The Dodgers have cruised to a 2-0 lead in the NLDS over the Atlanta Braves and find themselves just one win away from advancing to the NLCS.
Los Angeles has risen to the occasion against a very young, but formidable Braves opponent. There weren’t any instances in Games 1 or 2 when there was any meaningful fear that the Dodgers wouldn’t prevail.
The Braves have yet to score a run this series, and it might be getting to the point where the more salient question isn’t if they can win the series, or even win a game, but if they can even get a guy across home plate.
The old adage is that a playoff series doesn’t officially begin until the home team loses a game, so it’s not like the Braves should be overly panicked from that perspective.
The Dodgers did what they were supposed to do. They won the opening two playoff games in front of their home crowd.
It just gives the Braves absolutely no margin for error going forward, and there really weren’t many silver linings for them to take away from games one or two to give them confidence that they can advance from this series.
As a team, the Braves have a .145 BA, a .159 OBP, and a .161 SLG during this series thus far, and only Ender Inciarte has higher than a .250 BA. Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis are a combined 2-for-15. The Braves aren’t going to win this series if those two continue to lay dormant.
Amazingly, the Braves haven’t drawn a single walk in 18 innings thus far this series, which is really a testament to how well the Dodgers pitching staff has performed.
Hyun-Jin Ryu and Clayton Kershaw were excellent in games one and two respectively, never giving the Braves any chance to generate offensive production. Ryu gave up just four hits in seven shutout innings in game one, while Kershaw gave up just two hits in eight shutout innings in game two. Kershaw is working towards finally putting to rest that label used against him for years that he isn’t a postseason performer.
The starters have eaten up innings, and the bullpen has effectively shut the door on any potential Braves comeback rallies. The Los Angeles bullpen has pitched three scoreless innings thus far this series and given up just three hits in the process.
The Dodgers offense has only managed 10 hits this series, but five of those hits have been home runs. When their pitching is clicking the way it is, all it takes is a couple of big hits per game to ensure a victory.
The Braves bullpen has been put on mop-up duty, and they’ve managed to stop the bleeding. Their bullpen has pitched 9.1 innings and allowed just two hits and one earned run during that stretch.
If the Braves are searching for any positives from the first two games in Los Angeles, their bullpen pitched really well.
If they’re able to hand the ball off to their pen with the lead, they have a really good chance of being able to maintain that lead.
Getting a lead is certainly easier said than done, though, especially with Walker Buehler getting the nod for the Dodgers in game three.
Buehler pitched in 24 games during the regular season, 23 of which were starts, and registered a 2.62 ERA with a 0.96 WHIP.
It’s not going to get any easier for the Braves offense to resurrect itself, although there’s always the possibility that they’re able to feed off the energy of their home crowd in Atlanta.
An interesting strategic move for the Braves heading into game three involves the starter they’re turning to as they try to keep their season alive.
Brian Snitker had previously indicated that Kevin Gausman would get the start in game three, but he’ll instead send Sean Newcomb to the hill. Newcomb pitched two innings of relief in game one, giving up a hit and a walk while throwing 25 pitches in the process.
Gausman is a righty while Newcomb is a lefty. Games 1 and 2 for the Braves were started by righties.
Perhaps Snitker wants to force Dave Roberts to put out a different lineup in game three because of the success the Dodgers had in the opening two games hitting the starting right-handed pitchers.
Newcomb starting is likely going to send guys like Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, and maybe even Cody Bellinger back to the bench. Look for David Freese, Brian Dozier, Matt Kemp, and Chris Taylor to be inserted into the starting lineup to face Newcomb.
It’s probably a good strategy for Snitker because it removes guys who have played huge roles in the Dodgers taking this 2-0 series lead.
Pederson led off game one for the Dodgers with a homer and has the most total bases amongst Dodgers players thus far this series. Muncy hit a home run in game one and is tied for the team lead in OBP thus far for the Dodgers this NLDS. Puig has an impressive .429 OBP in two games this series, and while Bellinger is hitless, he’s always a threat to explode for a big game.
With their backs against the wall, the Braves needed to do something different, and this move forces the Dodgers to go with a different lineup than they had in their victories.
Righties had a .240 BA against Newcomb during the regular season, while lefties hit just .194 against him. However, Newcomb pitched significantly worse at home than on the road, so getting the ball in front of the Atlanta crowd may not serve him as well as would typically be expected within these types of circumstances. He had a 5.12 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 14 home appearances, while he had a 2.80 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in 17 road appearances.
It’s going to be really important for the Dodgers to attack Newcomb early. His batting average against actually decreases the deeper into a game he gets. The first time through a batting order he has a .231 BA against, the second time through he has a .222 BA against, and the third time through a .214 BA against. He makes the proper adjustments throughout the game to keep hitters on their toes, although he can suffer from control issues. The southpaw ranked second in the Majors with 4.4 walks per nine innings, although he was able to partially mitigate that by allowing just 7.5 hits per nine innings, which was the 17th fewest in the Majors.
Newcomb struggles at home, but he’s also the only lefty in the Braves rotation, and this is the last chance for them to prolong this series. The Dodgers went up 2-0 with their lineup used to face righties, and the Braves needed to force the Dodgers to use a different lineup. Newcomb is their only starter that would force that type of switch, and it’s unfortunate for the Braves that he needs to pitch at home after putting up such better stats on the road this season.
The Dodgers came into this series as the favorites, playing the role of the experienced playoff squad against a Braves team that surprisingly qualified for the postseason a couple years before they were expected to be viable.
The performance by the Dodgers in games one and two proved that they’re worthy of advancing to the NLCS this year. Barring a catastrophic collapse, they’re going to eventually punch their ticket to the next round of this postseason.
Los Angeles should be feeling extremely confident with Buehler on the mound for Game 3. They’re in as good of a position to advance as they could possibly be in at this point.