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Oct 14, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) reacts after defeating the San Francisco Giants in game five of the 2021 NLDS at Oracle Park. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Why the Dodgers will win: They’re the best team left, and while they might have shown it against the Giants in a short series, there’s still a matter of winning the World Series in a non-shortened season. Trea Turner and Justin Turner have been cold/unlucky in the postseason so far, but they have good track records against left-hander Max Fried, and they’ll see him in Game 1 and possibly later.

The Dodgers just have so many weapons, it almost doesn’t matter if a few players are struggling — someone else will pick them up. Gavin Lux has been hot for more than a month. How can you plan for that when you’re worried about seven or eight bigger names? Speaking of which, the Dodgers also have the star power of Mookie Betts and Max Scherzer, two of the very best players in the league, who also show up like few others in big games.

Dodgers relievers have a 1.44 ERA in 25 innings in the postseason; their relief unit is the best one left.

Why the Braves will win:

They won’t lack confidence, they have home-field advantage (as a division winner), and they have three strong starting pitchers, as long as Ian Anderson’s shoulder stays strong. A year ago in the playoffs, nobody gave the Dodgers more trouble than the Braves, who took them to seven games in the NLCS after Atlanta started 2-0 and 3-1 in the series. In the regular-season series, the Dodgers won four of six but outscored the Braves 27-23.

Fried goes in Game 1 this time and would be ready for a second start if needed. He pitched well twice against the Dodgers in the NLCS a year ago, and did so again in two starts this season, limiting Dodgers batters to a .226/.241/.472 batting line, to go with 16 strikeouts and one walk. Duplicate that, and the Braves have an edge twice. Right-hander Charlie Morton turned in two strong starts against the Dodgers in the regular season.

Why the Dodgers will lose:

Not having Clayton Kershaw and Max Muncy already has diminished what the Dodgers can do, as it would any team. It’s already gumming up the works as far as the Dodgers pitching choices for Game 1. They’re going with reliever Corey Knebel again, which worked out against the Giants. It makes sense, given his style being more effective against lefties like Freddie Freeman. Press your luck, no whammy!

Muncy is still out, and would have been a weapon, even as a lefty batter against Fried (.455/.571/1.182 with two homers in 14 plate appearances). 

Why the Braves will lose:

The Braves bullpen stepped up huge in the NLDS, posting a 1.23 inning against the Brewers. But their relievers also walked seven in 14 ⅓ innings, and that was against the Brewers so-so lineup. The Dodgers are in a better place to exploit left-hander Will Smith (possibly with their own Will Smith) and friends. 

They won’t have Jorge Soler because of COVID-19. He’s been one of their best hitters since coming over from the Royals, and he usually bats leadoff. Eddie Rosario gets the call in Game 1. 

Braves manager Brian Snitker will have to be more aggressive by using his better relievers earlier in the game than he was against the Brewers.

X-factors

Dodgers:

They naturally poured a lot of themselves into the Giants series, so there could be an emotional letdown at the start of the NLCS. While the Braves are going with Fried in Game 1, while the Dodgers aren’t sure if Max Scherzer is right for the job because of his recent usage. No matter who the Dodgers start, there’s a good chance for the Braves to get a leg up. 

Braves:

Joc Pederson, fashionable dude and former Dodgers player, always seems to be a bonus come playoff time. He’s got two pinch-hit homers in the playoffs already. It’s also been a while since Ozzie Albies had a big hit, so he’s due.

Prediction: Dodgers in seven.

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