2018 NLDS Preview: Braves vs. Dodgers

(Via)

The National League Division Series gets underway today. The Dodgers are hosting the Braves in a rematch of the 2013 NLDS.

Here’s how the two teams stack up against each other:

By The Numbers

Offense Braves Dodgers
Runs/Game 4.68 4.93
AVG .257 .250
OBP .324 .333
SLG .417 .442
wRC+ 97 111
HR 175 235
SB 90 75
BB% 8.2 10.2
K% 20.6 22.6
Exit Velo 87.1 88.4

The Dodgers offense, as a whole, led the National League in runs scored, home runs, wRC+, walk rate, isolated slugging  (.191) and wOBA (.333), and they did so by comfortable margins in all categories. It’s almost unbelievable considering how incredibly inconsistent the offense has been for the majority of the season. LA was led in home runs by Max Muncy (35), who led in most offensive categories. His 162 wRC+ would have been 5th-best in baseball among players with at least 480 plate appearances (he had 481). Oh, and he’s going to be platooned, which is absurd to think but it could also contribute to the strong numbers. Justin Turner has been on fire since Aug. 7, and he is the anchor of this lineup. Then, it’s a veritable parade of above-average (or better) position players: Joc Pederson (126 wRC+), Yasmani Grandal (125), Yasiel Puig (123), Matt Kemp (122), Manny Machado (121, with LA), Cody Bellinger (120), Enrique Hernandez (118) and Chris Taylor (113). This doesn’t even include David Freese, who has a totally sustainable 210 wRC+ and .619 (!) BABIP.

The Braves were no offensive slouches, either. Sure, their wRC+ wasn’t pretty, but they still managed almost four-and-three-quarters runs per game and hit more than a home run per game on average, thanks to elite talents like Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna, the latter of whom is all of 20 years old. They even got some production from unexpected sources like Johan Camargo (116 wRC+) and old friend Charlie Culberson (108 wRC+). They also had All-Stars Ozzie Albies (24 home runs, 105 runs scored) and veteran Nick Markakis (114 wRC+). There is some talent on the offensive side of the ball for sure. They’ll be missing their top shortstop in Dansby Swanson. He’s a premium defender, but he didn’t do a ton with the bat in 2018 (80 wRC+). Maybe Culberson playing in place of Swanson is actually a good thing for Atlanta.

Starting Pitching Braves Dodgers
ERA 3.50 3.19
FIP 3.99 3.42
xFIP 4.14 3.36
K% 23.2 25.7
BB% 9.7 6.1
SwStr% 10.3 11.3
BAA .226 .227
HR/9 1.01 1.05
Exit Velo 87.3 87.1

For all the hand-wringing about the Dodgers’ rotation, the collective group ended up second in baseball in ERA, just 0.03 behind the Astros. They were also second to Houston in FIP. Even with Clayton Kershaw pitching at a good-not-elite level and all the injuries, the rotation was still, arguably, the strongest part of the squad. Hyun-Jin Ryu, when he wasn’t missing time with a groin injury, was pitching like a borderline ace. Walker Buehler emerged once the microfracture in his rib healed, and he won the division-clinching game on Monday. Ross Stripling was an All-Star because of his first-half performance. While he’s going to pitch out of the bullpen in the postseason, he was a big reason the Dodgers were within striking distance of a playoff spot at the break. Kenta Maeda and Alex Wood — both above-average starters — have since moved to the bullpen, while Rich Hill had his ups and downs, but he did have those flashes of brilliance throughout the season.

There was a bit of a surprising decision in regard to the rotation.

It really is. Kershaw would be pitching on regular rest since he last pitched Saturday in San Francisco. If Ryu didn’t start until Game 2, he would have gone a week between starts, whereas Kershaw gets an extra day of rest before Game 2. It’s a shocking decision, but there is solid reasoning behind it. Walker Buehler will start Game 3 in Atlanta. If there’s a Game 4, it’ll be Rich Hill.

The Braves are leading with Mike Foltynewicz, who was the ace of their pitching staff. The resurgent Anibal Sanchez is pitching Game 2 for the Braves. The Game 3 starter could be former Dodger draftee (didn’t sign) Kevin Gausman, Julio Teheran or Sean Newcomb, who came within one out of no-hitting LA back in July.

Relief Pitching Braves Dodgers
ERA 4.15 3.72
FIP 3.88 3.88
xFIP 4.21 3.77
K% 22.9 25.7
BB% 11.3 8.2
SwStr% 12.3 13.2
BAA .238 .229
HR/9 0.84 1.16
Exit Velo 87.5 86.5

Despite the Dodgers’ struggles in the ‘pen, they have the advantage in almost every category here. The one that stands out most is the HR/9. But September was a solid month for the bullpen. Well, for everyone except Kenley Jansen. The fact that he has struggled since the a-fib diagnosis doesn’t bode well for the postseason. Here’s hoping the adrenaline can help him overcome his late-season struggles. The additions of Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda should help the overall effectiveness of the bullpen.

The Braves have some interesting bullpen arms, led by A.J. Minter. He gets strikeouts, allows fly balls and walks a few too many hitters, but he’s one of the best arms in the Atlanta ‘pen. Arodys Vizcaino missed some time this season, but he’s the Braves’ best reliever overall. There are some interesting, hard-throwers from the left side (Max FriedJonny Venters), as well as some decent right-handed relievers (Brad Brach, Chad Sobotka, Touki Toussaint). But the Braves’ bullpen is a bit wild and a little more hittable, so that could go a long way to determining the series winner.

Head-To-Head

The Dodgers won the season series 5-2. They scored 35 runs and allowed just 18, but the Braves had the best individual performance, with the aforementioned Newcomb no-hit bid. The Dodgers took 2-of-3 in Los Angeles and 3-of-4 in Atlanta, for what it’s worth.

Rosters

Note: Rosters now official.

Dodgers

Starting Pitchers (4): Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu
Relief Pitchers (8): Scott AlexanderPedro Baez, Caleb Ferguson, Dylan Floro, Kenley Jansen, Ryan Madson, Kenta Maeda, Alex Wood
Catchers (2): Austin Barnes, Yasmani Grandal
Infielders (5): Brian Dozier, David FreeseManny Machado, Max MuncyJustin Turner
Infielders/Outfielders (3): Cody Bellinger, Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor
Outfielders (3): Matt Kemp Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig

Braves

Starting Pitchers (4): Mike Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman, Anibal Sanchez, Julio Teheran/Sean Newcomb
Relief Pitchers (8): Brad Brach, Max Fried, A.J. Minter, Chad Sobotka, Touki Toussaint, Johnny Venters, Arodys Vizcaino
Catchers (3): Tyler Flowers, Rene RiveraKurt Suzuki
Infielders (6): Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Charlie Culberson, Lucas Duda, Ryan Flaherty, Freddie Freeman
Outfielders (5): Ronald Acuna, Lane Adams, Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis

Likely Lineups

Dodgers vs. RHP

Pederson LF
Turner 3B
Muncy 1B
Machado SS
Grandal C
Bellinger CF
Puig RF
Hernandez 2B

Dodgers vs. LHP

Taylor CF
Turner 3B
Freese 1B
Machado SS
Kemp LF
Hernandez RF
Dozier 2B
Barnes/Grandal C

Braves vs. RHP

Acuna LF
Albies 2B
Freeman 1B
Markakis RF
Camargo 3B
Culberson SS
Inciarte CF
Flowers C

Braves vs. LHP

Acuna LF
Albies 2B
Freeman 1B
Markakis RF
Camargo 3B
Suzuki C
Inciarte CF
Culberson SS

X-Factor

Who’s the one player on each side — not a superstar — who could help determine the outcome of this series?

Alex Wood

Wood has been an above-average starter for most of his career, but he will pitch out of the bullpen this postseason. He’s good against both-handed hitters and his stuff could play up a touch pitching in shorter outings. With Jansen’s effectiveness not as certain as years’ past, Wood could be the guy who gets more of an opportunity to shine in October.

Max Fried

Whether it’s out of the bullpen or in the rotation, Fried has some of the best stuff of any Atlanta pitcher. He drew loose comparisons to Kershaw coming out of high school. In limited action this season, he struck out 31 percent of the batters he faced. He did have a bit of a walk issue (14.1 percent), but he definitely has swing-and-miss stuff. Seeing as guys like Jesse Biddle and Sam Freeman didn’t make the NLDS roster, Fried could be quite the weapon for Atlanta out of the bullpen.

——

These two teams contrast quite a bit. The Dodgers are very veteran and trying to get back to the World Series. The Braves are probably a year ahead of schedule, so you know they’re just happy to be here. But that doesn’t mean the Dodgers should take them lightly. There are some quality veterans, an elite hitter in Freeman and a bonafide superstar in Acuna.

The Dodgers should win this series, but if they do, it won’t be easy. First pitch in in 10 hours, 37 minutes. But who’s counting?

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.