Los Angeles Times
NL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
DODGERS vs. ATLANTA BRAVES Here’s what you need to know about the Dodgers and Atlanta Braves in the best-ofseven National League Championship Series, which begins Saturday:
Game 1 pitching matchup: Dodgers TBD vs. Braves left-hander Max Fried (14-7, 3.04 ERA). Manager Dave Roberts said the Dodgers will either start right-hander Max Scherzer (15-4, 2.46 ERA) or make it a bullpen game.
What’s at stake: Winner advances to the World Series against the Houston Astros or Boston Red Sox. Loser is eliminated.
How they got here: The Dodgers, who finished second in the NL West with a 106-56 record, beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 in the wild-card game on Chris Taylor’s walkoff, two-run homer. Then they outlasted the division-rival and 107-win San Francisco Giants in a thrilling five-game division series, Cody Bellinger’s ninth-inning RBI single giving them a 2-1 win in Game 5. The NL East-winning Braves won 88 games, the fewest of all 10 playoff participants but shut out the Milwaukee Brewers in Games 2 and 3 of their division series and clinched a spot in the NLCS on Freddie Freeman’s eighthinning homer off Josh Hader in Game 4.
Season series: Dodgers 4-2. The Braves won two of three in Atlanta on June 4-6, the Dodgers’ only win of the series coming when they scored eight runs in one inning of a 9-5 victory on June 4. The Dodgers swept a three-game series in Los Angeles, Aug. 30 to Sept. 1. Max Muncy, Will Smith, Mookie Betts and Corey Seager homered in a 5-3 win in the opener. Walker Buehler gave up two runs and four hits in seven innings of a 3-2 win in the second game. Max Scherzer threw six shutout innings, giving up three hits and striking out nine, and AJ Pollock and Justin Turner hit eighth-inning RBI singles in a 4-3 comeback win in the finale.
Key players: Betts, who played several months of the season with a painful bone spur in his right hip, is healthy and getting hot at the right time. The Dodgers’ leadoff man hit .450 (nine for 20) with a homer and four RBIs in the division series. Bellinger has shaken off a brutal regular season to deliver several big playoff hits, and Gavin Lux has provided productive at-bats from the left side, but the Dodgers need more offense from the Turners, Trea and Justin, who combined to hit .095 (four for 42) with two runs, one RBI, nine strikeouts and one walk in the division series. Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson spent most of the season hitting sixth, seventh or eighth, but, with leadoff man Jorge Soler out after testing positive for COVID-19, Swanson could assume a key role at the top of the order.
Key matchup: Each team’s bullpen against the opposing offense. Though the Dodgers should have an edge in starting pitching, it’s not a decided edge. If games are close heading into the final innings, the advantage will swing to the Dodgers, who have a much deeper and more dominant relief corps led by closer Kenley Jansen, who went 4-4 with a 2.22 ERA and 38 saves in the regular season and has struck out eight of the 10 batters he has faced in the playoffs. The rest include setup man Blake Treinen, who went 6-5 with a 1.99 ERA in 72 regular-season games, 100-mph-throwing right-hander Brusdar Graterol, who has given up three hits and struck out three in 4 2⁄3 scoreless innings of five playoff games. Braves closer Will Smith has been anything but automatic, going 3-7 with a 3.44 ERA, converting 37 of 43 save opportunities and giving up 11 homers.
Dodgers win: If they continue to build rallies with singles and doubles, advance runners with productive outs, generate offense without relying too heavily on the long ball, get solid contributions from the bottom third of the order and slug when the opportunities arise. Their chances also will improve if Trea Turner, an NL most valuable player candidate who can influence a game with his power and speed, recaptures the swing that helped him hit .328 with a .911 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 28 homers, 77 RBIs and 32 stolen bases this season, and Justin Turner finds the swing that helped him hit .278 with an .832 OPS, 27 homers and 87 RBIs this season.
Braves win: If they can outslug the Dodgers and if the Dodgers suffer a bit of a hangover after their draining five-game division series and cross-country flight to Atlanta, and get off to a slow start in the NLCS. Atlanta’s pitching staff (3.97 ERA) gave up almost a full earned run more than the Dodgers (3.16) during the regular season, but their offense can slug with anyone in baseball.
Prediction: Dodgers in six games.