It’s déjà vu all over again in the 2021 NLCS! The Los Angeles Dodgers face off against the Atlanta Braves, with the winner advancing to the World Series. Last year, these two organizations gave us a fantastic championship series. After seven games, the Dodgers took home the NL Pennant, eventually winning their first World Series in almost three decades.
So what’s changed from last year? How have these two teams evolved in the 12 months between postseason meetings? Both rosters saw changes. Some moves made them better and some might have made their roster worse. However, with a chance to play in the World Series on the line, every minor detail matters. So let’s jump in.
Joc Pederson Switches Sides
The Los Angeles Dodgers lost Joc Pederson to free agency, as the outfielder signed with the Chicago Cubs ahead of the 2021 season. A career .230 hitter in LA, Pederson’s 2020 season was light on the offense and heavy on the struggles, but he came alive in the postseason, especially in the NLCS.
Last year in the NLCS, Pederson slashed an impressive .389/.421/.556, with a .977 OPS, on seven hits and one home run in his 18 at-bats.
For Atlanta, Pederson has had a different effect. In just seven at-bats in the NLDS, most of them as a pinch-hitter, Joc went off. In Games 1 and 3, Pederson’s home runs were the only runs created by the Braves’ offense. The Braves lost the opener 1-2 and then won Game 3 with a final score of 3-0. Without Pederson, the Braves might not be in this NLCS at all. Thankfully, the Cubs were willing to part with the former Dodger at the deadline, and he’s been a welcomed offensive weapon.
Los Angeles Loses A Lefty, Gains A Loco Live Arm
Clayton Kershaw will enter Cooperstown wearing a Dodgers cap, there’s no doubt about that. The LA Southpaw was finally able to put the “Playoff Kershaw” conversation to rest last season. But in 2021, there will be no Playoff Kershaw. The former NL MVP is sidelined with the same elbow issue that cost him three months of regular season play. However, that shouldn’t worry the Dodgers too much, because they found a solid replacement with a similar resume.
Max Scherzer has terrorized the NL East for the last few years and is no stranger to big postseason moments. With the Dodgers, Max has been on another level. Seriously. The former National has lost only one game he’s pitched in a Dodgers uniform. That game was the 1-0 loss to the Giants in their hard-fought NLDS. Having a pitcher of his caliber replace Kershaw is one thing, but having him face a team with whom he’s pretty familiar? That’s a significant change from a year ago.
Acuña A Non-Factor
Last year, Ronald Acuña, Jr. was an absolute non-factor in the NLCS. Slashing an abysmal .167/.310/.250, the Braves right fielder had a series to forget. The good news is, there’s no way that will happen this year since Acuña’s out with injury.
Now, this might seem like a no-brainer, considering the Braves have been without their swaggering slugger for some time, but the implications can change manager Brian Snitker‘s game plan. The lack of Acuña in the lineup allows Snitker some outfield flexibility. No longer is he forced to play a struggling bat in the hopes of a slump buster. Instead, Snitker can play the hot hand. Snitker has flexibility, and he didn’t last year. That’s a good thing.
Turner vs. d’Arnaud
Trea Turner‘s plate appearances were hard to watch against the Giants, as the former Washington National went 3-for-22. To put that in perspective, Turner hit 196 points below his regular-season average of .328. But perhaps change is on the horizon.
Trea Turner has a .319 lifetime average against the Braves, but the real matchup to watch is between him and catcher Travis d’Arnaud. Turner is one of the fastest players ever to play the game. Unfortunately for the Braves, d’Arnaud has had some severe issues throwing runners out. In 2021, d’Arnaud threw out just 16% of base stealers, 9 points below the league average of 25%. If Turner can turn the page on a dismal NLDS and find his swing, he’ll wreak havoc on the basepaths. That’s a problem for the Braves, one they might not be able to solve.
Brave Bolsters Battalion
Last season the Braves were playing with some form of Black Magic, as evidenced by their loss of Mike Soroka and the emergence of Ian Anderson and Max Fried in the postseason. Anderson and Fried were each given two starts in last year’s NLCS, but they’ll have some reinforcements this year.
The Braves picked up former Tampa Bay Rays starter Charlie Morton in the offseason, looking to bolster a young rotation with some veteran experience. The Dodgers may remember Morton from his 2021 World Series start when Justin Turner took him deep in the first inning, and they knocked him out of the game after 4.1 innings and seven hits.
Regardless of his performance last year, the Braves can probably sleep a lot easier now that their chance at a World Series doesn’t depend solely on the fate of two young arms.
This year, the Braves and Dodgers took completely different paths to the postseason, but all of that gets wiped away in the NLCS. Will these differences change the course of this season? Only time will tell, but if history is any indicator, we’re in for one hell of an NLCS.
Obligatory Guilermo Heredia Swords
- / 1 year ago
To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram.