The NL bracket of the MLB playoffs always seemed destined for this matchup in the National League Championship Series.
The Los Angeles Dodgers sport the league’s top offense this season, scoring a league-high 5.83 runs-per-game in 2020. The Atlanta Braves were the second-
best offense, scoring 5.72 runs-per-game. Both teams lean on superstars in their lineups. Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger lead the Dodgers, while Ronald Acuna Jr and Freddie Freeman pace the Braves. And both lineups are far deeper than just two players.
Beyond that, intriguing pitching matchups are on tap for this series. The Dodgers turn to Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, veterans who’ve been there before. The Braves, meanwhile, will look to the young pitching pair of Max Fried and Ian Anderson. This series should be hotly contested and could be an avalanche of runs, so the question becomes:
Which one of these pitching staffs can slow the opposing lineup?
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Dodgers Seeking Validation
The LA Dodgers are making their fourth-straight appearance in the NLCS. They’ve won two of the last three NL pennants, but have yet to win a World Series title with this core. The Dodgers haven’t hoisted the trophy since 1988.
LA swept its way into the NLCS this season, dealing with a potent San Diego Padres lineup along the way. That preparation should help them against Atlanta’s outstanding lineup. With a starting staff led by Kershaw and Buehler, LA knows it can lean on Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, and Julio Urias as well in this seven-game stretch. Their bullpen has been solid as well.
But it’s the lineup that’s carried the Dodgers this far. Betts, Bellinger, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Corey Seager and Will Smith make the lineup the league’s most potent, and that’s not counting Joc Pederson or Chris Taylor. They’re also among the best fielding groups in the Majors, which will help limit Atlanta’s opportunities.
Braves Bursting Forth
Most people will dismiss Atlanta’s chances because they’re facing the Dodgers, but the Braves’ bats have been nearly as good in 2020. Atlanta surged through the first two rounds of the playoffs without a loss, despite having questions about their starting rotation.
Atlanta seeks its 18th World Series berth, and first since 1999. The Braves offense remains nearly on par with LA’s. They’re just behind the Dodgers in runs-per-game, as well as runs-per-game-off-homers (2.98 to 2.80). The Braves edge out LA in runs scored per-game without the long ball (3.00 to 2.83). Atlanta’s top three hitters, Acuna, Freeman and Marcel Ozuna, have been great, and Travis d’Arnaud, Dansby Swanson and Adam Duvall give the lineup it’s depth.
The real question the Braves will be, can the starting pitching hold up? Atlanta faced a pair of subpar offenses prior to the NLCS in the Cincinnati Reds and Miami Marlins. The Dodgers are a far stiffer test. Fried and Anderson have been great, and Kyle Wright was solid in his postseason debut, but that’s it for Atlanta’s starters. They’ll need to piece it together from there, but at least their bullpen has been lights out.
Odds and Pick
The Dodgers are -240 to win the NLCS, making them marked favourites. Although the Braves will pose a difficult test, it’s hard to pick against LA in this one. Atlanta’s youth and lack of depth in the starting rotation should ultimately prove to be their Achilles heel.
-- by D.L. Ferno