I was really hoping for a different outcome, but on Thursday night the LA Dodgers defeated the Giants 2-1 in Game 5 of the NLDS meaning the Braves have finally found their NLCS opponent. The two Pennant matchups are set: on Saturday Atlanta and LA will fight for the NL title, and on Friday Boston and Houston will battle for for the AL.
— MLB (@MLB) October 15, 2021
We’ve seen a pretty good bit of the Dodgers over the last several playoffs. If you recall, the two teams met in last year’s NLCS and for the NLDS round in 2018. That’s 11 postseason matchups over the last four years, and I’ll admit, LA has had Atlanta’s number so far.
|Game 1||W, 5-1|
|Game 2||W, 8-7|
|Game 3||L, 15-3|
|Game 4||W, 10-2|
|Game 5||L, 7-3|
|Game 6||L, 3-1|
|Game 7||L, 4-3|
|Game 1||L, 6-0|
|Game 2||L, 3-0|
|Game 3||W, 6-5|
|Game 4||L, 6-2|
In case you didn’t count, that’s just a 4-7 record for the Braves as they’ve dropped two consecutive playoff series to the Dodgers. And let me tell ya, the experts have really noticed because very few are giving Atlanta a chance to win this upcoming series. For example: at ESPN on Friday morning, of the 13 columnists that shared their opinion, only two picked the Braves to defeat the Dodgers and advance to the World Series. (I swear, Buster Olney is the only one over there who knows what he’s talking about!).
But the love for LA is to be expected. The Dodgers are the reigning champs and the team ripped off another 100+ win season in 2021 with 106 victories. Their team certainly deserves a ton of credit. However for Atlanta, the familiarity between the two clubs could work in the Braves favor this time around. Perhaps the third time is the charm?
Below are a few things we’ve learned from the Dodgers over the last pair of postseason series…
#1. No lead is ever safe… no matter what
This is an aspect of the playoffs that really exists no matter who’s playing, but man is it even more evident when you’re playing the Dodgers. Over the last 11 matchups, LA has either come back and won, or at least made it interesting, a number of times.
- The first time was Game 3 of the 2018 NLDS, after the Braves were shutout by a combined score of 9-0 during the first two games of the series. In that must-win game Atlanta jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the second inning, only to barely win (6-5) when LA scored two in the third and three in the fifth. The next game of that series the Braves led by a much smaller margin, but nonetheless, the Dodgers rallied from behind yet again. After leading 2-1 through five innings, Atlanta gave it all up as LA scored five runs combined in the sixth and seventh to win 6-2 and eliminate the Braves.
- Game 2 of last year’s NLCS was nearly a heartbreaking loss for Atlanta. After producing a 6-0 advantage through six innings, the Dodgers came back and almost won after scoring seven combined runs in the final three frames. Luckily, the Braves added another score in the ninth to hold on 8-7. Game 5 and Game 7 of that same series featured another small lead by the Braves but an eventual comeback and victory for the Dodgers. In the former contest, Atlanta entered the fourth inning up 2-0 but LA wound up winning 7-3; and in the latter game, the Braves also jumped ahead 2-0 in the first few frames before falling 4-3.
In a nutshell, the Braves mustn’t take their foot off the gas. Manager Brian Snitker must manage each game of the entire series as if the team is trailing, because the Dodgers obviously have the ability, at any time, to turn the game around. We’ve seen it happen so many times, so hopefully Atlanta will be prepared in this year’s NLCS.
#2. Home runs are crucial to advancing
This may finally be year that the Braves are able to hold its own against the Dodgers when it comes to the long ball, because in the last two playoff series, they very absolutely did not. In the 2018 NLDS, LA outhomered Atlanta 8-2, and then in 2020 they led by a tally of 16-9. A lot of those comebacks I discussed above were possible because the Dodgers were, and still are, so good at busting a home run when they needed the most.
But the Braves should feel a bit more confident about its ability to slug in this year’s NLCS. Atlanta finished just ahead of LA in total homers for the 2021 regular season, for third in MLB with 239 long balls as a team (just two more than the Dodgers). With so many powerful bats in the Braves lineup (save for a missing Jorge Soler), I wouldn’t be surprised if Atlanta ends the upcoming series with more homers than LA this time around. Hell, they just outhomered the Brewers 4-2 in the NLDS, so perhaps there’s hope.
#3. Justin Turner, and now both Corey Seager and Mookie Betts, must be contained
I don’t know what it is, but Justin Turner seems to always play like an MVP when it’s a postseason series against the Braves. I mean, the almost-37-year-old third baseman had one of his best seasons in awhile during the 2021 regular season, but it really doesn’t matter, because the man knows how to perform in the playoffs. Just check out his numbers versus Atlanta in the last two postseason series…
|2018 NLDS||4 G, .357 AVG, 2B, RBI|
|2020 NLCS||7 G, .280 AVG, HR, 2 2B, RBI|
And now you can add both Corey Seager and Mookie Betts to the mix. The former dealt with an injury and was out for the 2018 Division Series against Atlanta, and the latter of course wasn’t with LA that year but both were absolutely critical in the Dodgers success in last year’s LCS.
Seager, who won the NLCS MVP and the World Series MVP last year, had an incredible series against the Braves. In that seven-game battle versus Atlanta, the then-26-year-old shortstop went 9 for 29 (.310 AVG) and slugged five homers with 11 RBI. And Betts, who made several key defensive plays throughout the entire series also put up solid numbers with the bat, going 7 for 26 (.269 AVG) on offense.
Both Seager and Betts are coming off strong regular seasons as each were roughly 4-WAR players for the Dodgers in 2021. Add Turner’s playoff heroics, and the Braves have a trio of LA hitters it definitely needs to keep contained in this series.
I’m sure there are many more points to be made about playing the Dodgers in the postseason, but I feel that the three takeaways above have been the most obvious. Leads have never been safe against LA (even series leads, as we found out in 2020), home runs have always played a huge role, and now in 2021, there are at least three Dodger hitters that are plenty capable of taking over this series. The Braves will surely be underdogs starting on Saturday… and that’s to be expected. Hopefully Atlanta has learned a few tricks over these last 11 playoff games against the mighty Dodgers because if they haven’t, the outcome this time around may unfortunately be the same as before.