The Braves find themselves in the same position for the second consecutive season — up two games to zero in the NLCS versus the heavily favored Dodgers. From Los Angeles’ perspective, it’s a hole few teams have been able to dig themselves out of; however, they did so just last year against the same team, and they should feel good with their ace Walker Buehler toeing the rubber in Game 3. With that being said, things are much different for the Braves this time around for a number of reasons.
Last year’s Braves team was fantastic, particularly offensively, but it didn’t come without flaws. Their starting pitching was a mess all season. People tend to forget guys like Tommy Milone, Robbie Erlin, and Josh Tomlin were significant pieces of Atlanta’s rotation for most of the season. It’s a miracle they were even able to get to the NLCS with their starting pitching, and it eventually came back to bite them.
This time around, the Braves rotation might be their biggest strength; it certainly was against the Brewers in the NLDS. The Braves won’t be starting Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, and A.J. Minter in Games 3, 4, and 5. Charlie Morton, one of the best postseason pitchers of the last five years, will get the ball in Game 3 with the opportunity to put the Dodgers in a 3-0 hole. The Braves aren’t exactly sure who will start Game 4, but it could be any combination of Huascar Ynoa, Ian Anderson, or Drew Smyly. And Game 5 will see the ball handed back to Atlanta’s ace Max Fried. This year, the Braves’ weakest link in their playoff rotation might be Ian Anderson. Last season, they needed him to be flawless to have a chance to upset the Dodgers.
Leading up to Game 3, there will be a lot of national pundits talking about how the Dodgers have been in this exact position before last year and ended up winning the World Series. That’s true; however, I think that experience helps the Braves much more than it does Los Angeles.
For a bevy of reasons, the Dodgers never have cause to lose confidence. They have the most talented roster in baseball and have been in every postseason situation imaginable. On the other hand, the Braves hadn’t even won a playoff series before last season since 2001. They were in unknown territory up 2-0 and then 3-1 against the Dodgers in 2020. That’s not true anymore; they’ve now been here before, and they know more than anyone not to take their foot off the gas early.
Freddie Freeman‘s been ice cold
Freeman has had about the worst start imaginable to his NLCS (0-8 with 7Ks) — a far cry from last year’s performance when he hit .360 with two homers and three doubles. Still, the Braves have been able to overcome it and win back-to-back games. If there’s one guy I’m not worried about at all, it’s Freeman. Eventually, he’s going to break out in this series, which usually leads to Braves wins.
Will Smith is… Elite?
Ok, maybe I’m taking it a bit too far with the word elite, but Smith has been absolutely lights out since the beginning of September. In 13 appearances to end the regular season, he posted a 1.38 ERA, and he’s been even better in the playoffs. Against Milwaukee, he was three for three in save opportunities and did not allow a run, and so far in the NLCS, he’s earned both wins for the Braves, pitching two scoreless ninth innings and allowing just one baserunner. I wrote about this last week after the NLDS, but it is well past time to put some respect on Will Smith’s name.
Thanks for reading about why this Braves series versus the Dodgers is different. If you liked this article, make sure to check another recent piece from Chase Irle on how Ronald Acuña’s rehab is going.