was brought over to help change the way they play, and he has done that all season and in the first two rounds of the postseason. But the Dodgers need him to be that guy now, otherwise, they will be sent packing back to L.A. earlier than they expected.

 

Game 4 Preview:

 

All eyes will turn to Kershaw who is slated to start Game 4, providing his back is good to go. It’s not only L.A.’s most important game of the year but the Dodgers are back in this series and have the momentum, but also Kershaw’s career. He needs to show up and pitch big for the Dodgers. Kershaw goes up against Bryse Wilson, who is making his first postseason start for Atlanta. If Kershaw is the same guy we saw against the Brewers the Dodgers will feel confident, especially after their offense got back on track Wednesday. But if we see the Kershaw that struggled against the Padres, the Dodgers will have to win a slugfest.

The Dodgers offense needs to continue to be aggressive and get after the Braves pitchers early in the count. The success they had in Game 3 should give LA confidence and the Braves some doubt, especially since the Dodgers got into the Atlanta bullpen early. Can the Braves bounce back after a horrible Game 3 and can the Dodgers remain hot at the plate and even up the series at two games apiece?

 

Game 5 Preview:

 

The Dodgers and Braves head into in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series with vastly different agendas. Being down 3-1 in the series, every game from here on out is an elimination game for LA. The Dodgers will need to play with urgency and like there is no tomorrow and give their pitching staff as much run support as possible to keep the series alive. With Buehler and other pieces of the bullpen available for the next few games, Dave Roberts will have some tough decisions to make and no room for error from here out. The Braves will look to close out the Dodgers and head to the World Series as the favorites to win it all.

 

Game 6 Preview:

 

For the Dodgers to win Game 6 they need to stay hot. They have to keep the pressure on the Braves and their young starting pitcher, Max Fried. They also could use a strong start by Walker Buehler, their #1 starter. If Buehler can give them 6+ strong innings that would be ideal. This would help the Dodgers bullpen get some much-needed rest. They also can’t give the Braves any hope or momentum since it seems like the team that gets that at some point in any game is going to end up winning it.

 

 

 

All the games can be seen on Fox or FS1. Here are the probable starting pitchers for the National League Championship Series.

 

 

Game 1 – Braves 5 – Dodgers 1

Game 2 – Braves 8 – Dodgers 7

Game 3 – Dodgers 15 – Braves 3

Game 4 –  Braves 10 – Dodgers 2

Game 5 – Dodgers 7 – Braves 3

Game 6 – Walker Buehler (0-0 / 2.77 ERA) vs. Max Fried (0-0 / 2.65) – 1:38 pm PT – FS1

Game 7* – Sun. 10/18: Kershaw vs. Anderson

*If Required

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Joe Arrigo – Franchise Sports Media

Twitter: JoeArrigo

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