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The Dodgers are back in the NLCS and with a vengeance

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The Braves have easily dispatched of their first two postseason opponents this year. They’re going to be in for a fight against the Dodgers, though.

National League Division Series Game 2: Los Angeles Dodgers v. San Diego Padres Photo by Kelly Gavin/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves have made the NLCS, which was a pretty realistic goal for them and you could easily argue that they’re playing with house money at this point of their season. For their opponents in the NLCS, reaching this point of the postseason was just part of the process. The current goal for the Los Angeles Dodgers is to win their first World Series since 1988 and as usual, they’ve got a really good shot at making it happen.

After they got unceremoniously dumped out of the NLDS by the Nationals last season, the Dodgers needed to respond in order to make sure that 2019 was a blip instead of the beginning of the end for them as serious contenders. So the Dodgers simply went out and traded for the 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts and put him in right field aside the 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger. Once they traded for Betts and added him to what was already an incredibly potent and deep lineup, you could already pencil in LA for at least another NL West title and probably a lot more than just that.

Once the season finally got started, it didn’t take too long for the Dodgers to turn into the machine that they were built to be. On August 11, they lost to the Padres and fell one-and-a-half games behind the Rockies with a record of 11-7. From that point forward, they went 32-10 and ended up comfortably winning yet another divisional title. They punched their postseason ticket on September 16, clinched the division six days later, and ended up finishing with the best record in all of baseball by three games. They didn’t need to get hot for a week in order to sneak in like the Reds did. They didn’t fly under the radar and suddenly find themselves in the midst of a playoff run like the Marlins did. For the Dodgers, this was intentional and also the continuation of a mission that has made the NLCS a familiar spot for this franchise over recent years.

The first two postseason series have been pretty straight-forward for the Dodgers, so far. They put up just enough offense to knock out an underwhelming Milwaukee Brewers team in two games and then they sent the Padres back home after three games. The latter series may have been a little different if San Diego had a healthy pitching staff at this point in their campaign. Instead, Dinelson Lamet never got to throw a postseason pitch due to injury and Mike Clevinger was only able to gut it out for one inning in the NLDS before eventually leaving. The Dodgers will be heading into the NLCS with a 5-0 record and a run differential of +19. Coincidentally, that’s also how the Braves will be heading into the next round. Both teams have had things going their way for the entirety of the initial rounds, so something’s got to give at this point.

Los Angeles’ offense this season was just as good as it was advertised to be — as a team, they finished the season on top of baseball in wRC+ (122), Isolated Power (.227) and home runs (118), and second in OPS+ (121) and wOBA (.350). Fortunately for the Braves, Atlanta was actually comparable when it came to offense. So while this Dodgers lineup is the toughest test that this Braves pitching staff is going to face all season, it’s not like this should be a “shock-and-awe” campaign since the Braves can slug blow-for-blow with them if it comes down to it. Still, going from the lineups that the Marlins and Reds put out there to a lineup that has the likes of Betts, Bellinger, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, the other Will Smith and more threats is going to be a significant jump in quality from what we’ve seen for the first two rounds of the postseason.

Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v San Diego Padres - Game Three Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Dodgers pitching staff has also been largely reliable and it’s part of the reason why this team has been operating at juggernaut levels at times during this season. Walker Buehler has emerged as the number one starter on this team, and you know things are going well for you when Clayton Kershaw is your number two guy and is still pitching pretty well. They’ve got Dustin May and Julio Urias as well (depending on how Dave Roberts decides to utilize them), so they’re currently chock-full of talented pitchers who can take the ball and get rolling. With that being said, their bullpen has been a little shaky as of late — Kenley Jansen and his recent struggles are a particular case. That may be as close as the Dodgers get to having a soft underbelly that the Braves could exploit as a weakness late in games. It could just be a blip, but it could be something more — we won’t know for sure until the end of this series.

So yeah, the Dodgers are as good as advertised. Ever since they started their current streak of postseason appearances in 2013, they’ve served as the “Final Boss” of the National League since — if a team beat the Dodgers at any point of the postseason, they either went on to compete for the World Series or they won the World Series, itself. The only time it didn’t happen was in 2014, which is when the Cardinals beat them in the NLDS but fell to the Giants in the NLCS. The Braves will be looking to become the next team to topple the boss of the NL on their way to a berth in the Fall Classic. If Atlanta can beat this absurdly deep and equally-absurdly talented Dodgers team, then they’d be good money to take out anybody who came out of the American League. The Dodgers are the best team left, and it’s going to take a herculean effort to knock them off the perch. This year could finally be their year, but hopefully it’s Atlanta’s year instead!