National League Division Series Preview

National League Division Series Preview

It’s natural to hate the Dodgers. The Braves used to share a division with them, and they’ve had pennant chases with them in 1982, 1983, and 1991. Most recently, you may have bad memories of David Carpenter grooving a home run to Juan Uribe while Craig Kimbrel stands with his arms folded in the bullpen. That was the last memory Braves fans have of the playoffs, and it’s not a good one. And since we’ve not won the last game we’ve played since 1995, Braves fans are a little shellshocked. Who knows, maybe 28-3 plays a role as well.

But it may be helpful to know that these are two very different teams. Only four players remain from the 2013 Dodgers’ Division Series roster: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Yasiel Puig. We have even less: Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran. And if you can believe it, there’s even less similarities from those 1982 rosters. We won’t be seeing Fernando Valenzuela toe the rubber for the Dodgers or Dale Murphy step in the box for the Braves. What’s done is done, and this is a new time.

The Dodgers won 104 games last year and took it to 7 games in the World Series. They were one of the preseason favorites in the NL, but they stumbled out of the gate. After losing to Atlanta on June 9th, they were 32-32. On July 1st, they were 5 games above .500, and they took off from there. They went 49-32 from July 1st on, including 19-9 in September and October as they fought off the Rockies. Long story short, they are a really good team that has been playing well recently.

They can hit, and they can pitch, no doubt about it. In the second half, they were second in wRC+ and first in position player WAR. They were 6th in pitcher WAR, 1st in ERA, and 3rd in FIP. They traded for Manny Machado at the deadline, which greatly improved their middle of the order. Hyun-Jin Ryu has been tremendous in the second half, forming a strong lefty 1-2 punch with Clayton Kershaw. We will see those pitchers games 1 and 2. Good thing we hit lefties much better than we hit righties, right?

That’s the bad news. The good news is there is one key area of the game that they don’t do very well that the Braves do quite well. The Dodgers kick the ball quite a bit; the Braves do not. The Dodgers are 24th in defensive WAR, and they did not get any better by adding Manny Machado to their middle infield. The Braves, on the other hand, are 7th. Their outfield of Joc Pederson (or Matt Kemp) in LF, Cody Bellinger in CF, and Yasiel Puig in RF gives up a lot of outs. Their infield of Max Muncy, Manny Machado, Chris Taylor, and Justin Turner does not have a plus defender either. They have designed their lineup around offense, and while they have indeed gotten it, it’s come at the expense of their defense. Can we capitalize?

The Braves have their own issues in the pen, but the Dodgers were not great in relief in September. Kenley Jansen was hittable (4.86 FIP), and like us, they lacked a wire-to-wire 6-7-8th setup combo all year. They are having to mix-and-match in the bullpen just like us. Like us, they rode a newcomer like Pedro Baez the way we did with Chad Sobotka and Brad Brach down the stretch.

It’s going to be very difficult to beat the Dodgers, no doubt. For us to beat them, we will need to see heavy strikeout and ground ball performances from our starters. Mike Foltynewicz can rack up the strikeouts, and Anibal Sanchez can induce lots of ground balls. The same with the bullpen with Jonny Venters, Chad Sobotka, Brad Brach, and whoever closes out the game. With their poor defense, our line-drive heavy team will have to take advantage of their poor defense. We have to get to Kershaw and Ryu, and the back of our pen needs to pitch more like they did in the first four months of the season than the last month. You only need to win 3 games, and then no one cares who was the better team. Why not us?

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