After beating the Brewers in four in the NLDS, it’s on to the rematch of the 2020 NLCS against the Dodgers. In what should be a closely contested series between two of the best pitching staffs and explosive offenses, this should be a series for the ages. It all starts in Game 1 with Max Fried taking the hill for Atlanta, and Max Scherzer for the Dodgers.
28 Starts; 14-7
13 Games (5 Starts); 1-1
30 Starts; 15-4
25 Games (20 Starts); 7-6
While Charlie Morton has been magnificent, Max Fried has been the ace of this pitching staff. As I’ve stated before, Fried has absolutely earned the name Maximus over the past couple of months. Since the All-Star break, he has had a measly 1.63 ERA, including that NLDS start against the Brewers. In that start, Fried went 6 innings only allowing 3 hits with 9 strikeouts, no walks, and most importantly, no runs allowed as the Braves proceeded to win the game off of his stellar performance. In his career, Fried has a 4.30 ERA against the Dodgers in 5 starts against them. That said, Fried has looked great against the Dodgers in 2021. In his two starts against them this season, he pitched 6 innings in both games and only allowed 3 total earned runs across those starts. Hopefully, his success will continue as we go further into the postseason.
For the other Max, he has pitched like you would expect a 3-time (and possibly 4-time) Cy Young winner would. After being dealt from Washington to Los Angeles at the trade deadline, Mad Max started 11 games and had a 1.98 ERA over that span. As incredible as he’s been, his end to the regular season was a bit shaky. In his last two regular season starts, he gave up 10 earned runs, 5 of which came against the Rockies and 5 against the Padres. He has shown some vulnerability down the stretch for sure. Unfortunately, once he got to the playoffs, he went back to pitching like his old self. He has given up 2 earned runs in 2 starts this postseason, while also recording the save in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Giants. So, which Scherzer will Atlanta get? Historically, Scherzer is pretty bad (for him at least) against the Braves with a 3.88 ERA in 27 games (25 starts). This season, he faced Atlanta twice in the regular season, once with the Nationals and another with the Dodgers. In those starts, he went 6 innings in both, giving up 4 earned runs, all of them in that game with the Nationals. Hopefully we get the Washington version of Scherzer and not the Los Angeles version.
If you thought facing Max Scherzer and the other Dodgers starters would be difficult, wait until you see their bullpen. The Los Angeles bullpen ranked 1st in ERA, 1st in average, and 3rd in WHIP. It was the best bullpen in the regular season. With pieces like Cory Knebel who just opened Game 5 of the NLDS, Kenley Jansen who is still one of the best closers in the game, Blake Treinen and his unhittable sinker, and Brudar Graterol, whose sinker hits 103 MPH he doesn’t allow many homeruns. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for them too. They have several more guys that can come in in a pinch and give you a clean and scoreless inning. So if you think you’ll be better off trying to score against the bullpen, you are mistaken.
For the Braves, the bullpen has been what held them back for most of the regular season. They had a ridiculous 33 losses attributed solely to their bullpen. To try and correct this, they went out and got Richard Rodriguez from the Pirates at the trade deadline. Turns out he only throws fastballs and gives up a lot of homers because of it. He was so bad, he was left off of the NLDS roster. For the postseason though, the Braves have surprisingly had the one of the best bullpens. They rank 1st in ERA, 3rd in WHIP, and 4th in average all thanks to their top three guys: Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek, and Will Smith. I’m sure you are wondering why I lumped Will Smith in their with the others, but from September 2nd to October 3rd, he only allowed 2 earned runs in 13 appearances, converting 8 out of 10 possible saves. He’s only been better in the playoffs, as over three appearances, he has not allowed a run and converted all three save opportunities. The Braves will have to rely on their other pieces as Matzek and Jackson cannot continue to pitch in every game of a series. A.J. Minter, Jesse Chavez, and the others will need to step up and be prepared to pick up the load when the main three cannot.
Joc Pederson: .238/.310/.422; .732 OPS; 18 HR; 61 RBI; 2 SB; 2-16 2B 3BB 7K
Freddie Freeman: .300/.393/.503; .896 OPS; 31 HR; 83 RBI; 8 SB; 11-47 4 2B 3HR 4RBI 7BB 12K
Ozzie Albies: .259/.310/.488; .799 OPS; 30 HR; 106 RBI; 20 SB; 4-25 HR 3RBI 3BB 10K
Austin Riley: .303/.367/.531; .898 OPS; 33 HR; 107 RBI; 1-7 3K
Adam Duvall: .228/.281/.491; .772 OPS; 38 HR; 113 RBI; 5 SB; 1-9 HR 2 RBI 6K
Eddie Rosario: .259/.305/.435; .740 OPS; 14 HR; 62 RBI; 11 SB; 1-2
Travis d’Arnaud: .220/.284/.388; .671 OPS; 7 HR; 26 RBI; 5-26 2B 3B 2HR 8RBI 10K
Dansby Swanson: .248/.311/.449: .760 OPS; 27 HR; 88 RBI; 9 SB; 7-38 3 2B HR 7RBI 2BB 15K SB
Max Fried: .273/.322/.327; .649 OPS; 5 RBI; 0-2 K
Cristian Pache: .111/.152/.206; .358 OPS; 1 HR; 4 RBI; 0-2 K
Guillermo Heredia: .220/.311/.354; .665 OPS; 5 HR; 26 RBI
Ehire Adrianza: .247/.327/.401; .728 OPS; 5 HR; 28 RBI; 1-3
William Contreras: .215/.303/.399; .701 OPS; 8 HR; 23 RBI
Orlando Arcia: .198/.258/.309; .567 OPS; 2 HR; 14 RBI; SB; 2-3 2B K
Terrance Gore: (AAA) .232/.361/.319; .680 OPS; RBI; 18 SB
Mookie Betts: .264/.367/.487; .854 OPS; 23 HR; 58 RBI; 10 SB; 1-6 4K
Corey Seager: .306/.394/.521; .915 OPS; 16 HR; 57 RBI; 1 SB; 0-5 K
Trea Turner: .328/.375/.536; .911 OPS; 28 HR; 77 RBI; 32 SB: 7-21 2B HR 2RBI 3BB 5K
Will Smith: .258/.365/.495; .860 OPS; 25 HR; 76 RBI; 3 SB; 1-5 K
Justin Turner: .278/.361/.471; .832 OPS; 27 HR; 87 RBI; 3 SB; 5-10 2B HR RBI 2K
Gavin Lux: .242/.328/.364; .692 OPS; 7 HR; 46 HR; 4 SB; 0-2 2K
Cody Bellinger: .165/.240/.302; .542 OPS; 10 HR; 36 RBI; 3 SB; 3-8 HR 3 RBI 2K
Chris Taylor: .254/.344/.438; .782 OPS; 20 HR; 73 RBI; 13 SB; 1-8 BB 4K
A.J. Pollock: .297/.355/.536; .892 OPS; 21 HR; 69 RBI; 9 SB; 2-7 BB 2K
Austin Barnes: .215/.299/.345; .644 OPS; 6 HR; 23 RBI; 1 SB; 1-3 HR RBI BB 2K
Albert Pujols: .236/.284/.433; .717 OPS; 17 HR; 50 RBI; 2 SB; 1-3 RBI
Billy McKinney: .192/.280/.358; .658 OPS; 9 HR; 27 RBI; 2 SB; 0-2 2K
Steven Souza Jr.: .152/.222/.333; .556 OPS; 1 HR; 3 RBI
Matt Beaty: .270/.363/.402; .765 OPS; 7 HR; 40 RBI; 2 SB
These two teams are two of the most explosive offensive teams in the league, as the Braves and Dodgers are 3rd and 4th in home runs, respectively. As a team, the Dodgers hit .244/.330/.429 with a .759 OPS while the Braves hit .244/.319/.435 with a .754 OPS. It is crazy how similar these two are in all the major offensive statistical categories. The biggest deciding factors might be who isn’t playing. For the Braves, Jorge Soler tested positive for COVID-19 hours before Game 4 of the NLDS and could miss the entire NLCS depending on his vaccination status and if he’s is asymptomatic. This could be a huge blow as Soler has been phenomenal since coming from the Royals, providing a lot of power and stability in the leadoff spot with Ronald Acuña Jr. hurt. For the Dodgers, their MVP candidate Max Muncy sustained a left elbow injury during the final game of the regular season and has not played since. There is a slight chance he comes back before the NLCS is over, as he has said he is feeling better. Muncy had 36 homeruns and 94 RBIs in the regular season along with an All-Star appearance.