2020 NLCS Preview: Dodgers V Braves
How can Atlanta beat Los Angeles when the Dodgers do everything better?
In a National League Championship Series with some of the game’s biggest offensive threats: Mookie Betts, Cory Seager, Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger for the Dodgers and Freddie Freeman, Travis d’Arnaud, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Marcell Ozuna for the Braves.
The pitching isn’t bad, either.
For Atlanta, Freeman can get going anytime now. The importance of the game-winning hit to win the National League Division Series over Miami might be the difference in this series. If Freeman can get hot, he can carry this team. So far, hitting .167 is not cutting it, though it’s an improvement over the o-fer he had through the third game of the NLDS . Fortunately for the Braves, d’Arnaud has been virtually unstoppable. But can he carry his .421 average, 500 on-base and .860 slugging percentage into this series? Considering the quality of the pitching that he’ll be facing, probably not.
Which brings us to the real difference between these two clubs. The stats for the two look like they favor the Braves … if you only look at the first two rounds. But, 0.92 is not sustainable. Neither, for that matter, is 2.00, which is the Dodgers’.
In the playoffs so far, there have been zero earned runs allowed by nine of the Braves’ 11 pitchers. Hot hand? Absolutely. They’re so hot that starter Max Fried will be left off the NLCS roster because his 3.27 ERA is too high.
Hot. certainly, but unsustainable. So give Ian Anderson and Mark Melancon, Kyle Wright and the others a standing ovation now for their efforts through the first two round. And remain standing as Dodger bats start hitting balls out of the ballpark.
Not that the Dodgers aren’t due for some fireworks of their own. Clayton Kershaw got in the Cy Young machine and mowed down the Padres bats in a classic performance. He finally figured out he has to work backwards, using his curve and slider to set up his fastball. But, he’s human and the Braves are dangerous. I expect at least one of Kershaw’s starts to be more along the line of 4 earned runs in five innings. Walker Buehler is tiptoeing through a blister issue. That sounds confusing because the blister is on his finger, not on his foot. Just to be clear.
Clearly, Los Angeles had the best pitching staff in the league. Their earned-runs allowed were nearly a run-and-a-half better than the Braves. The Dodgers have almost matched the Braves for zeros, with eight pitchers pitching nothing but goose eggs so far, including Pedro Baez, who had been struggling. This too is not sustainable, especially when your name is Joe Kelly. He and Kenley Jansen have been the eighth and ninth inning guys all year. Kelly is prone to fits of wildness and has to be kept on a short leash.
The San Diego Padres figured out what I’ve been hollering for three years, which is Jansen has no heat on the fastball and no cut on the cutter. What he has now is a straight fastball and a high straight changeup. Batters have been seeing that cutter floating up there, but because its on the inside edge of the plate, they twist themselves into pretzels trying to hit it. San Diego laid off it and hit it hard when he didn’t get it inside enough. Normally, I hate it when managers panic and make significant changes in the postseason. I believe “Go with what got you here” has echoed around these chambers more than once.
But in this case, L.A. should really consider going with Brusdar Graterol, Dustin May, or even Blake Treinen, though Treinen was iffy at times during the year.
Offensively for the Dodgers, Mookie Betts has been everything you could hope for from a franchise player and Cody Bellinger finally started watching the bat hit the ball. Muncy’s at-bats have been great all year, but he’s not hitting his pitches. He used to have more of a two-strike approach with two strikes: short stroke, make contact. If he can stop over-swinging and if third baseman Justin Turner can get going, Seager has been solid and the Dodgers are plenty deep to wear out Atlanta starters and mash off of their bullpen.
For Atlanta, they have to pray d’Arnaud and Ozuna keep doing what they’ve been doing and that Wright doesn’t revert to the form that saw a 5.21 ERA from him during the regular season. The rest of this staff though is solid and this will be a close series.
Still, too much depth for L.A. Dodgers still take it in seven.