The Atlanta Braves were able to end their four-game series with the Washington Nationals on a good note with a 5-1 win at Truist Park Thursday to salvage a split in the series. Now they will turn their attention to a big three-game set with the Los Angeles Dodgers that will get underway on Friday night. This will be the first meeting between the Braves and the Dodgers since Atlanta’s loss in the NLCS last October.
When the 2021 schedule was finalized, this series could have been looked at as a mid-June highlight, but it currently looks like a bit of a mismatch on paper. Saying that the Braves haven’t clicked yet this season would be a bit of an understatement. Atlanta comes into Friday’s series opener with a 26-28 record, four games behind the New York Mets in the NL East standings pending the Mets’ result in San Diego on Thursday night. Atlanta has won 6 of 10 but are just 15-16 at home and 10-14 against teams with a better than .500 record. The Braves have not spent a day of the 2021 season above .500. The frustrating part for the Braves is that it isn’t just one area that has caused the team to scuffle. They have at times shown signs of putting it all together but just simply haven’t been able to find a groove.
Atlanta is still waiting for Freddie Freeman to round into shape who is 1-for-14 on the current homestand despite a number of hard hit balls. A quick glance at Freeman’s Baseball Savant page would make you think that he had picked up right where he left off after an MVP campaign.
Unfortunately, Freeman’s xwOBA of .407 is far outpacing his .349 wOBA and is one of the largest gaps in the league. He is currently carrying a .229 BABIP which is by far the lowest mark of his career but still has a 119 wRC+. It’s not clear how much Freeman can really do to get his outputs to match his inputs, but the Braves need it to start happening sooner rather than later before they plunge further in the standings.
The Dodgers will arrive at Truist Park with a 33-23 record which has them currently in third place in the NL West standings, 1.5 games behind the surprising San Francisco Giants. Los Angeles has dealt with a rash of injuries that has put their considerable depth to the test early. Cody Bellinger recently returned to action while AJ Pollock and Jimmy Nelson were both activated from the injured list Thursday. Max Muncy is off to a fantastic start at the plate (167 wRC+) putting up 2.7 fWAR over his first 54 games while Chris Taylor (149 wRC+, 1.9 fWAR) has enjoyed another breakout of sorts and helped keep the offense rolling while Bellinger was out. Mookie Betts (131 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR) was also bothered by some nagging injuries throughout the early part of the season, but seems to be rounding into shape of late.
Overall, the most surprising thing about the Dodgers is their divisional race, which has a lot to do with the complications caused by the surging Giants. (Those complications also have severe implications for the Braves’ playoff chase, as the Braves will have to flag down the Mets if the NL West sends three teams to the postseason.) Projected to be the best team in recent history preseason, the Dodgers will enter their NLCS rematch tied for the most position player fWAR, and with the fifth-most pitching fWAR in baseball. Just for comparison, the Dodgers have four starters with more fWAR than Charlie Morton’s and Ian Anderson’s 0.9.
The Braves will miss Walker Buehler this series but will still face three top hurlers in Julio Urias, Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Bauer. Atlanta is going to have their work cut out for them, but it could also be viewed as an opportunity to get their season headed back in the right direction.
Friday, June 4, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Julio Urias (11 GS, 67.1 IP, 28.3 K%, 3.4 BB%, 3.61 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 3.24 xFIP, 94 ERA-)
Julio Urias will get the call for the Dodgers in the opener and will be looking to bounce back from one of the worst starts of his career. Urias was tagged for 11 hits and seven runs (6 earned) over five innings last time out against the Giants. Before that start, he had allowed three runs or less six of his last seven starts. Despite the struggles in his last start, he will still carry some good numbers into Friday’s game as his 3.61 ERA and 2.99 FIP attest. Urias has been a top 15 pitcher in baseball this season, and the Braves basically couldn’t touch him in the NLCS (one run in eight innings, including three perfect innings to close out Game 7), but we’ll see what happens.
Ian Anderson (10 GS, 55.0 IP, 25.5 K%, 9.5 BB%, 3.27 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 3.34 xFIP, 80 ERA-)
The Braves opted to push Ian Anderson’s scheduled start back a day so that he could pitch in Friday’s series opener. Anderson is also coming off a rough outing where he allowed seven hits and four runs in just four innings against the Mets, which might be the worst outing of his career to date. That snapped a stretch where he had allowed a combined eight hits and one run over his previous two starts. Anderson faced the Dodgers twice in the NLCS last season allowing six hits and two runs over seven innings despite seven walks.
Saturday, June 5, 7:15 p.m. ET (FOX)
Clayton Kershaw (12 GS, 70.1 IP, 27.7 K%, 4.7 BB%, 3.33 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 3.06 xFIP, 87 ERA-)
Clayton Kershaw is lined up for Saturday’s start and is another Dodgers pitcher that is looking to recover after a tough outing against the Giants. Kershaw was tagged for seven hits and five runs, including a pair of homers, over six innings last time out. He has faced the Braves 11 times in his career during the regular season and has a 1.78 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings. He’s no longer one of the best players in the league, but he’s still one of the best hurlers around, so once again, the Braves will have their hands full, even though they beat him in Game 4 of last year’s NLCS.
Charlie Morton (11 GS, 57.0 IP, 27.6 K%, 8.6 BB%, 4.11 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 3.30 xFIP, 101 ERA-)
Charlie Morton is currently in his best stretch of the season, although one bad inning on Memorial Day threatened to halt that streak. Morton allowed a total of six hits, two runs and struck out 17 across a pair of starts against the Mets and Red Sox. He allowed six hits and three runs over five last time out against the Nationals. He was dominant early in that game before a long fifth inning, and an inability to retire the opposing pitcher, ran up his pitch count. Morton allowed 12 earned runs across six starts in May while piling up 34 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings. Like a bunch of Atlanta hurlers, Morton is still waiting for his HR/FB rate (18.4 percent) to come down, which should help his overall numbers by quite a bit.
Morton dominated the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series in two outings, but took a loss to them in Game 3 of last year’s championship set.
Sunday, June 6, 1:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Trevor Bauer (12 GS, 76.1 IP, 32.7 K%, 7.8 BB%, 2.24 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 3.54 FIP, 59 ERA-)
Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer will take the ball for the Dodgers in Sunday’s series finale. Bauer has been excellent overall, but would be even better if not for 13 home runs allowed, which is four more than he gave up in 73 innings last season. He allowed five hits, four runs (three earned) and three homers over 6 2/3 innings last time out against St. Louis. He has allowed five homers over his last two starts spanning 12 2/3 innings.
Max Fried (8 GS, 38.2 IP, 23.2 K%, 9.0 BB%, 5.35 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 4.08 xFIP, 132 ERA-)
Max Fried had been sharp for the Braves since returning from the injured list but struggled earlier this week against the Nationals. Fried struggled with his command as he piled up 92 pitches in just 3 2/3 innings. He allowed six hits and five runs to go along with two walks and a hit batter. He still struck out seven, but also uncorked three wild pitches and never really had a good feel for the game, breaking a stretch of three successful outings after returning from the Injured List. Fried carved up the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS, but struggled in a Game 6 loss to them.