NLCS Preview: Braves vs. Dodgers

Foreword

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!!!)

61 thoughts on “NLCS Preview: Braves vs. Dodgers”

  1. That Crazy Train cover rocked my socks off. That’s going on the ole workout playlist.

    Great preview. Completely agreed; we have the same strengths and weaknesses until we get to the starting pitching. And when it comes to the strengths, it’s possible that anything we can do they can do better. But you have to play the games. For both offenses, it’s very possible that the team who has the most hot hitters in their lineup will win. And we’ve beaten Walker Buehler once; maybe we can do it again a couple times. I do think we’ll have to play a near-perfect series to beat them.

    Who is the better team: the Dodgers or the Astros?

  2. @4 – To answer that question, the Dodgers.

    On the series, I think we have to take 2 of the first 3 games to win it. And we’ve done it in the past and with lessor teams. We get strong in the later innings and they are having closer problems (though I am reading they may shift May to that role.) The top three need to get hot again because we cannot assume Duck will keep his run going. It is entirely doable, but it’s going to be tough.

    And I agree…let’s get to it. As Tom Petty suggested, “the waiting is the hardest part.”

  3. Wonderful preview, appreciate building in Mac’s part, AAR!
    We shouldn’t win but I am very hopeful. As anything can happen in a short series – why shouldn’t it happen for the Braves for once? I trust in FF5, RAF, Ozzie, TDA, The Hair, The Bear, The Pen and Anderson and Fried. Our pen will make the difference in the end. We have all the pieces to beat the Dodgers. Go Braves!

  4. 100% agree. I think it’s very possible that at least one of these games will be the kind of bullpen-draining wars of attrition that Game 1 of the Reds series was. Whoever wins that game will have a major advantage for the rest of the series, psychologically and otherwise. And winning that game is literally going to be in the breaks.

    So we know we’re good. Time to get lucky.

  5. It’s funny — I used to hate the Dodgers when we shared the NL West with them.

    They were always good, always pitched well & LaSorda was a perfect heel. My PTSD is mostly rooted in fringe early-’80s guys like R.J. Reynolds & Jack Fimple, plus Jerry Royster’s unimaginable error that cost us a game during 1982’s three-week August meltdown.

    But now, I just don’t have the same hate for them. Truth be told, I actually like going to their stadium & I enjoy watching Kershaw pitch — hopefully, he’ll quit killing us in the post-season & get some Cardinals flashbacks instead.

    Also, from previous thread, Sansho1 mentions “Stealing Home,” a newer book about the origins of Chavez Ravine/Dodger Stadium. Looks super-interesting.

    Here’s a quick documentary about the same subject:
    http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/chavezravine/film.html

  6. @10 I think the Dodgers lineup with their SP is just going to be too much. I think the Braves will win a couple games but not the series.

    Anyone know Arlington’s Park Effects?

  7. Have never not hated the Dodgers, but Dodgertown at Vero Beach was a gem. Sitting on the grass bank just beyond the LF fence on a sunny March afternoon, hot dog in one hand and cold beer in the other, was the best spring training experience I’ve had.

    The banter was hilarious, too. Eric Davis was in left, and was going back and forth with a few drunks (but not me!) sitting on the bank, and he was a quicker wit than they bargained for.

    “Hey Eric, quit looking at Darryl!” (Strawberry was in RF)
    “Thought I saw your mom over there,” came the instant reply, to (almost) everyone’s delight. OK, not the most enlightened banter, I’ll admit, and it got bluer from there. Still, try to tell me I wasn’t having one of the times of my life at that moment….

  8. I’m with you ububba, I think Dodger stadium might be the best venue in MLB. I haven’t been to every stadium but have always enjoyed games in Chavez Ravine. Hard to beat the weather at a day game there!

  9. At Shea Stadium, I once saw the Mets’ Rickey Henderson come over to the LF stands during a pitching change and cuss out a Mets fan who was hazing him about his weak arm. He lit that guy up.

    And I’ll go Braves in 6.

  10. @18, I wouldn’t say so — take a look at 2018 and 2019 in particular. It’s long been thought of as a hitter’s park, and the last couple of years it was one of the most extreme hitter’s parks in baseball. This year it played pretty neutral. Hard to say why that is (though it’s definitely possible that zero fans played a part, and offense was down a bit this year in general relative to 2019).

    Braves in 6 sounds good to me.

  11. Oh huh! Yep, right you are. Please ignore my incredibly dumb comment @22.

    Still, runscoring was exactly par, though seems like it suppressed homers.

  12. We literally don’t have enough games in the new park for park factors to be any kind of reliable. One full season isn’t really enough, and this mini season definitely isn’t. We know the park is physically big.

  13. I’m not saying the Dodgers aren’t a better team than the Braves — they probably are. But the lack of geographic diversity in this truncated season makes cross-team assessment really difficult. The fact that all of the Central teams fell in the wild card series is mostly luck, but it tells you that the Central teams’ stats were probably somewhat inflated by their competition. There’s too much noise in a short season against nonoverlapping opponents to really conclude anything from the numbers. (The fact that the NLDS series were both in-division doesn’t add any data at all.) I wouldn’t give the Dodgers much better than a coinflip chance… maybe 52-53%. That, coincidentally, is just about the same odds for the Braves as a field bet at a craps table. The field bet ain’t the best bet, but it’s a hell of a lot better than any prop bet. Let’s roll the dice.

  14. I actually kind of agree with Chief. At least that’s what my head says. My heart says Braves in 6.

  15. If the Rays decline his $15M option, Charlie Morton would be an intriguing signing for the Braves.

    What a horrendous trade that Charlie Morton trade was for the Braves.

  16. SDP, I don’t agree with you there. The Pirates didn’t get a whole lot more out of him than we did. He didn’t turn his career around for years after that.

  17. You’re right. I guess in the scheme of his career, it’s disappointing the Braves couldn’t help him unlock that potential. We can all agree that McLouth was awful in a Braves uni.

  18. For the next week, I’m a huge Rays fan. Congrats to them on winning Game 1. Here’s hoping they send Houston home where they deserve.

    At this point, is there anything else LeBron needs to do to be crowned G.O.A.T.? Or is he just clearly the one?

  19. LeBron is the best of his era, easily.

    Personally, I think he’s a more complete player than Jordan. LeBron’s a better passer, rebounder & defender (and more versatile — he can usually shut down anyone, from almost any position). But Jordan was certainly a better shooter & a more insanely driven leader.

    Overall, however, I have a hard time saying one was really better than the other.

  20. For whatever it’s worth, on the current Braves Daily podcast, FF5 and Snit discussed the park. In batting practice apparently the Dodgers only hit 2 HR and Muncy mentioned to FF5 that hits that go out in other parks, didn’t leave the park in Arlington. Snit said, it seems to play more like a “Doubles-Park than a HR-Park”.

  21. @38

    If that turns out to be the case then you could argue it gives us an edge. We have two guys that can go ‘deep-deep’, D’Arnaud and … Riley (you never know!).

    And then there’s Acuna in a class of his own for distance and elevation.. Over 30 at bats in 7 games it seems reasonable to hope a couple of those get over while others don’t and might help turn the tide.

    And, separately, there’s his base running in general c/with his steals of second when he’s walked. And he will be.

    Do the Dodgers have big time base stealers and a plus defensive catcher??

    Some talking head was prattling along the other night and said we were not a good defensive team – really?

  22. @36

    Duh!!

    It never occurred to me to look and see if they were starting the other Game One on a Sunday evening while we have to wait till today. And I’m watching Netflix while this thriller played out.

    But yes, Alex. The Rays have made me a big fan too. Awesome versus the Yankees and they could well beat Houston. At the moment they are carrying one of their best hitters, Lowe, who has gone cold but to make up for that they have this fabulous Cuban rookie who fled his native land and has a lovely name, Randy Arozerana, an Acuna minor in the making too. Great pitching, brilliant pen. I think they will beat Houston, vibrant team spirit.

    (Why is it our Cuban emigre went shopping for pimpmobiles and not bookstores where he could have found HOW TO Baseball books?)

  23. #39

    Dansby is the only real plus defender for his position, in my opinion. Pretty much everyone else is in the B to C- range, with Ozuna worse than that when he’s in LF.

  24. If it’s Braves in 7, I’m gonna need a couple blowouts along the way or some antacids.

  25. @27, what struck me about the Central teams’ postseason performance was not just the 0-7 record in series, but the 2-14 record in games. Seems like the latter is much less likely to result mostly from chance than the former.

    If the strengths of the divisional groupings were equal, the Central teams would’ve had around an average 47% chance of winning each game and a 45.5% chance of winning each series (because their regular-season records averaged .550 and their playoff opponents’ records averaged .581). With those assumptions, losing 14 of 16 games would be much more unusual than losing all seven series. My calculation, which is oversimplifying a bit because I didn’t look at the probabilities of each game using each individual pair of teams’ records, suggests that 0-7 in series was about a 1 in 70 chance and winning 2 or fewer of 16 games was about a 1 in 235 chance. Either way, it’s a pretty strong indication that the Centrals were weaker on the whole than the Easts or Wests, and probably a lot weaker. Even docking the Central teams .050 and assuming that they had an average 42% chance of winning each game, 0-7 in series would’ve been about a 1 in 30 chance and 2-14 or worse in games would’ve been about a 1 in 80 chance.

  26. On the plus side, the Dodgers have never seen Ian Anderson or Kyle Wright. The advantage typically goes to the pitcher in that situation.

    Fried does have three career starts and several postseason bullpen appearances against them.

  27. In general, over the decades, Central Division teams have tended to have lower payrolls and to field weaker teams than their bicoastal counterparts. (In our country, as in just about every non-landlocked country, wealth and population tend to be concentrated on the coasts. And while we all know that neither wealth nor revenue have a necessary direct effect on payroll, there’s a clear correlation over time: coastal teams tend to be richer, and they tend to spend more.)

  28. @41–I thought Ozzie is a plus defender at second, both based on the eye test and stats. (Of course he missed a good deal of this season.) If you’re going to have a couple of top defenders, it helps to have them at short and second.

  29. Best I can tell MLB still hasn’t announced game times for any games past today. What are they waiting for? Don’t they know I have some meetings and other appointments to schedule? I guess the safe thing is to make sure not to have anything after 4:00.

  30. @53

    That would be the safe play, but I also have no idea what they’re waiting for after declaring start times for the entire Division Series round like three days before they started. It would seem like this would be easier. Either you’re switching the series between primetime and late afternoon day to day or you’re not.

    Maybe Fox is lobbying to get the Thursday game in primetime to replace the Thursday Night Football game which is no longer on Thursday night due to the NFL’s coronavirus issues. Perhaps that game was going to be a 4 p.m. FS1 broadcast and now they want it to be 8 p.m. on Fox and that’s messing with the whole plan and TBS is wanting a swap to get another primetime game. That’s really the only thing I can think of at this point.

  31. A Joe Morgan Memory
    On Oct. 3, 1982, the Braves had a one-game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West going into the season-ending game. Unfortunately, the Braves were pretty lifeless in their 5-1 loss in San Diego that day.

    However, in SF, the Dodgers & Giants were in a late-inning death battle. If the Dodgers win, we play a one-game playoff the next day in Dodger Stadium, a place that was becoming a house of horrors for the Braves.

    Lucky for the Braves and their long-suffering fans, Joe Morgan hit a 2-out, 3-run HR off Terry Forster in the bottom of the 7th to lift the Giants to victory – handing the NL West flag to Atlanta, its first in 13 years. As you might imagine, Braves fans all over the state were pretty giddy.

    At the time, I was in college at UGA, but had spent the weekend in Columbus (the Dawgs were playing in Starkville that Saturday). I watched the Sunday baseball games, then packed up & drove solo 3 hours back to Athens. I’ll never forget driving up Baxter Street and seeing the big sign in front of the Classic Sub Shop across the street from Russell Hall.

    Instead of revealing the day’s culinary offerings, it simply read: THANK YOU, JOE MORGAN.

  32. @55

    One of my favorite things whenever I see that clip is how fired up the Giants and their fans are to wreck the Dodgers’ season. The Giants were completely out of it and had nothing really to play for, but in that clip, Candlestick Park (which seems to be packed) and the Giants bench are going absolutely nuts.

  33. #52

    He might be. I feel like he doesn’t get to quite enough balls in play to be at the top of the league, but he can turn two and he’s as sure-handed as they come.

  34. I think the key is this 9 inning thing. The point is how good you are in each successive 9 inning interval.
    It seems inherently logical, no matter which teams it may be, but if we go up 3 – 0, we win. If we go up 2 – 1, we have a decent shot. If we go down 1-2. it is time to call the undertaker.

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