2021 NLCS Preview: Dodgers vs. Braves in rematch of epic 2020 showdown

The Dodgers’ win over the Giants in the National League Division Series really felt like a championship win. It was that draining for fans, but probably not as draining for the players. Now, they get to face the Atlanta Braves in a rematch of the 2020 National League Championship Series that provided so many incredible moments.

Los Angeles fell behind 3-1 in the series before winning the final three games to clinch its third World Series berth in four years. They’re looking to make it 4-of-5. The Braves are looking for their first WS berth since 1999.

Atlanta — 88-73 in the regular season — gets home field advantage over the Dodgers (106-56) because they won the NL East. It doesn’t make sense, but them’s the rules.

Here’s the schedule as we know it right now.

Gotta love that 2:08 p.m. Pacific time first pitch on a Tuesday! At least the other scheduled 2:08 p.m. game is on a Saturday.

Let’s see how these squads stack up against each other.

By the numbers

OffenseDodgersBraves
Runs/Game5.124.88
AVG.244.244
OBP.330.319
SLG.429.435
wRC+10698
HR237237
SB6559
BB%9.89.1
K%22.624.0

Not a bad offensive team there in Atlanta, especially considering they’re without Acuna Jr., one of the best players in the game.

It was a bit of a struggle for the Dodgers in the Division Series against the Giants, totaling just 18 runs in the five games. However, they were able to come up with some timely hits against a tough Giants’ pitching staff. Cody Bellinger was the hero in Game 5, while Mookie Betts was great at the dish all series. Corey Seager had a couple moments, but he hasn’t yet performed like the guy we saw in last year’s postseason. Justin Turner and Trea Turner struggled mightily against the Giants. If the Dodgers don’t get any production from them, there’s going to be even more pressure on the rest of the offense. A couple put-away homers by Will Smith and some almost homers by Chris Taylor and the Dodgers’ offense still looks threatening, even without Max Muncy. But they’ll have to contend with a solid Atlanta pitching staff.

Atlanta did a great job replacing Ronald Acuna Jr. — as best as one can — by going out and getting Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler before the trade deadline. Soler’s status is up in the air after testing positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 12, just before Game 4 of the NLDS against the Brewers. He’s out for a minimum of five days, which would cause him to miss the first two games of the NLCS. Oh, and they have the Freddie Freeman guy at first base, who’s kinda good in his own right. And Ozzie Albies is one of the best second basemen in the game. Not only that, Austin Riley had a breakout campaign and launched 33 home runs with a 135 wRC+ in 2021. He’s a force to be reckoned with. Old friend Travis d’Arnaud and Dansby Swanson round out a potent Atlanta offense. Like many teams in the postseason, the offensive production tends to dip a bit. Atlanta scored 12 runs in their four games against the Brewers.

Starting PitchingDodgersBraves
ERA2.933.84
FIP3.334.09
xFIP3.523.90
K%28.024.2
BB%6.48.1
SwStr%12.811.8
BAA.207.225
HR/91.081.22
WAR20.412.3

We saw the Dodgers go to Walker Buehler on short rest in a must-win Game 4. Because of that, it wouldn’t be surprising if he didn’t start in this series until Game 3. A little extra rest couldn’t hurt. Max Scherzer will get the ball in Game 1 after doing his best Clayton Kershaw impression to close out the NLDS. He might be on a bit of a shorter leash than normal. Julio Urias figures to go in Game 4, meaning Game 2 is up in the air a bit. If the Dodgers win Game 1, I could easily see a Tony GonsolinDavid Price game. If they lose, they might feel compelled to go with Buehler on regular rest, but that’s after short rest. We’ll see what Dave Roberts does, but it’s hard to see them getting through this series without Gonsolin and/or Price pitching some significant innings in at least one game.

The Braves are going with Max Fried in Game 1. He’s their ace and really pitched like it in the second half (1.74 ERA). Overall, he pitched to a 3.04 ERA, 3.31 FIP and a 17.5 K-BB%. In his Game 2 start against Milwaukee, he threw six innings of shutout ball and allowed just three hits and struck out nine. If they follow the same schedule as the NLDS, then Ian Anderson (3.58 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 13.3 K-BB%) will likely get Game 2 and Charlie Morton (3.34 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 20.9 K-BB%) would get Game 3. In 23 2/3 career postseason innings, Anderson has a 0.76 ERA and a 3:1 K:BB ratio. The only team to ever score off him in the playoffs is — you guessed it — the Dodgers, in last year’s NLCS. Atlanta’s No. 4 starter is a bit less defined, but they could turn to Drew Smyly, Touki Toussaint or Huascar Ynoa.

Relief PitchingDodgersBraves
ERA3.163.97
FIP3.834.08
xFIP4.074.36
K%25.523.4
BB%10.59.4
SwStr%12.212.2
BAA.202.238
HR/90.891.10
WAR6.53.6

The Dodgers’ bullpen was lights out in the NLDS against Frisco. We know what Urias and Scherzer did in relief, but the real relievers were fantastic. Phil Bickford, Brusdar Graterol, Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly, Corey Knebel, Blake Treinen and Alex Vesia combined for the following:

  • 20 IP
  • 12 H
  • 3 R/ER
  • 2 HR
  • 2 BB
  • 23 K

That’s impressive. The Dodgers having a great bullpen in October hasn’t been something we have experienced often, but here we are.

The Braves’ bullpen is a bit shakier than even the Giants’ was on paper. They have a good closer in Will Smith (3.44 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 20.8 K-BB%) and some solid setup guys — Luke Jackson (1.98 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 15.7 K-BB%) Tyler Matzek (2.57 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 15.2 K-BB%) A.J. Minter (3.78 ERA, 2.69 FIP, 16.7 K-BB%). The only Braves’ pitcher to pitch in relief and allow runs against the Brewers was Ynoa, who’s normally a starter. Matzek and Minter — along with Smith — are the lefties we can expect to see coming out of the Atlanta bullpen.

Head-to-Head

The Dodgers won the season series 4-2. They lost 2-of-3 in Atlanta June 4-6 and swept them in Los Angeles Aug. 30 through Sept. 1. The combined score in the six games was Dodges 27, Braves 23. These teams are pretty evenly matched.

Rosters

Rosters have not been announced yet, but will be updated when they are. I wouldn’t expect much to change from the NLDS roster. I could see the Dodgers adding someone like Justin Bruihl to the bullpen in favor of someone like Billy McKinney, but I suspect Steven Souza Jr.‘s spot is safe with the Braves having a fair number of southpaws. Mitch White will probably be on the outside looking in again.

Here’s the Dodgers’ roster.

I could see Atlanta adding another arm to the 12 pitchers they brought in the DS. They could also use Soler’s absence to bring someone on the roster they have no plans on using if they advance to the World Series, because a player removed from the roster for non-COVID reasons cannot participate in the following series.

And the Braves’ roster.

X-Factor

Chris Taylor

It’d be easy to go with Bellinger again (nailed it in the DS, btw), but in the spirit of changing things up, I’m going to go with Taylor. He got the Dodgers to Frisco with his walk-off homer in the Wild Card Game and put the barrel on the ball many times in the DS, but wasn’t always rewarded for it. With the Braves having a good amount of lefties, it’s hard to see him not being in the lineup every game, so he’s going to have plenty of chances to perform.

Eddie Rosario

Bet you thought I was going to say Joc, huh? Rosario had a bit of a down year overall, but he hit really well after being acquired from Cleveland prior to the deadline (.271/.330/.573, 133 wRC+). With the Dodgers’ two-best starters and all their best relievers being right-handed, he should get ample playing time as a corner outfielder. And if Soler is out for part or all of the series, he’ll be counted on even more.

——

Last year’s NLCS was quite memorable. The Dodgers are missing Max Muncy, the Braves are without Acuna Jr. But both teams still match up quite well on paper. If the Braves can get enough offense and some of their veteran pitchers shove, this could be a tough series for LA. The Dodgers are going to need more offensive production up and down the lineup. As great as Betts is, he can’t do it all on his own.

This should be a good series. The winner will face either the Red Sox or Astros in the 2021 World Series. Buckle up!

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. 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.