NLCS preview, best bet: Can Braves pull off massive upset vs. Dodgers?
The NLCS matchup that oddsmakers predicted before the season has finally come to fruition - though not in the way many expected. The Dodgers survived the wild-card round and narrowly escaped the Giants in the NLDS, while the Braves got hot late in the year and upset the Brewers to set up this showdown.
No. 3 Braves (+180) vs. No. 4 Dodgers (-220)
Just when it seems the mighty Dodgers might finally fall, they find a way. They were on the ropes against the Cardinals in the wild-card game before walking it off in the ninth. They fell behind 2-1 in the NLDS versus the Giants before roaring back to force Game 5, which ended on a controversial check-swing call for the final out of the series.
That's partly what makes this Los Angeles team so dangerous: When it's on the brink of elimination, it has the depth and star power to rally back - sometimes thanks to the most unexpected heroes. Chris Taylor was mired in a 7-for-66 slump before his pinch-hit homer in the wild-card game; Cody Bellinger carried a .165 average into the postseason before hitting .294 with the game-winning RBI single in that Game 5 victory.
It's a similar story for the Dodgers' pitching staff, which held the Giants' power-happy lineup to 10 runs across five games. Los Angeles' starters allowed a combined six runs with 24 strikeouts across 22 2/3 innings in the first four contests, while Max Scherzer put the finishing touches on Game 5 with a perfect ninth inning - quelling pre-playoff concerns about his decline.
The Braves were held to three runs or fewer in each of their first three games against the Brewers, before Atlanta turned in a five-run showing to put Milwaukee away. Six of the Braves' 12 runs in that series came via the long ball, which isn't surprising for a team that ranked third in both home runs per game (1.5) and barrel rate (9.8%) during the regular season.
The only problem? That won't fly against these Dodgers. Los Angeles allowed the third-fewest home runs (one per game) and lowest barrel rate (6.3%) during the regular season and just shut down a Giants lineup that feasted on moonshots. Atlanta also owned some of baseball's highest swing rates (49.6%) and whiff rates (27.1%) during the regular season. That's a tough way to win in October.
The best way for the Braves to pull off a stunner in this series is to make it a pitchers' duel, as they did against the Brewers. Atlanta is 33-30 (.524) in games with at least 10 combined runs this season, but it's an impressive 58-43 (.574) in lower-scoring games - good for seventh-best in MLB. The Dodgers, meanwhile, have a .622 win percentage in contests featuring fewer than 10 total runs but own a stellar .719 mark in higher-scoring affairs.
That begs the question: Can the Braves' staff limit the damage against the Dodgers? This isn't the same L.A. lineup that tore through the regular season, even if Max Muncy defies the odds and returns for the NLCS. The Dodgers have posted a pedestrian .239/.295/.358 slash line in the postseason without him, but they've done so largely against a Giants staff that trailed only Los Angeles in regular-season ERA (3.24 versus 3.01).
Atlanta's rotation held up in the NLDS, but that wasn't exactly a Herculean task; the Brewers' lineup was easily the worst of any playoff team. Charlie Morton looked shaky in Game 4 after allowing the game-winning home run in Game 1, though the Braves' bullpen saved the day in somewhat surprising fashion.
If Atlanta's relievers and secondary starters can replicate their NLDS success against this loaded Dodgers order, the Braves have a chance to pull off the upset. Still, it's a narrow path to victory against a Los Angeles team that's cheated death twice already this postseason. Barring a miracle, the defending World Series champions will find a way to win this one, too.
Pick: Dodgers -220