NLDS Preview: Dodgers vs. Braves

Daniel Shirey

So it begins...

How They Got Here

The Braves spent most of the season in first place, and while they were on track for home field advantage throughout the NL portion of the playoffs, their only sub-.500 month (13-14) of September put them in second overall. Yet, they have been 7-6 over the last 2 weeks.

The Dodgers were a mess for the first two months of the season, but midseason additions of Yasiel Puig and Ricky Nolasco as well as better health propelled the Dodgers well past their division opponents. Over the last two weeks, the Dodgers are 6-6.

Offense

Braves - 4th in NL in runs scored (688), 3rd in wRC+ (101)

Dodgers - 7th in NL in runs scored (649), 2nd in wRC+ (104)

The Braves are offensively led by Freddie Freeman, which shouldn't be a big surprise. His .319/.396/.501 line is easily the best on the team, and he's been the rock in the middle of the order. Justin Upton and Chris Johnson come in next on offensive wins for the team, but the offense may ride more on Jason Heyward than the other two. Heyward will be leading off and, hopefully, setting the table for the other guys mentioned, but they all had wRC+s in the 120 range, which is very good. Brian McCann (122 wRC+) and Evan Gattis (110) are two other essential ingredients, and putting all of these players together gives the Braves a strong top 5. The bottom 3 of whoever plays CF, Andrelton Simmons, and Elliot Johnson - as Dan Uggla has been left off the postseason roster - can be black holes offensively, and contributions from any of them will be important.

The Dodgers had the better wRC+ of these two teams as their park - and many of the other NL West parks - suppressed their ability to score. Hanley Ramirez and the ever-controversial Yasiel Puig are the dynamic duo in the middle of the order as Hanley has bounced back in a big way in Los Angeles and Puig has been an instant star. Andre Ethier - who is questionable for the series - and Adrian Gonzalez will give the Dodgers a couple capable lefties that Luis Avilan and Alex Wood will have to neutralize late in games. Carl Crawford and, surprisingly enough, Juan Uribe have been solid contributors, but, especially without Matt Kemp, the rest of the lineup shouldn't offer too much trouble.

You can nitpick if you want, but there's not a substantial advantage here.

Defense

Braves - 5th in Defensive Efficiency (.712), 6th in Defensive Runs (50.6)

Dodgers - 6th in Defensive Efficiency (.709), 5th in Defensive Runs (57.0)

These two teams are very evenly matched when it comes to overall defense. Defensive Efficiency, for those who may not know, is the percentage of balls in play that the defense turns into outs . Think of it as a defensive BABIP (in fact, their team BABIP allowed is 1 minus their DE).

Both defenses turn a lot of balls into outs, so there's not much of an edge here, either.

Starting Rotation

Braves - 5th in ERA (3.51), 4th in FIP (3.58)

Dodgers - 1st in ERA (3.13), 1st in FIP (3.39)

The Braves will march out a definite rotation of Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, and Julio Teheran, but it's unclear if Freddy Garcia will receive a Game 4 start or not. Medlen finished the year on a tear - again - and has earned the opportunity to open the series. Minor struggled a bit more down the stretch, but he remains the most valuable pitcher on the staff and not a guy to simply gloss over because of an iffy month. Teheran has been magnificent as a rookie and will miss out on the ROY because of a strong class, but it doesn't dampen the fact that he's a strong pitcher who can match up with Hyun-Jin Ryu. As for Garcia, we'll see if he gets a start, but it's hard to believe that he's somehow rediscovered how to pitch after several years of ineffectiveness.

The Dodgers boast the best starting rotation in the National League, and it all starts with Clayton Kershaw, who may well take home the Cy Young Award after a brilliant season. Zack Greinke is an excellent second man, and while the 2.63 ERA is a bit unsustainable, it doesn't mean he isn't a man to be reckoned with. Ryu, like Teheran, has had a strong rookie season, and he'll be a tough matchup in Game 3. Ricky Nolasco becomes the fourth starter in the rotation, and he's a solid fourth starter and a better option than Garcia.

While the previous sections have been pretty even, the rotation is where things begin to separate as Kershaw and, potentially, Nolasco give the Dodgers big advantages in Games 1 and 4 while the other two matchups are pretty equal.

Bullpen

Braves - 1st in ERA (2.46), 1st in FIP (3.13)

Dodgers - 9th in ERA (3.49), 7th in FIP (3.56)

Craig Kimbrel heads the best bullpen in baseball, and while he wasn't "as good" as years past, he remains at the forefront of the "best reliever in baseball" argument. When it comes down to the playoffs, the bullpen is really about the top 4-5 relievers, and the Braves could boast a strong 4 past Kimbrel with David Carpenter, Jordan Walden, Alex Wood, and Luis Avilan. Walden's injury makes him a major wild card, and Avilan has been pretty shaky of late. But the addition of Wood to the bullpen gives the Braves a late-inning option that they probably won't hesitate to use to bridge multiple innings. That could end up being a major asset.

If there was another guy who could give Kimbrel a run for his money in the reliever argument, it's Kenley Jansen. He's been incredible yet again. Paco Rodriguez, J.P. Howell, and old friend Brian Wilson round out the best part of their bullpen, and they are at a disadvantage compared to what the Braves can offer. That being said, those three are good relievers, and the Braves should avoid late-inning deficits as Rodriguez and Howell can neutralize the lefties at the top of the Braves order.

The Braves regain some of the lost ground here as they easily have the better bullpen.

Game 1 - Atlanta - Thursday, October 3, 8:37 PM on TBS

Clayton Kershaw vs. Kris Medlen

Game 2 - Atlanta - Friday, October 4, 6:00 on TBS

Zack Greinke vs. Mike Minor

Game 3 - Los Angeles - October 6, TBD on TBS

Julio Teheran vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu

Game 4 (if necessary) - Los Angeles - October 7, TBD on TBS

Freddy Garcia vs. Ricky Nolasco

(very subject to change)

Game 5 (if necessary) - Atlanta - October 9, TBD, on TBS

Clayton Kershaw vs. Kris Medlen

(very subject to change)

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