While many of the initial playoff rounds of 2020 were somewhat lopsided in nature as far as overall team talent went, it is refreshing—in some senses—that two of the best teams in the National League are meeting up for the right to advance to the World Series.
Although they had the third-best regular season record on the senior circuit, the Braves won the NL East outright to earn the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. What’s more, the level of competition they faced during the regular season may have been far greater than the teams the Dodgers opposed. Based on the way they’ve been playing in recent weeks, they’re definitely representative of being one of the NL’s best. However, while they still have yet to lose in the 2020 postseason—just like the Dodgers— Atlanta has advanced after defeating both the Reds and the Marlins, suggesting that the team has yet to face any formidable opposition in October.
In many ways, the Dodgers and the Braves are very much alike. From all indications, the 2020 NLCS will be a battle, as the series could conceivably go very deep into the final games. The schedule is set up just like the NLDS with no off days, so both teams will play consecutive days until one wins four games, creating plenty of conjecture for both pitching staffs.
Obviously, there will be plenty of previews throughout the baseball blogosphere over the next few days, but here are a few initial thoughts and comparisons to get us started.
As far as offensive numbers go, it’s ridiculous how close the Dodgers and Braves come in some areas. In team runs scored, the Dodgers finished first in the NL with 349 while the Braves were right there with them at 348. For overall team OPS, the Braves finished first in the league with a .832 mark while the Dodgers were second at .821. Slugging wise, believe it or not, both clubs finished tied for first among the NL with a .483 regular season slugging percentage mark. Nevertheless, Los Angeles generated many of their runs by the long ball while Atlanta was certainly more of a small ball team, as the Braves finished first in the league with a .349 team OBP.
Similarly, the teams are very much alike as far as star power goes. Freddie Freeman is perhaps one of the most consistent, purest hitters in the game, while Ronald Acuna Jr. is one of the finest five-tool specimens. In the same breath, Mookie Betts is one of the most respected offensive presences on the senior circuit, while Cody Bellinger’s raw tools rival those of just about anybody in the majors.
Both teams used just three starting pitchers so far during the postseason, although the start by righty Dustin May in Game 3 of the NLCS was more of a bullpen affair for Los Angeles. Regardless, Atlanta’s Max Fried has made a case for a postseason league award after going 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA over 11 starts. Over six starts, Ian Anderson posted a ridiculous 1.95 ERA, but the crazy stat surrounding him is that he allowed just one long ball over 32-1/3 regular-season innings. Slotting into the No. 3 slot for the Braves is Kyle Wright, but there’s not much starting pitching depth beyond him, indicating that we could be in for a few bullpen affairs. Fried is the only lefty among the trio.
We know the Dodgers will use at least two traditional starters in Walker Buehler (Game 1) and Clayton Kershaw (Game 2) to begin the series. We could see both Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin used in normal starting roles in subsequent games, or we could also see both of them used as small parts of bullpen games. Either way, once Game 4 rolls around, the matchups will certainly promise to be interesting.
Considering some of the recent struggles of the Los Angeles bullpen, it’s hard to guess how the team will exactly utilize its relief corps in the NLCS. For now, perhaps Kenley Jansen is the team’s closer, but he may not be permitted to throw on back-to-back days. Next up on the totem pole are probably Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol. Matchup analytics might end up playing huge for the Dodgers in the later innings of the games. Los Angeles, though, has seemingly one of the hottest long men around in lefty Julio Urias.
Conversely, Atlanta has constructed their bullpen in a way that every arm pretty much has a specific role. In terms of a closer, Mark Melancon is the man, but all four of Chris Martin, Shane Greene, A.J. Minter and Will Smith have been closers at some point during their careers. Interestingly, as far as bullpen numbers go during the 2020 postseason, the Braves have compiled a ridiculous 0.44 bullpen ERA with a 0.69 WHIP, while the Dodgers have tallied a 1.64 ERA with a 0.95 WHIP.