The Braves were unable to lock up home-field advantage in the first round after clinching the division, so they knew prior to Monday their first game would be on the west coast. They just did not know how far. Los Angeles locked up the second overall seed in the National League with a 5-2 win over the Rockies, setting up for a 2013 rematch of the NLDS. That year, the Braves fell to the Dodgers in four games.
They are hoping for a better result this time around, but face a Dodger team that is loaded with talent once again, beginning with their pitching staff. Their team ERA ranks first in the NL by a wide margin and second in baseball behind the Houston Astros. They have had their share of luck against Atlanta as well. In their 7 matchups, the Braves are managing 2.6 runs per game, leading to their 2-5 record against the Dodgers.
The pitching may be what drives the team’s success, but the Dodgers wouldn’t be the Dodgers without their numerous stars throughout their lineup. It starts with Manny Machado, who has put together his best season as a pro in 2018. He has put up career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and tied his career high in home runs. Even in Los Angeles, Machado isn’t just another guy, but what makes this lineup extraordinary is its depth.
The Dodgers have nine guys on their roster that have 20 or more home runs. That’s a pretty incredible foot considering eight position players start in the NL. It’s a pitchers nightmare, and the Braves starting rotation doesn’t have much experience in the playoffs.
Only Julio Teheran and Anibal Sanchez have any postseason experience at all, and Teheran’s one start was nothing to write home about. However, this is a young Braves team that has been pegged a year too early since the beginning of the season. They’ve crushed all of those expectations behind an unreal group of young stars mixed with professional veterans.
It begins with Ronald Acuña Jr., who came into the year widely regarded as baseball’s top prospect. The 20-year old has galvanized Atlanta since being placed at the top of the lineup. His mix of power along with pure speed makes him one of the most exciting players to watch. And being that this is the first of many postseasons for him, nobody should be surprised if we see something special from the eventual NL Rookie of the Year.
While Acuña deservingly received all the hype, it’s his fellow 20-somethings that really make this Braves thing go. Ozzie Albies burst on to the scene in his first full MLB season. His hot first half resulted in an All-Star nomination and kept the Braves competitive when all their pieces weren’t together. Across the diamond, Johan Camargo has come alive in the season’s second half. His presence in the middle of the order is what allowed the Braves to pull away in the NL East down the stretch.
However, the Braves wouldn’t be a .500 team without Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis. These two are some of the most valuable veterans any ball club can have and they sit right in the heart of the Braves lineup. Freeman is one of the few that was a part of that Braves team that reached the playoffs back in 2013. For Markakis, this will be his first postseason as a Braves, and both are more than ready for the experience.
Atlanta should fare better offensively with their backs against the wall, but the key to this series will be how Atlanta’s pitching can stand up to the Dodgers lineup. The Braves do feature a couple of new faces at the top of the rotation that the casual fan might not be aware of. Mike Foltynewicz has been the ace of this staff the entire season, recording an ERA of 2.85. Kevin Gausman was brought over from Baltimore and has a 2.87 ERA as a member of the National League. These will likely be the first two starters in Los Angeles, and if the Braves can squeak out a win there, SunTrust Park is going to be a site to see this weekend.
Game 1: October 4th (LA)
Game 2: October 5th (LA)
Game 3: October 7th (ATL)
Game 4 (if necessary): October 8th (ATL)
Game 5 (if necessary): October 10th (ATL)
Atlanta Braves Team Leaders
Batting Average: Freddie Freeman (.309)
Home Runs: Ronald Acuña Jr. (26)
RBIs: Freddie Freeman (98)
ERA (starting rotation): Mike Foltynewicz (2.85)
Los Angeles Dodgers Team Leaders
Batting Average: Manny Machado (.298)
Home Runs: Max Muncy (35)
RBIs: Matt Kemp (85)
ERA (starting rotation): Hyun-Jin Ryu (1.97)
Possible Pitching Matchups
Game 1: Mike Foltynewicz vs.Hyun-Jin Ryu
Game 2: Kevin Gausman vs. Clayton Kershaw
Game 3: Anibal Sanchez vs. Walker Buehler
Notable Braves Killers in 2018
Yasmani Grandal: .250 batting average with 3 home runs in 20 at-bats
Manny Machado: .321 batting average with 2 home runs and 5 RBIs in 28 at-bats
Chris Taylor: .320 batting average
Notable Dodgers Killers in 2018
Nick Markakis: .333 batting average with 1 home run and 4 RBIs in 27 at-bats
Like we talked about previously, the Dodgers pitching staff has dominated the Braves offense, which is why Nick Markakis is the only person on this list. The crafty veteran is the only Atlanta player to hit over .300 against Los Angeles, while many more are below the Mendoza line.
Chase Irle: Dodgers in 4
This is the matchup I was least looking forward to the NL playoffs. Last year’s NL champs have by far the most talented roster on this side of the bracket. However, as we all know, that doesn’t always guarantee you a trip out of the first round. With that being said, the Braves have has very little success against Dodgers pitching over this season, and I don’t think Atlanta has the collective pitching staff to keep Los Angeles down for long.
Derek Snyder: Dodgers in 5
We can’t lie to ourselves regarding this postseason series versus the Los Angeles Dodgers; the Braves are a young team, about to face the 2017 National League Champions – who’ve added some big pieces to their already-talented lineup. However, if the Braves are going to win this series, Atlanta has to get hot at the plate.
As much as I’d love to see that happen, it’s just not realistic, especially knowing the Braves will be playing in front of a rowdy Los Angeles crowd twice this week. We must remember, for most of Atlanta’s lineup, this will be their first taste of postseason baseball. I’m not saying they won’t have their extraordinary moments, but as fans, we need to temper our expectations just a bit. This is the first of many postseason appearances for this talented squad.
That said, I think the Dodgers will ultimately advance to the NLCS this time around. With a strong rotation and, generally, the same group of guys who won the pennant last year, it makes sense that Los Angeles would advance over Atlanta.
Harrison Coburn: Braves in 5
This Braves team has exceeded expectations this season, and I do not expect that to change. Perhaps this is a homer pick, but we all know it would take a special team to take down a Dodgers team that is a year removed from being a game away from being crowned champions. This young Braves team, reminiscent of the 1991 team, is just that.
What will it take for Atlanta to get past Los Angeles? Hitting them hard and early in game 1 out west. It is no secret that Clayton Kershaw is not the same guy in the postseason, as evidenced by his career 4.35 ERA in 24 playoff appearances. The future Hall of Famer is also having a down year by his elite standards. If the Braves can steal a game in L.A, they could be in serious business. However, the road does not stop with Kershaw. Walker Buehler is the newest stud Vanderbilt arm (Kyle Wright is not quite there yet) in the big leagues. Hyun-Jin Ryu has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since mid-August. Fortunately, the Braves have a deep staff to rival this.
Perhaps the big dollars end up taking down the young talent, but these are two good teams and it may boil down to game management and who wants it more. My prediction is that Brian Snitker outmanages Dave Roberts, and the Braves show the baseball world that they are here to stay for the foreseeable future.