Dodgers vs Braves
Sure, Atlanta has home-field advantage but will this series see even a sixth game, much less a seventh?
The Dodgers are a better team than the Atlanta Braves. Period. They have better pitching. They have better hitting. They have 18 more regular-season wins. But, after a National League Division Series in which Dodgers manager Dave Roberts sent his hottest hitter of the night up to bunt with runners at first and third and also sent right-handed batter Steven Sousa to the plate in a key situation early instead of using someone like Matt Beatty from the left side, I’m not so sure that they have a better coaching staff.
That said, the plan to keep Julio Urias out of the game until the third inning did possess a bit of inspiration as it sent Gabe Kapler, the San Francisco Giants manager, scrambling to adjust his lineup. If it had been me, however, I would’ve brought in someone like Joe Kelly to pitch the third inning or better yet kept Brusdar Graterol in for a second inning and then brought in Kelly in order for Urias to come in and face the bottom of the lineup instead of the top. By bringing in Urias early that gave the Giants an extra look at him and Darren Ruf made him pay. The Dodgers in-game adjustments pitching-wise also give me concern as Ruf had hit two balls a total of 800 feet in his first two at-bats on high fastballs on the outer third of the plate. Why catcher Will Smith and Urias decided to give him another one with the Dodgers leading is beyond me.
Offensively the Dodgers will likely be without all star first baseman/utility guy Max Muncy. But as I told anyone who would listen prior to the Giants series, Cody Bellinger has emerged from his slump and appears to have recovered from a litany of injuries suffered in the last year. I don’t know how many people knew that Bellinger had cracked ribs in addition to recovering from shoulder surgery and a nagging leg injury. No wonder he was trying to swing around those problems and put himself in a terrible slump. Hopefully next time, he just lets them heal. For most of the series he kept his head on the ball instead of pulling off of it and he also stopped stepping into the proverbial bucket. In Game 5, however, I saw some of those tendencies creep in once again. So, for the Dodgers’ sake, I hope he continues to work on the things he was working on leading into the Giants series.
Even without him, the Dodgers still won 106 games and even without a regularly contributing Justin Turner or Trea Turner, they still beat the Giants. If they can get those two on track, look out.
On the mound, they have Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer, and Julio Urias -three number-one starters- and are backed up by a relatively short-staffed but very effective bullpen. Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, and Joe Kelly have been lights out against lefties and even if the Braves stack some left-handed bats that shouldn’t really give them too much of an advantage. It would be nice however if the Dodgers had another lefty in the bullpen besides Alex Vesia (David Price does not seem to be within Dave Roberts’ circle of trust).
Freddie Freeman and Austin Riley are very much in the circle of trust of Braves’ skipper Brian Snitker. After that, the Braves had contributions from Eddie Rosario and Joc Pederson in the NLDS against the Brewers. The Braves have to be worried about the quiet bats of Jorge Soler, Ozzie Albies, and Travis d’Arnaud in their NLDS series. Those three combined for seven hits in 40 at-bats.
On the mound, Ian Anderson and Max Fried combined for 11 shutout innings and Charlie Morton rebounded from a bad first start with a solid second in the NLDS. They will rely on Jesse Chavez and Luke Jackson a lot in relief. If the Dodgers can get the starters out early, the rest of the bullpen should give up some runs, if the regular season numbers hold true.
Look, the Braves are a nice story with the 88 wins and all. They kind of remind me of the 2014 Giants: Good pitching, timely hitting, pretty good defense. But the 2014 Cardinals team they beat in the NLCS only had 90 wins. The Dodgers had 106. Not even the ’87 Twins (13 win deficit to the Tigers) had to overcome so much. If the Dodgers lose this, it would be jaw-droppingly amazing…kind of like when the 116-win Seattle Mariners club lost to the 95-win Yankees team in 2001. I don’t think the Braves are jaw-droppingly amazing enough to make that happen. They’re not even the team that took the Dodgers to seven games in last year’s NLCS. Corey Seager and Chris Taylor have been putting together really good at-bats, Smith has been solid, Justin Turner is due to get it going any day now and if Muncy can come back…
Prediction: Dodgers in six.