The Dodgers and Braves will face off in a rematch of the 2020 National League Championship Series. On paper this looks like a crush for the juggernaut from Los Angels even though they don’t have home field advantage. Frankly, every matchup remaining in the playoffs looks like it should favor LA now that they’ve dispatched their archrival San Francisco Giants. Admittedly, it’s been ages and one Ronald Acuña Jr. season-ending injury, since that 2020 series, however, it’s worth remembering that the Braves had a 3-1 lead over the Dodgers last October. So let’s dive deeper into these numbers and see if what this matchup has in store.
The Dodgers 26-man roster is mostly the same as what they rolled out for the Division Series with one big change and one more minor change:
Former starter turned bullpen arm David Price is not on the roster, which removes a potential long-relief option from the pen. Former Cubs minor-leaguer Billy McKinney is also off the roster. They have both been replaced with bullpen arms in the form of lefty Justin Bruihl and righty Evan Phillips.
The Braves, meanwhile, rolled out this 26-man crew:
The Braves lost outfielder and unlikely leadoff man Jorge Soler to a positive COVID-19 test during the NLDS, so his omission was already baked into the expectations here. They also replaced speedster Terrance Gore (who you might remember from the Cubs 2018 Wild Card Game) with Johan Camargo. They are sacrificing a lot of speed there. Gore is the fastest guy in MLB and Camargo’s sprint speed is in the third percentile (yikes) according to Statcast, but he has at least gotten a hit in the last two seasons unlike Gore. Chris Martin, a right handed pitcher will also take the place of Dylan Lee, a lefty who was on the NLDS roster.
Normally, teams do the whole starter/bullpen thing and as a result I do too. But the Dodgers managed a bit of success with Corey Knebel in an opener role, and are set to try that again as this series opens tonight. After Knebel (and potentially other bullpen arms) righty Tony Gonsolin is expected to take the bulk of the innings. Both the Braves and the Giants rely heavily on platoons in their outfield, so an opener is an attempt to neutralize those advantages by forcing them to trade out their position players earlier in the game and removing flexibility later in the game. Additionally, I have to think the Dodgers are hoping they can piece together a win with a bullpen game to even out some of the extra rest Atlanta has due to them wrapping up their series two days earlier.
After tonight’s bullpen-palooza the Dodgers will hand the ball to staff ace and trade deadline acquisition Max Scherzer for Game 2 which will set up Walker Buehler and Julio Urías to pitch at Chavez Ravine.
The Braves will open the series with Max Fried followed by Ian Anderson. Anderson was a bit of a surprise choice for Game 2 but it allowed the Braves to give Charlie Morton an extra day of rest for his next start as our Atlanta site, Talking Chop, covered earlier today.
As a reminder, the pitching and hitting statistical breakdowns are in the NLDS series previews for both teams.
The hitter I’ll be watching the closest is former Cub leftfielder (we hardly knew ye) Joc Pederson. Pederson earned his nickname “Joctober” during his years with the Dodgers because he just knows how to get things done in the postseason. Watch his postgame after his third pinch-hit homer in the postseason, and how he wound up hitting it with Anthony Rizzo’s bat below:
Joctober aside, there was a lot less offense in the National League Division Series than their was on the American League side. Part of that is, obviously, the lack of a designated hitter. The Dodgers had a solid team wRC+ of 111 in Sept/Oct. while the Braves were exactly average at 100. Combine that with each team facing only the best arms their opponent can throw at them in this series and look for lower scoring games than you’ll see on the American League side of the ledger.
The Dodgers and Braves met up six times over the course of the 2021 season. The first matchup in June saw the Braves take two of three from the Dodgers in Atlanta. The second matchup in September saw the Dodgers sweep the Braves in Los Angeles. Both teams added pretty heavily at the trade deadline. The Braves remade their anemic outfield into a passable series of platoons while the Dodgers made the blockbuster move that added both Trea Turner and Scherzer to their already stacked line up.
That September matchup where the Dodgers swept the Braves looks more like what we can expect to see in this series to my eye, but there is a reason we play the games rather than just going by probabilities. The Dodgers had to exert a lot more energy holding off a 107-win Giants team in a five-game NLDS than the Braves had to extend besting the Brewers in a four-game set. If the Braves can capitalize on home field advantage, even the juggernaut Dodgers can be bested in a seven-game series. We’ll find out as these games kick off in Atlanta tonight at 7:08 p.m. CT. Our BCB game thread for both of today’s LCS games (Red Sox and Astros start at 3:20 p.m. CT) will post at 2:30 p.m. CT.
Who are you cheering for in the NLCS between the Dodgers and the Braves?
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