2021 NLCS preview: Dodgers vs. Braves

Cameron Richardson previews the National League Championship Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves.

In a series worthy of being the Fall Classic, the Los Angeles Dodgers were able to overcome the NL West-champion San Francisco Giants in a five-game NLDS matchup for the books. 

It was as advertised with pitching and strategy being the biggest aspects and most games being determined at the very end. 

Of all members of the Dodgers, it was Cody Bellinger crafting his redemption arc after a forgettable regular season as he drove in the game-winning run during the top of the 9th that propelled LA to their fifth NLCS in the last five years. To close out the series, Max Scherzer collected his first-career save, adding to his Hall of Fame resume. 

The Dodgers will face a familiar foe as they take on the Atlanta Braves in a rematch of last year’s NLCS. 

After getting a 3-1 series lead on LA, Atlanta stumbled in the final three games with a lack of offense and self-inflicted errors that gave the Dodgers the boost they needed to pull off the comeback and go on to win the World Series in 2020. 

With the odds stacked against them after losing star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr, the Braves rallied through their stellar pitching and powerhouse hitting from Freddie Freeman to launch themselves to an NL East title. Following that, Atlanta overcame the shutdown pitching of the Milwaukee Brewers to win that NLDS matchup in four games. In the close-out game, it was Freeman hitting a go-ahead home run in the eight inning off Josh Hader to clinch the series for Atlanta. 

The background for the NLCS has been set. Let’s get into how this series will play out. 

Offense: 

Like they were through 162 regular-season games, the Dodgers were inconsistent against the Giants and were shutout in two of the five games. It’s no surprise that when the Dodgers were shut out, they lost and when they scored, they won. 

Without first baseman Max Muncy for this series, LA needs Justin and Trea Turner to step up. The two have been lacking so far as they are a combined 7/50 at the plate with one home run and one walk between the two. Mookie Betts is getting on base consistently with a .458 average, but has only been driven in twice this postseason. 

When Betts gets on, the Dodgers have to emphasize getting the jump on their opponents as early as possible and driving in runs. 

In three of the five games against San Francisco, the Dodgers either didn’t score or couldn’t score until the sixth inning (Game 5). The task is simple for the Dodgers, get the jump on the Braves. 

As for the Braves, they have to be willing to get aggressive at the plate. They need to attack first pitches and all fastballs. 

It’s all been about “Joctober” for the Braves as Joc Pederson has come in clutch situations this postseason and delivered two loud home runs that ignited the spark for Atlanta to advance. His presence will surely have the Dodgers second-guessing themselves on matchups. It’s also homecoming for Pederson too as he was a Dodger from 2014-2020. 

Freeman is the lead guy for Atlanta, but Austin Riley and Eddie Rosario have found consistency as both are hitting over .300 this postseason. 

An issue for the Braves is that their runs were produced after three innings or more in three of the five games against Milwaukee and they will face even tougher pitching against the Dodgers’ starters and bullpen. 

The keys are similar on offense for both teams, but with the Dodgers having the deeper lineup, the Braves will need to be assertive at the plate and not look at strikes. 

Pitching:

The Dodgers are thin in their rotation with the late-season injury of Clayton Kershaw, the early-season injury of Dustin May and the season-long suspension of Trevor Bauer. 

Instead, it will be a platoon for LA as reliever Corey Knebel gets the start for Game 1 with Scherzer throwing in Game 2. 

LA has Tony Gonsolin on the roster, but he has yet to make an appearance this postseason. 

Atlanta will have to deal with Walker Buehler and Julio Urias later on in the series. In last year’s NLCS, Buehler was sensational in two starts. He had an ERA of 0.82 and struck out 13. The silver lining for the Braves against Buehler was that he walked five guys, so Atlanta will most likely have baserunners when Buehler starts. 

Urias was perfect in the final three innings of Game 7 last year to send the Dodgers to the World Series and hasn’t lost a step this postseason. He will probably receive the start in Game 4. 

The Braves were able to hold back a weak Milwaukee lineup, but get a whole different animal with the potential of LA. 

Charlie Morton surely remembers the Dodgers as he was lit up in Game 2 of last year’s World Series as a Tampa Bay Ray. He allowed five earned runs and seven hits across 4 ⅓ innings. We’ll see if he’s learned anything since and if his quality pitching this year will help him prove against the deep Dodger lineup. 

Left-handed Max Fried gets the ball for Game 1 and he was lights out in his Game 2 start against Milwaukee. He struck out nine without surrendering a run across six innings. 

He put up similar numbers against the Dodgers last postseason as in two starts, he threw 12 ⅔ innings, allowed four runs and struck out 14. Fried will have to do the same in Game 1 and hold back this Dodger team from showing their true potential. 

Closer Will Smith collected saves in all three NLDS wins and has no other choice then to shut down the Dodgers if called upon in a tight scenario. 

Prediction: 

The Dodgers overcame their toughest challenge in taking out their bitter rivals. Atlanta lacks the depth at-bat and the pitching to hold back LA. I expect both Turner’s to show up in the NLCS and they will be the driving forces to unlocking the offense. 

In order for Atlanta to win this series, they have to knock the Dodgers out when they don’t have their three-man rotation. They have a golden opportunity to take the series lead early with Fried going in Game 1 and Knebel throwing for the Dodgers. Regardless, I don’t see LA falling in this series barring a major lapse from all aspects of the team. 

Dodgers in 5.

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