Series Preview: Dodgers vs. Braves (NLCS)

Freddie Freeman runs toward first base as the crowd in the stands at Truist Park and Freeman’s teammates in the dugout all watch his home run sail out of the ballpark and begin to celebrate with their arms raised in the air.

In a tense conclusion to this year’s California Bowl, the incumbent World Series champion Dodgers knocked off the division-winning Giants 2-1 in Game 5 to win the privilege of coming to Atlanta for the NLCS. The Braves will be boasting a well-rested pitching staff, while the Dodgers had to spend an extra starter in Game 5 in addition to using Max Scherzer as a closer. The stage is set for the Braves’ chance at revenge following last year’s brutal 7-game loss to the Dodgers in the same round of the playoffs.

No matter who won last night, we would end up facing a pitching staff that’s at least as dominant as that of the Brewers, since the Giants and Dodgers were the only teams with a lower combined ERA throughout the regular season than Milwaukee. And unfortunately, the victor was none other than our friends from Los Angeles, who carried a 2.97 team ERA into the end of the regular season. Facing San Francisco’s stellar offense in the NLDS, the Dodgers pitching staff had a WHIP (average walks and hits surrendered per inning pitched) of 0.83, and an opponent batting average (OBA) of .178. You heard that right—Los Angeles’ pitching made the entire Giants’ team put up a batting average that wouldn’t even earn you a bench spot on the Pirates. The Dodgers’ have a fearsome rotation consisting of Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler, and Julio Urías. Their relief corps is heavily dependent on Blake Treinen, Joe Kelly, and Brusdar Graterol, whose effortless motion seems to defy physics. Finally, shutdown closer Kenley Jansen boasts a 1.04 season WHIP and 38 saves. Despite making a relief appearance in Game 5, Max Scherzer will likely get the start on Saturday.

With Max Muncy still out with an elbow injury, the Dodgers struggled a bit to get their offense going against the Giants, with both of their losses being shutouts. However, when they did get going, they scored 16 runs in two games. Without Muncy, LA has been platooning the first base position between Matt Beaty, Billy McKinney, and outfielder Cody Bellinger. LA’s infield is rounded out with all-too-familiar second baseman Trea Turner, shortstop Corey Seager, and third baseman Justin Turner. Seager and Trea Turner are both batting over .325 this season, including Trea’s time with the Nationals. With Mookie Betts in right, Gavin Lux (or Bellinger) in center, and Chris Taylor in left, the Dodgers’ outfield is astonishingly talented. This is a team with very few weak spots, and with substantially more talent than the version of the team that took home a World Series trophy last year.

However, that Dodgers’ lineup has to face an insanely hot Braves’ pitching staff, which was absolutely dominant during the series against Milwaukee, only surrendering six runs in four games. Atlanta used nine different pitchers in that series (Charlie Morton, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Huascar Ynoa, Jesse Chavez, Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, and Will Smith), and Morton and Ynoa were the only two who gave up any runs. Regardless of the fact that the Brewers were not an overwhelmingly powerful offensive team, it is still incredibly impressive to allow six runs in four games against any MLB team, especially in the playoffs. Atlanta pitchers finished the Milwaukee series with a combined 0.94 WHIP and an opponent batting average of .192. With Fried and Morton starting the first two games, and with Will Smith continuing to dominate as a closer, our defense will not be an issue this series. In the six-game regular-season series against the Dodgers, Morton and Fried pitched twice each. Fried relinquished a total of 3 earned runs in 12 innings, and Morton did the same in 11 IP. We’ll likely get two games from each of them this series, and those four games present a substantial opportunity to get wins against this Dodgers’ lineup.

Atlanta wasn’t exactly stellar against the Brewers at the plate, but the offense was able to step up to deliver decisive RBIs in key moments. Joc Pederson had two massive pinch-hit home runs, and a critical bases-loaded fielder’s choice to bring the Braves within one in Game 4. Earlier in the game, Eddie Rosario’s bases-loaded single tied the score at two. And of course, arguably the most clutch hit of them all was Freddie Freeman’s game-winning solo home run in the 8th inning of that same game. We got the clutch hits when they were needed, but beating the Dodgers will require putting more runs on the board, and I don’t think we can rely on getting any low-scoring shutout victories.

Last series, I suggested that the Braves should take advantage of every opportunity to steal bases and advance in high-leverage scenarios. Apparently Adam Duvall listened a little too well, and got caught in risky baserunning blunders in back-to-back games, so this time I’m advocating for smart aggressive baserunning. Will Smith is a very mediocre defensive catcher, with a pop time and a caught-stealing percentage that are right at the MLB average. Especially against the right-handed Buehler, this creates a good opportunity for some stolen bases and perhaps a bit of redemption on the basepaths for Duvall.

 Despite the differential in the two teams’ win columns, I think the matchup is a lot more even than most Dodgers’ fans would be willing to admit due to the Braves W/L record since the trade deadline. Throughout the six-game regular series between these two teams, there have been no shutouts and all games except one have been save situations. Granted, those six games are a very small sample size, and half of them took place before the Braves rebuilt their outfield and before the Dodgers essentially absorbed the Nationals into their lineup. In the three post-trade-deadline games of that series, the Braves faced Urías, Buehler, and Scherzer, and lost all three games, albeit with very close finishes. If the series goes to seven games, we’ll likely face those three pitchers five or six total times, so we have to find a way to beat them in order to have any chance at winning the series. Game 1 is at 8:07 ET on TBS, so I hope y’all are stocking up on caffeine and preparing to completely detach yourselves from any traditional ideas about masculinity as we watch a fella in a pearl necklace absolutely murder baseballs out of Truist Park!

Author: Michael Kasper

Sportswriter, stats fanatic, and social media manager here at the Braves Journal. https://twitter.com/KasperStats

33 thoughts on “Series Preview: Dodgers vs. Braves (NLCS)”

  1. Umpires for the series with rating from Ump Scorecards:

    Gibson (6th of 99 in accuracy, 5th in consistency)
    Hoye (26/22)
    Barksdale (28/57)
    Tichenor (31/58)
    Baker (32/18)
    Carlson (63/76)
    Meals (CC) (71/70)

    No one I can recall having a bad history with Atlanta and really none from the bottom quarter at calling strikes. I am pleased, so that means the Braves will get hosed.

  2. Barksdale was notoriously bad in the 2019 series. Meals is the guy who called Julio Lugo safe to end the 19 inning leather-lungs girl game in Pittsburgh.

  3. Haven’t seen a lot of talk about the rotation on here, and it mostly takes care of itself. However, my order would be Fried-Anderson-Morton-Ynoa/Smyly/bullpen. Morton could probably benefit from an extra couple days after going on three days’ rest earlier this week, and I’d much rather have Morton lined up for Game 7 than Anderson. Also, I could probably formulate an argument for Anderson benefitting from pitching at home twice as the more inexperienced guy, though that might veer a bit to close to the overthinking of the 2019 NLDS, so I’ll stick with the first two reasons. If we were to lose Game 1, I could see then going back with Morton in Game 2 instead, but if we win Game 1, I would absolutely pitch Anderson in Game 2.

  4. Has the NLCS roster been released yet? I wouldn’t mind if Muller replaced Ynoa…..just to keep Snit from using him in anything other than a mop up situation.

  5. @1, thanks, that site was interesting. Looking at the 79 umpires who called 20+ games behind the plate, I was struck that the bottom 18 (20%) in accuracy included Laz Diaz, Hunter Wendelstedt, Joe West, Larry Vanover, Angel Hernandez, C.B. Bucknor, and Tom Hallion. Most of those also scored poorly on consistency, which I guess makes sense – everyone gets 90% of pitches right, so the more pitches you get right, the more consistent you are. Sam Holbrook also was well below average – 23rd from the bottom in accuracy and 3rd from the bottom in consistency – but my view of him has nothing to do with ball/strike counts.

  6. @5

    I was just thinking that, actually. I don’t have any faith at all in Ynoa or Smyly. Would it be worth it to try somebody else to be a long man/Game 4 starter? Muller or Kyle Wright being the two most likely candidates, I suppose…and of those two Muller’s probably your better choice.

  7. Oddly, I think game 1 will be the most important. Lose game 1 and the series might look like 2018 (Dodgers in 4 but in this case Dodgers in 5). Win game 1 and I think it could go 7 and the Braves might win.

    And Scherzer is beatable. We could “deGrom” Scherzer (beat him by him not getting any run support).

  8. @8 Yep, Muller just has better “stuff” than Ynoa or Smyly. Ynoa has just been awful since he returned from the injury. Smyly has been ok out of the bullpen for the last month or so……not that I have a ton of trust in him either. They seem to have turned the page on Wright…..maybe building his trade value.

    Red Sox getting ready to lose it looks like.

  9. Thanks everyone for all the fantastic content. Great preview, Michael. On paper we are losing. It will be a great series. Go Braves!

  10. What Timo said. I am enjoying mostly lurking again. Kudos to recappers and editor, as well as regular commenters. Now whip them bums, boys. Take no prisoners.

  11. @5, 8, 10 – I like Muller a lot and thought he was impressive in Atlanta. However, he’s been really mediocre with an ERA over 4, right at 1 strikeout per inning and a 1.25 WHIP since being sent to Gwinnett. I don’t know if he’s the answer. Kyle Wright could have pitched 5 no hitters in a row at Gwinnett, but I wouldn’t have much confidence in him.

    I think I would prefer Spencer Strider if you are going to replace Ynoa, but no one inspires a lot of confidence.

  12. The Braves gave 40 starts to Ynoa and Smyly during the regular season, even more if Ynoa hadn’t injured himself. I don’t think the Braves have any choice but to run them out there in a game 4. Fried, Morton, and Anderson can start 6 times this series. That’s plenty good starting pitching to win this series.

    I think it’ll be the bats that let us down if the series ends in a loss. The Dodgers aren’t infallible. And almost the entire country is rooting for us for the rest of the playoffs. That’s pretty cool.

  13. Here is my unscientific list of the likeliest outcomes for this series, from most to least likely:
    Dodgers 4-1
    Dodgers 4-0
    Dodgers 4-2
    Dodgers 4-3
    Braves 4-3
    Braves 4-2
    Braves 4-1
    Braves 4-0

    Reasons for optimism:
    1. We played them tough during the regular season, and those close losses might turn into close wins if our pitchers can stay dominant.
    2. We start with home field advantage. (Didn’t mean much overall during the regular season, but might in an LCS.)
    3. They are missing Muncy.
    4. We’ve gotten to Scherzer and Beuhler before.
    5. We haven’t fared well against Urias, but maybe we’re due, right?

    Reasons for pessimism:
    1. Our pitching looked dominant in the LDS because the Brewers are not a strong offensive team. (I hadn’t realized until looking it up just now how pedestrian their team OPS was during the regular season.)
    2. The Dodgers are statistically superior in almost every category, in both offense and pitching, not just during the regular season, but so far during the playoffs.
    3. We are missing Soler.
    4. Over a large sample size and in the aggregate, their pitching owns us.
    5. They are going to be relaxed and confident facing us. I’m reminded of the story, told in Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary, about what Willie Randolph told a reporter before Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS: “Everytime we’ve needed to beat the Boston, we’ve done it–and tonight will be no different.” I suspect this is pretty much L.A.’s attitude, given recent history.

    If the Dodgers do win, it will suck to have yet another WS featuring two high-payroll juggernauts. (Remember all that discussion of more parity in MLB? Heh.) And, if Houston is the AL representative, as seems likely, it will suck even more, because, you know, cheating.

    I’m also dreading the moment Freddie becomes a free agent. Part of me wants to just skip this whole series, and leave his NLDS-winning homer as my potential final memory of his Braves tenure.

    But, based on my several decades of Braves-fandom, it’s unrealistic to think I’ll sit the NLCS out. I guess there will be time to worry about a Freddie-less future later on.

    Go Braves.

  14. @16
    Pessimism #6. We are missing Acuña. Man, how he can change things!!…they have entirely exceeded my expectations this year w/o him and really I am just happy to be here.

    I bought game 6 tickets just hoping for more underdog drama. In the words of Kevin Garnett: “Anything is Possible!!” Haha

    Edit- Comargo on the roster

  15. @15 Check out Ynoa’s stats since the injury. They are really bad, Dodger hitters will eat him alive. Strider over him would be fine too.

    @17 Good for Camargo. He sure raked at AAA this year…….I know that doesn’t mean much.

  16. @16, on the, “you know, cheating” aspect of things, none of the four remaining teams has a totally clean history. We had our international transgressions, Boston has had three separate issues (something with iPhones in the dugout, something with international signings, and sign-stealing) that made me think that if MLB were the NCAA, people would be talking about the death penalty or at least lack of institutional control, and LA had international issues that were so bad that Sports Illustrated ran an article saying the team kept a spreadsheet showing which of its employees/associates were just breaking MLB rules and which were engaging in outright criminal activity.

    Separately, I’m glad to see Camargo on the roster instead of Gore. Having another ok hitter on the bench (and [edit: as Cindy beat me to saying] Camargo raked in AAA) seems more important than having a faster pinch-runner. If one of the catchers gets on base in a key spot, one of the bullpen guys we don’t use can always pinch-run.

  17. Where missing Soler really hurts us is that we don’t have a good bat on the bench now that Joc has to start in RF. Adrianza is now the top pinch hitter. I guess Camargo is added to be a primary pinch hitting option.

  18. The Braves got the heaviest of the penalties and their primary charge was paying poor international kids too much money. To me, that is a lesser version of cheating than actually cheating your opponent on the field. What really kills me is that Alex Cora was involved in the Astros AND Red Sox cheating yet here he is again managing. Coppy got a lifetime ban, again, for overpaying poor kids.

  19. And the punishment for Atlanta‘s transgressions is ongoing. Losing players out of your farm system is a gift that keeps on giving.

  20. @23 Exactly!! Our farm system will take years to recover from the loss of 4 years of international prospects. A lot of casual fans don’t get that. AA has done a great job with the farm so far, given this handicap he had.

  21. @24, I thought I read a couple of months ago, maybe on Talking Chop, an update on the international prospects lost that made it look like they haven’t amounted to much, at least so far. We certainly thought some of them were promising at the time, though.

  22. Yay! They agree with me on Anderson-Morton.

    Also, Soler would be eligible to come back during the series if he’s cleared by the COVID panel.

  23. I think the subtraction of Gore and addition of Camargo is an admission that Pache will likely remain the entire series and Soler won’t be back until the WS. With the addition of Camargo, I REALLY don’t understand keeping Arcia. Camargo is also a switch hitter so he can help against either side pitcher.

    It’s obvious the Braves think we’ll need more RH vs LH pitching in this series. I guess Martin gets another chance to get injured at the worst possible time. Maybe Strider will replace him when he gets injured.

    It’s also interesting that the Dodgers subtracted David Price and added Evan Phillips. Is it another example of trying to use a team’s former player against them?

  24. @25 That was on the actual known prospects lost, which is a simple way of looking at it. The Braves had four years of sanctions where they were extremely limited in who they could sign internationally. We don’t even know who we lost during those 4 years.

  25. Good point, I had forgotten about that in remembering all the concern about losing such highly-regarded prospects as Kevin Maitan.

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