2020 NLCS preview: Braves vs. Dodgers

In a rematch of a 2018 NLDS series, the Atlanta Braves take on the Los Angeles Dodgers at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

The Braves’ path to the NLCS included winning the NL east and getting through the Cincinnati Reds and Miami Marlins in earlier series. For the Dodgers, they had the best regular-season record at 43-17 and knocked off the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres to reach their fifth NLCS since 2013.

Neither team has yet to lose this postseason, so there will be bragging rights on the line in Game 1 as to who the last unbeaten will be.

This series should produce a classic as both teams are stellar offensively and in the starting rotation. However, with the potential of seven games in seven days, it will be a war of attrition as the bullpens will be pushed to their outermost limits.

While the Braves’ starting rotation was their biggest question mark heading into the postseason, youngsters Ian Anderson and Max Fried have been stellar so far. In two starts and 11.2 inning pitched, Anderson has not allowed a single run and has struck out 17 batters. Meanwhile, Fried picked up the win in Game 1 against the Marlins but allowed four runs in the process. Fried will get the start in Game 1 but will need to limit the damage in order to get the win for Atlanta.

So far, Atlanta’s bullpen has been trustworthy in five postseason games. The only earned run allowed in 20.1 combined innings from all relievers came from RHP Chris Martin. Veteran arms Will Smith and Mark Melancon bring the experience and have been the stars in the pen, striking out a combined 11 batters without giving up a walk. However, they cannot get flustered against a well-disciplined Dodger offense.

Offensively, catcher Travis d’Arnaud has been the star for Atlanta. He has eight hits in 19 at-bats and hit two home runs against the Marlins. While he has been great, there is still much to be desired from what should be a stellar Braves lineup. Ronald Acuna Jr. (.273 avg) and Dansby Swanson (.263 avg) have been steady but Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Marcell Ozuna have been struggling. Freeman has been disciplined with five walks and an On-base Percentage of .375 but he has only been able to muster three hits in five games. Albies has only collected four hits in 20 ABs and Ozuna has been undisciplined, striking out 10 times without a walk. These three will have to find the gaps against an LA team that loves the shift.

For the Dodgers, it will be Walker Buehler getting the start in Game 1, which could be a cause for concern as Buehler struggled to hit his marks when throwing at the bottom half of the strike zone. Still trying to recover from a blister, he will need to rely on his blazing fastball and paint the corners to keep Atlanta at bay.

LA should view Game 1 as a must-win with Clayton Kershaw getting the reigns in Game 2. While Kershaw looked great against a weak Milwaukee team, he gave up three runs to San Diego, including back-to-back home runs. The Braves are a team where mistakes can’t be made on the mound and due to Kershaw’s playoff history, Game 2 might come down to the bullpen.

In long-relief, the Dodgers have hope as Julio Urias and Dustin May have been outstanding. Urias has dominated this postseason, throwing eight innings while never allowing a run and striking out 11. May could see long-relief duties but will most likely get the start in Game 3. A key addition to the NLCS roster is Tony Gonsolin. He has not made a postseason appearance but was great during the regular season with an ERA of 2.31 in 46.2 inning pitched.

The 7-8-9-inning punch for LA will be key. Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol have held up their end of the bargain but longtime Dodger closer Kenley Jansen was awful in his lone outing against the Padres. The cutter isn’t blowing anyone away and it’s not cutting as it should. As much as Dodger fans don’t want to bare it, Joe Kelly may be an essential piece to returning to the World Series. While he may walk the bases loaded, Kelly has limited the damage and has the arsenal to strike out the side, unlike Jansen.

At the plate, it’s time to put up or shut up. Mookie Betts has been perfect since the Dodgers acquired him. He’s batting .368 in 19 ABs and has scored 6 runs. 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger seems to have found a rhythm as he looked disciplined against the Padres versus when he swings for the fences. The home run robbery of Fernando Tatis Jr. may be exactly what he needed to get his swagger back. Corey Seager has also made a major offensive contribution and the catching duo of Austin Barnes and Will Smith came up clutch against San Diego as Smith hit 5-for-6 in Game 3.

Justin Turner, Max Muncy, A.J. Pollock will need to hit better to match Atlanta’s offensive depth as they are a combined 9-of-49 at the plate.

Look out for the addition of Edwin Rios to the roster. While limited against Milwaukee, he could be the Dodgers’ Matt Stairs, Matt Adams or Howie Kendrick (yeah, I went there), providing a heartbreaking at-bat but in the favor of LA instead of to their detriment.

This is the series baseball fans should live for. There is depth across the board for both teams. It will simply come down to who can be mentally strong without any days’ rest. With that being said, there’s no clear favorite. It is a coin toss but the team who has shown up all-season long has no excuse to lose now.

Prediction: Dodgers in 6

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