Braves: What makes the Dodgers so good?

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I was conjuring up some ideas for the NLCS and figured I would do something on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ strengths and weaknesses. However, I quickly realized they don’t have any weaknesses, so I pivoted to talking about what makes them the overwhelming favorite to win the World Series, no matter who you ask.

Offense

The Dodgers are the only lineup in the National League that can rival the Braves. Los Angeles finished first in runs scored, scoring just one more time than Atlanta. The Dodgers also finished first in home runs, tied for first in slugging (with the Braves), and second in OPS (just behind the Braves). So if you’re an Atlanta fan that hasn’t had an opportunity to watch the Dodgers, think of their offense as a lot like the Braves, which should be a handful for Atlanta’s pitching staff.

Los Angeles’ lineup features star power and a unique amount of versatility that no other team can match. The Dodgers have two former MVPs in Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger, several former All-Stars — Max Muncy, Justin Turner, A.J. Pollock, Corey Seager, and Joe Pederson — and incredible depth that allows Dave Roberts to perfectly construct a lineup for whoever is one the mound.

On any given night, 1-9 can change the game with one swing of the bat, which can be seen by their ridiculous 118 home runs hit this season (15 more than the Braves) who finished second in the category. That’s an average of almost two a game. Simply put, the Dodgers will score runs, and they will probably score a lot of them, but the Braves have the bats to keep up.

Starting Pitching

Like the Braves, the Dodgers haven’t been forced to unleash more than three starting pitchers in the playoffs because they’ve swept both the Brewers and Padres. Unlike the Braves, they have several guys they should feel confident in as the series goes on.

Their top two are superstars. Walker Buehler hasn’t been as sharp as you’d expect in his first two postseason starts, but he’s still one of the best young pitchers in the game. In eight starts this season, Buehler boasted a 1-0 record with a 3.44 ERA.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re well aware of who Clayton Kershaw is. The future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer put together another Cy Young caliber year, going 6-2 with a 2.16 ERA. It’s funny because it almost seemed like Kershaw had a down year last year and was beginning to regress as he entered his 30s because he posted a 3.03 ERA — the first time he had an ERA above three since his rookie season, all the way back in 2008. Kershaw remains one of the best pitchers in the game, and he’s faced the Braves three times in the postseason in which he has a 2-0 record, allowing just one earned run over 21 innings.

Those two have a lot more playoff experience than Fried and Anderson, but where the Dodgers advantage really lies is with their third and fourth starters, who will be vitally important in this series which features no off-days. The starters have yet to be announced, but I would imagine Roberts will stick with a combination of Dustin May and Julio Urias.

May is a 23-year-old with a freakish arm. 54% of the time, he turns to his sinker, which has crazy movement and sits at 97.9 mph on average. May then compliments it with a cutter that sits in the mid-90s and a curve. He’ll also sprinkle in a four-seamer that reaches triple digits often and a changeup. This led to a 2.57 ERA over 12 appearances (10 starts). However, May is susceptible to the long ball, and you might be surprised that he only had a 7.1 K/9 despite his high velocity, leading to a 4.62 FIP. Roberts has used him in short stints this postseason, and I expect that to be the plan again in the NLCS.

Urias is another 23-year-old stud with an extremely bright future. He’s yet to make a start in this postseason but has appeared twice for a total of eight innings and been brilliant, allowing just five total baserunners (4 hits, 1 walk) while striking out eight. His repertoire consists of a fastball in the mid-90s, curveball, changeup, and slider.

Because the Dodgers haven’t had to play more than three games in a series and have not been tested at all, Roberts has had the luxury of using May and Urias in short stints whenever they are needed, but in a potential seven-game series against a lineup as good as the Braves, these guys will likely be needed to produce quality starts. Fortunately, for the Dodgers, they both are fully capable.

Los Angeles also has Tony Gonsolin, who has yet to appear in the playoffs, but he was fantastic for them in the regular season, posting a 2.31 ERA in nine appearances (8 starts). He’ll likely be needed against the Braves, and Dave Roberts should feel plenty confident in him. They could even use him as a starter while utilizing May in a hybrid relief role.

Bullpen

If you’re a Braves fan, you’re well aware of just how dominant Atlanta’s relief core is. I would argue it’s the best in all of baseball, but according to FanGraphs WAR, the Dodgers bullpen was significantly better. Atlanta’s relief core finished ninth in the majors, with 2.1 WAR, while Los Angeles’ finished third with 3.5 WAR. I find it hard to believe the Dodgers bullpen is nearly two times as valuable as the Braves; however, they have a right to stake a claim as the best themselves.

According to Los Angeles’ bullpen WAR leaderboard, the unit is paced by Jake McGee, who accrued 0.7 WAR over 20.1 innings, thanks to his silly 14.61 K/9. Victor Gonzalez followed him with 0.6 WAR over 19.1 innings. And then Blake Treinen, Dylan Floro, and Kenley Jansen are tied for third with 0.5 WAR. The latter has been the Dodgers closer for years, but after a shaky time last time out in Game 2 against the Padres, Dave Roberts said he will have to re-evaluate the closer’s role moving forward. Jansen might get one more opportunity against the Braves, but Atlanta has the opportunity to create some unrest at the end of games for the entire series if they can get to Jansen in his first appearance.

I won’t go much deeper into this group. The point is, they have plenty of arms capable of closing games, just like the Braves. However, as Clint Manry mentioned in his latest article, the Dodgers bullpen does have a shaky track record in the postseason, especially Kenley Jansen, who gave up two runs in his last outing against the Padres in the Divisional Series before Dave Roberts turned to Joe Kelly for the final out. If the Braves can keep things tight late in the game, you have to like their chances based on how their relief core has performed so far in the playoffs.

 

 

 

 

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