Yep, we have a rematch in the NLCS. This time, Atlanta will try to finish off the upset, something it couldn’t quite do after taking a 3-1 series lead last October.
They’re different teams, of course. The Dodgers have added Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, and Max Muncy is on the shelf with an elbow injury. Ronald Acuna Jr. has been injured for quite a long time now, long enough for the Braves to completely revamp their outfield.
How will the rematch play out? Let’s take a look at what will matter.
Braves vs. Dodgers odds for the NLCS
(Odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook)
Spread: Dodgers -1.5
Moneyline: Dodgers -220, Braves +182
The Dodgers went 4-2 against the Braves this season. Atlanta won two of three at home in June, and Los Angeles swept its games at home Aug. 30-Sept. 1.
Braves vs. Dodgers series since 1900
Los Angeles holds a 1,145-951-22 lead over Atlanta in regular-season play since 1900. The Dodgers franchise moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. The Braves franchise originated in Boston, moved to Milwaukee in 1953 and to Atlanta in 1966. Both franchises had multiple nicknames in their earlier seasons.
The Dodgers and Braves have met four times in the postseason. The Braves won the first matchup, a 3-0 NLDS sweep in 1996, but the Dodgers have won the last three — the 2013 NLDS, the 2018 NLDS and the 2020 NLCS. Last year’s NLCS, of course, went the full seven games; the Braves held a 3-1 series lead but the Dodgers rallied to claim the series on their way to a World Series title.
Three things to watch
Can Max Fried continue his mastery over the Dodgers?
The young lefty tossed six brilliant innings against the Dodgers in Game 1 of the 2020 NLCS, allowing just four hits and one run. After a hiccup first inning in Game 6 — three runs — he didn’t allow another run the rest of the time on the mound, when he was pulled with two outs in the seventh inning. Then, in 2021, Fried faced LA twice in the regular season and had a 2.25 ERA, with 13 strikeouts and just one walk in 12 innings over two starts. He’ll get the ball in Game 1 of this year’s NLCS, and the Braves are hoping he can set the tone again.
What will the Dodgers get out of Cody Bellinger?
Bellinger suffered through an injury-influenced 2021 season that was one of the worst ever put up by a past MVP, at least that close to his MVP season (2019) and still in the prime of his career (Age 25 season). He batted .165 with a .240 on-base percentage and a 45 OPS+ — remember, 100 is league average in that stat, which means Bellinger was 55 percent worse than the average MLB hitter — and had a minus-1.5 bWAR for the year. But he reached base three times in the do-or-die wild-card game and he has a .294 average with a .368 on-base percentage in six postseason games this October. If he’s back to even semi-productive in the NLCS, that’ll be a big boost for the Dodgers, who are still without first baseman Max Muncy (elbow).
Can the Braves lock down leads?
Needing only one more win to clinch a trip to the World Series, Atlanta held a 2-0 lead heading into the fourth inning of Game 5 in last year’s NLCS. Starter A.J. Minter did his job with three scoreless innings, but the next four relievers all allowed at least one earned run the the Braves lost 7-3. In Game 7, the Braves had a 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the third and were still up 3-2 entering the bottom of the sixth. The Dodgers scored single runs in the sixth and seventh and then held on for a 4-3 win. In that series, current Braves closer Will Smith — he wasn’t the closer last year — retired only two of the final seven batters he faced in the series, allowing three runs on three walks and two hits (one home run). Can Atlanta’s bullpen perform better than it did last year?
Stat that matters
1.41. That’s Julio Urias’ ERA in his past 32 postseason innings, covering three starts and five relief appearances. He has given up just five walks and 17 hits in that stretch, with 39 strikeouts. And here’s the thing: he’s the Dodgers’ No. 3 starter, behind Max Scherzer and Walker Buehler. That’s just ridiculous.
Braves vs. Dodgers prediction
The Dodgers’ reward for surviving a win-or-go-home wild-card game and a win-or-go-home Game 5 of the NLDS is facing off with a team that fought all the way to the end of a win-or-go-home Game 7 of the NLCS last year. So, yeah, here’s hoping this is another to-the-brink classic. Realistically, though, I don’t think it goes all seven.
Prediction: Dodgers in 6.