It’s been a while since I’ve written a preview for an important series; obviously, it’s been a hell of a long time since there was any call to preview an NLCS. So, I think the best possible way to begin this preview is to quote at length from a regular season game thread Mac wrote ten years ago:
Los Angeles, Spanish for “The Angels,” is technically the nation’s second-largest city and metropolitan area, but is really more of a place where a whole lot of people happen to live than an actual municipality. The borders of the L.A. metropolitan area are indistinct and at times reach into several adjoining states and the sovereign nation of Mexico. This explains why the city’s other baseball team is in Anaheim and its football teams are in Oakland and St. Louis.
The city’s primary industry is entertainment, divided into the film industry, which is supported by $10 movie tickets and $7 cokes, the television industry, which is supported by cable subscriptions and
inexplicable donations by large multinational corporations in order to get television networks to show short films produced on their behalf which nobody watches“Advertising”, and the music industry, which does not currently exist. The city’s second most important industry is restaurants, which employ 93 percent of the people who work in the entertainment industry. It is estimated that every 1d7 minutes, a patron at a Los Angeles restaurant walks out without ever having received his meal, as his server neglected to enter it after receiving a callback for a role as a corpse on a CSI.
The most popular hobbies for Los Angelinos include tanning, spray tanning, bleaching, dieting, binging, purging, plastic surgery, joining cults, talking loudly on Bluetooth headsets, and rioting. The tallest building in Los Angeles is known as the Library Tower even though nobody in Los Angeles has ever been seen with a book.
Los Angeles is noted for its many highways, which enable residents to reach their destinations by automobile almost as quickly as they could have walked. The city also maintains an extensive subway system, which is primarily used by filmmakers shooting movies set in New York. The most important bodies of water in the Los Angeles area are the Los Angeles River, which is a concrete drainage ditch with no fluid in it and is mostly used to film drag races for movies, and the Salton Sea, which is primarily made up of industrial pollutants.
Who we’re up against
This particular Dodgers club is probably the best-run franchise in baseball; since Andrew Friedman took over, they’ve drafted well, traded well, and spent money well. They are not an unstoppable juggernaut, but they are the best team in baseball right now, just as they were predicted to be in the offseason.
Here’s the lineup they trotted out in Game 1 against Milwaukee, which seems a fair guess for what we might face:
RF Mookie Betts
SS Corey Seager
3B Justin Turner
1B Max Muncy
C Will Smith
CF Cody Bellinger
LF AJ Pollock
DH Edwin Rios (Rios starts against lefties, Joc Pederson against righties; if Rios isn’t healthy, top prospect Gavin Lux awaits)
2B Chris Taylor
SP Walker Buehler
It’s a truly deep lineup, and the emergence of Smith has really added an additional dimension to their attack. If the Dodgers have a weakness, it’s defense; unfortunately, the Braves have that same weakness to a greater degree.
(Over the past two years, the Dodgers are 20th in baseball, at -12.4 defensive runs per Fangraphs. The Braves are 25th, at -26.4 runs. Tops in baseball are the A’s, at +58.5. It’s not just your lyin’ eyes: our bums really can’t pick it.)
The other weakness that some people point to for the Dodgers is their bullpen, where Kenley Jansen can be a little shaky. Don’t believe it: the Dodger pen was 7th in baseball with 1.68 WPA, while the Braves were 9th with 1.50 WPA. (LA firemen led all of baseball with a 3.60 WPA/LI. The Braves again were 9th.) Our pen is a strength, but theirs is also a strength.
The astonishing thing, then, is not how good the Dodgers are — it is how similar they are to us, and we to them. They are an offensive juggernaut with shaky defense but a very good bullpen.
Ah, but there is that one little, small, insignificant thing —the thing that Yogi Berra said was half of baseball.
(“Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is pitching.”)
And, yes: Los Angeles has far better starting pitching. Buehler is an ace, Kershaw had his best year in the last couple of seasons, Dustin May throws 100, and Julio Urias and Tony Gonsolin could probably be number three starters in other teams’ rotations (and certainly in ours).
Of course, our numbers are greatly skewed by the prehistoric weeks B.A. (Before Anderson), and our outlook is even better if you believe that perhaps Kyle Wright has made The Leap, but it is here that the games will be won or lost, to speak in cliche: put simply, if the Braves do not outscore the Dodgers, they will lose.
How we’ll win
Hitting. The Braves don’t play the Dodgers that much; we didn’t play them at all this year, of course, and we’ve just been playing 6-7 games a year against them the last few years. (Not like the old days, back when we were both in the same division, there were only 12 teams in the National League, and there were only two rounds of the playoffs: the LCS and the WS. Now there are three more teams per league, and two more playoff rounds.)
So the only guy we’ve seen a lot is Kershaw, and Freddie and Ronald have both homered off him. Freddie actually has a very respectable .273/.360/.455 off Kershaw, in 25 PA; Neck has four hits including two doubles in 12 PA. Ozuna has a homer off of May, and Neck and Freeman have both homered off of Buehler.
Over the last three years, in all, we’re 7-13 against them and they’ve outscored us 102-72, 1.5 runs per game. Or, in other words, that’s about a season’s worth of games against an NL East team. For example, last year, we were 11-8 against the Nats, with a 97-101 run differential, and 15-4 against the PURE EVIL Marlins, with an 87-54 differential.
Twenty games over three years don’t have much predictive value. We haven’t seen them much, they haven’t seen us much, and about all either of us know about the other is that we can both hit the ball and whoever wins four games first gets to hoist the flag for the honor of the league.
So, yeah, they’ve got a heck of a team. But they haven’t got Acuña and Albies. They haven’t got 2020 NL MVP Frederick Charles Freeman. They don’t know about us. And they’ve never heard of love.
(Oh, and here’s some bonus content in honor of Rocktober and Zombie Chipper:
It’s the National League Championship Series! GET PUMPED!!!)