This is actually closer than many may think. The Braves have found an ace to lead their rotation and legitimately go 6 or even 7 deep. It’s just a matter of time before people start viewing Atlanta’s rotation like they did back in the 90s. With that being said, the Dodgers have had the best pitching from top to bottom in the National League. Everyone will focus on Clayton Kershaw, whose actually having a down year, but the Dodgers have four or five All-Star caliber starting pitchers. They are the cream of the crop right now in the National League and hold a noticeable edge here against Atlanta.
Yasmani Grandal is one of the few catchers that doesn’t handicap his team at the plate. He’s pretty much a lock to hit around .250 with 20 home runs a year. The Braves don’t have a single player like that, but they have a catching duo that makes a pretty powerful combination. Suzuki is hitting over .270 with 12 home runs on the season. Flowers has added 8 more homers, and even though he has only managed a .227 batting average, he gets on-base a .341 clip, which is actually higher than Suzuki. Combine that with the way Flowers can manage a young pitching staff, and the Braves hold a slight edge at the catcher’s spot.
The Dodgers actually have two guys that can play first base in Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy. For the sake of this argument, we will say it is Cody Bellinger. Bellinger hasn’t had quite the same year he did in his rookie season, but still carries a WAR of 4.2 and 25 home runs coming into this matchup. The problem is his counterpart is Freddie Freeman, the MVP of the Braves. There are very few tougher outs in all of baseball than Freeman, who is sniffing an on-base percentage of .400. If the Braves have any hope of making it to the World Series, it is going to be on this man’s back.
At the all-star break, this would have been a no-brainer in favor of the Braves. The difference now is Ozzie Albies has not been anywhere near the same player in the second half. The Dodgers also went out and acquired Brian Dozier prior to the trade deadline for some added pop to the position. The scariest part about Los Angeles is they don’t even have to start Dozier. Kike Hernández, another Dodgers player with over 20 home runs, can move from the outfield to play second.
You have to give the edge here to Justin Turner because of the longevity of his success in the league. However, Johan Camargo has to be a key contributor if the Braves want to advance. The 24-year old plays a fantastic defense at third base and had a breakout year at the plate after a slow start. The average baseball fan will find out a lot about this guy in this series.
There’s no reason to dive too deep into this one. The Dodgers have arguably the best shortstop in all of baseball, while the Braves will be starting Charlie Culberson. Dansby Swanson will likely miss the NLDS with a torn ligament in his hand.
Manny Machado may be the headline name on the field in this series. That might not be the case if these two teams meet up next season. Ronald Acuña has many believing he is on the fast track to being the league’s next generational talent. There isn’t anything he can’t do. He’s on pace for around 40 bombs over 162 games, has a cannon for an arm, can make highlight plays with the glove and is one of the fastest players in all of baseball. All fans have to be excited to see this guy in his first postseason action.
If you were just comparing Ender Inciarte to Chris Taylor or Kike Hernández, you might give him the edge because of his unbelievable fielding. However, you cannot overlook the kind of pop both Taylor and Hernández can bring to the lineup on any given night. They get an ever so slight edge at center field.
These two players couldn’t be the more polar opposite. Say what you want about Yasiel Puig’s antics, he’s a pretty damn good baseball player. On the opposing end, Nick Markakis could not take a more business-like approach to the game. Markakis may never come up with the highlight plays or blast 450-foot home runs, but his consistency gives the Braves the nod at right field. He played in all 162 games, finished just shy of a .300 batting average, recorded 185 hits, 43 doubles, and 14 home runs. The guy is a machine and one of the hardest people to strike out in baseball.
According to FanGraphs.com, the Dodgers and Braves finish 16th and 17th respectively in terms of bullpen WAR. The Dodgers’ pen does hold a slight edge in ERA and has more postseason experience, so they receive the edge here. However, with two explosive lineups, expect some fireworks from these two teams in the later innings.
This might be the largest advantage in the entire series. The Braves lose their best bench option to the starting lineup because of an injury to Dansby Swanson. The Dodgers, on the other hand, have All-Star caliber options that will be available to pinch-hit. They are by far the deepest lineup in the National League with nine guys who have managed to hit the 20 home-run mark.
No disrespect to Dave Roberts, who led the Dodgers to the World Series a year ago, but I think the Braves have a special kind of relationship with Brian Snitker. The man has been around the Braves organization since 1977. He has personally helped develop nearly every Braves star you can remember. With that being said, it wasn’t even a guarantee Snitker would be managing this year. Several Braves player voiced their praise for him last offseason, which is likely why he was retained. There’s mutual trust in that locker room, and that doesn’t go unnoticed in the postseason.