The Braves will be playing the Dodgers in the NLCS this year, so it’s a good time to take a look at the pitching that they’ll throw out against Atlanta. Overall, the Dodger pitching staff was quite good this season, posting the 5th best fWAR in the league as a staff, and producing a sparkly 3.02 ERA that was probably somewhat lucky, given the 3.79 FIP and 3.99 xFIP. Unlike the Reds and Marlins, the Dodgers will actually be throwing out some left handed starters, in Kershaw, and Julio Urias. This plays for guys like Ozzie Albies and Adam Duvall, who absolutely mash lefties, but hurts Freeman and particularly Nick Markakis. The Braves could choose to play Ozuna in the field to avoid playing Markakis against LHP.
Buehler hasn’t quite had a dominant year, but he remained good, slashing 3.44/4.36/3.93 over 8 starts and 36.2 innings. He only completed 6 innings one time all season, so it seems unlikely that he would go very deep into any game that he pitches. Buehler has quality strikeout and walk numbers, with a 10.31 K/9 and a 2.70 BB/9, but has given up home runs at a high clip of 1.72 HR/9, which could be an issue for him against a powerful Braves lineup. Buehler uses a mid-high 90s fastball with elite spin rates 63% of the time, while mixing in a curve, slider, and cutter to fill out his mix. Hitters have really struggled with his fastball this season, while absolutely mashing his curveball to the tune of a .764(!) xSLG, and having substantial success against the slider and cutter as well. Historically, Buehler had much more balanced success across his pitch mix though. Buehler was the game 1 starter for the Dodgers in the NLDS, so we could see him pitch game 1 against Atlanta as well. Obviously the last time Atlanta saw Buehler in the playoffs, things went quite well...
On this day 2018: Ronald Acuña Jr., at 20 y/o, became the youngest player in MLB history to hit a #Postseason grand slam, as the #Braves beat L.A. in Game 3 of the NLDS, 6-5. #Yankees great Mickey Mantle set that record at age 21 in the 1953 World Series.pic.twitter.com/f4oab6SjGi— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) October 7, 2020
Kershaw is one of the greatest pitchers of his generation and a likely Hall of Famer. He has looked the part this season, slashing a dominant 2.16/3.31/3.05. Despite his dazzling numbers, the Dodgers pitched him in game 2 against the Padres, and we may not see any different against Atlanta. Like Buehler, Kershaw has strong strikeout and walk numbers, with 9.57 K/9 and 1.23 BB/9. He throws a low 90s fastball and a slider about 40% of the time each, with a curveball taking up the final ~20% of his pitch mix. Batters had the most success off of Kershaw’s fastball, and he did give up 1.23 HR/9, so the Atlanta offense is about as good of a matchup as can be found for a pitcher of Kershaw’s quality.
Urias figures to be the game 3 starter for Los Angeles, but in the NLDS game 3 they opened the game with Dustin may, only to have Urias pitch 5.0 innings in the middle of the game, so we could see some funky usage like that. Urias produced a solid, but unspectacular slash line of 3.49/3.86/4.98 this season. Urias was a little bit better than Buehler and Kershaw at keeping the ball in the park, posting a 0.92 HR/9. Julio also was more of a contact pitcher, with only a 7.35 K/9 that was down from his career baseline, and a more average 2.94 BB/9. The 6’ lefty throws a mid 90’s four-seamer nearly 60% of the time, mixing in a curveball, changeup, and slider to fill out his mix. All of his pitches are reasonably effective, but on the whole Urias is a solid, but beatable pitcher.
Fourth and Fifth Starters
Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May would both be options to start a game, but if I had to guess only one, I would pretty easily guess Gonsolin, who slashed a 1.94/1.94/3.53 line this season with an almost unbelievable (IE prime for regression) 0.22 HR/9. The Dodgers have also used an opener some this season, so we could see something more like that in one of the games. Buehler and Kershaw could also be candidates to pitch on short rest at some point.
The Dodgers have a good bullpen, with veterans Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, and Joe Kelly, flamethrowing young arms in Brusdar Graterol and Dustin May, and a number of other solid options. The bullpen as a unit slashed 2.74/3.45/3.88 on the season, which is obviously very impressive. I do tend to think that those numbers are a bit better than the talent level that they have there right now, but this is a good bullpen. One thing that stands out about this bullpen is a 51% ground ball rate that is by far and away the league leader for any bullpen. I’m not sure if that high of a rate is sustainable, but the unit clearly does a good job of keeping the ball down, which is also exemplified by it’s good 0.82 HR/9.
In summary, this is quite a good pitching staff, but it is beatable for a high-octane Braves offense. Look for some home runs to be hit off of the Dodgers starters, particularly Buehler. The absence of elite velocity in starters not named Buehler should also bode well for a Braves offense that has struggled with velocity at times this season.