By KEVIN MCALPIN
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – It’s been 19 years, but tonight is finally the night the Braves take the field for the 2020 National League Championship Series. Max Fried gets the nod, looking to build off a breakout season that saw him go a perfect 7-0 in the regular season, and the Braves go 12-1 in his 13 outings this year, counting a pair in the Postseason. Meanwhile, the Dodgers give the ball to Walker Buehler for the series opener tonight, with Clayton Kershaw getting the nod for Game Two on Tuesday. As we inch closer to first pitch, I wanted to take a quick look at how these two teams stack up.
OFFENSE: We all know how potent the Dodger offense can be with the likes of Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, among many others. The Los Angeles offense finished the season with 349 runs scored, one ahead of the second place Braves. Their 118 home runs was also the most in the Majors, while the Braves (103) once again came in second, the only other team in the game with more than 100. With all that power in the Dodger lineup, you’d expect a ton of strikeouts. However, LA finished with the fourth fewest strikeouts in baseball during the 60 game season. Meanwhile, we know how explosive the Braves offense can be with Acuna, Freeman, Ozuna and d’Arnaud as the top four in the order. In addition, there’s something about the Atlanta offense that allows them to find another gear from the seventh inning on. They’ll certainly be tested against some hard throwing arms in Buehler, Kershaw and May, but this Braves lineup is battled tested with all the top arms they match up against in the NL East on a nightly basis. Advantage: Los Angeles, but not by much.
BULLPEN: This one’s season, the Braves have the best bullpen in the game. They also have the ability to shorten games. When leading after six this year, the Braves were a perfect 27-0. For the Dodgers, Kenley Jansen, who was once one of the most dominant closers in the game, has lost his ninth inning role. The Braves also have the fortunate ability to have righties who can get lefties out, and vice versa. Everyone has kept waiting for the Braves pen to have a few tough nights, but they seemingly always find a way to step up when needed most. And it hasn’t just been the ones we expected at the beginning of the season. Darren O’Day, AJ Minter, Tyler Matzek and Chris Martin have stepped up in a big way to help get the ball to the three former All-Star closers in Will Smith, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon.
EXPECTATIONS: For me, all the pressure in this series is on the Dodgers. They have built a club with a $220+ million dollar payroll and have been looked at as World Series favorites the last few seasons. But, Los Angeles is still looking for their first World Championship since 1988, and if they fall short of that ultimate goal once again, I think the seat will start to get hot for Dave Roberts. Yes, the Braves were expected to be a contender, but everyone just wanted to see signs of progress. With shutouts in four of the first five games this Postseason, this club has shown no signs of folding under any of the Postseason pressure. If anything, guys like Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright have stepped up their games even more with that much more on the line.
This should be a very entertaining and dramatic NLCS. I think it goes six, and honestly don’t have a feel one way or the other for who will take the next step and punch their ticket to the Fall Classic. But, it won’t surprise me one bit if the Braves once again find a way to get the job done. Buckle up and enjoy the ride folks. And don’t forget to follow all our coverage on 680 The Fan and the Braves Radio Network!
Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet