And then there were 4. After navigating an abbreviated 60 game sprint of a regular season in 2020, and taking care of business in the first two rounds of a modified playoff bracket, we have arrived at the NLCS. The Dodgers and Braves will open their best of 7 series tonight in Arlington, Texas. The winner will face off against either the Houston Astros or Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series.
A Quick Look Back
Their history in the postseason is brief, having only met three times before this series. The first time was way back in 1996, when the Braves were the defending World Series Champions and the Dodgers hadn’t won a playoff game since their 1988 title. The Braves dispatched the Dodgers in a 3 game sweep of the NLDS that year. More recently, in the 2013 and 2018 NLDS, the Dodgers took care of business. They sent the Braves home both times, winning each series 3-1.
One of the quirks of this unique season caused by the pandemic was “regional scheduling”. In order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, teams didn’t fly all over the country to play each other. As a result, this series will be the first time the Braves and Dodgers will meet in 2020. Will the recent trend of Dodger success continue, or will Atlanta recapture their late 90s magic and head to the World Series again?
Strength Against Strength
The similarities between these two clubs this season are striking. You can focus on almost any area of the game and find parity. You say Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger? Sure – I’ve got Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna, Jr. with a side of Marcell Ozuna. How about Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw? Dude, we’re throwing out Max Fried and Ian Anderson. Seriously, these two teams look like they can go toe-to-toe in every phase of the game.
Atlanta Moves On If…..
Their arms can quiet the bats in the Dodgers formidable lineup.
I know, it’s crazy to think given where this rotation was when the season started, but the Braves actually have a healthy rotation that has found its groove. They were once at a point where it was “Max Fried, followed by a litany of arms hoping to perform.” Atlanta has found the replacements for Soroka and Hamels, who are both out due to injury. Rookie Ian Anderson has been a revelation since his call-up.
In his two postseason starts, he’s yet to allow a run and struck out at least 8 batters both times. Kyle Wright went six innings and struck out sevem in his 2020 postseason debut against the Marlins. If these guys can get the ball to what has been a cohesive back end of the bullpen with a lead, it could prove a tough slog for Los Angeles.
Their bats can perform against a formidable Dodgers rotation.
I said it earlier. These are two of the most dominant offenses in the NL this season. Freddie Freeman is a likely MVP, while Marcell Ozuna was a team leader with 18 home runs, 56 RBI, and 77 hits. Guys like Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley, and Adam Duvall have contributed as well. Oh, and did I mention former Met (ugh, my heart) Travis d’Arnaud? He’s been tearing it up of late. All told, there’s not much margin for error for Dodger pitching if this lineup stays hot.
Los Angeles Moves On If…..
They just keep doing what they’re doing.
Coming into the season, the Dodgers were already one of the favorites to win the World Series. Then they went out and signed Mookie Betts, and their odds skyrocketed.
Once the 2020 season got underway, the team did just what was expected of them. They were one of only two teams to reach 40 wins (TB Rays were the other), finishing with a 43-17 record, best in the majors. It’s becoming routine for this team. They’re looking to get back to the World Series for the third time in four seasons, and their roster is absolutely stacked. From the potency of their lineup to the firepower on the mound, Atlanta will have a tough task ahead of them.
Final Call: Dodgers in 6
From top to bottom, both of these clubs have earned their way to this point in the season. At different times, they each faced adversity in one respect or another and have persevered. Ultimately, though, I think the Dodgers’ depth will prove too much for Atlanta to overcome.
Both teams made the previous rounds of these playoffs look easy. Neither team has lost a game in the postseason thus far, and I think when it boils down to it, LA will be popping the champagne and celebrating. Regardless of the outcome, this promises to be an exhilarating series featuring some of the best, most exciting players in the game.
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