Braves vs Dodgers: Analysis and Predictions
This is the exact scenario that every Atlanta Braves proponent was scared about. The NL East champions are brimming with talent, youth and excitement. They are going to put together a deep playoff run eventually, and it will happen soon, but 2018 may not be their time. They already find themselves down 2-0 to the proven Los Angeles Dodgers, and neither game has been particularly competitive.
Atlanta is yet to score a run in this NLDS, losing the two games by a combined score of 9-0. The lineup has been stymied by seven innings from Hyun-Jin Ryu and eight frames by Clayton Kershaw. As a unit, the Braves have had just six at-bats with runners in scoring position and gone hitless in each of them. Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ender Inciarte are the only two Atlanta players with more than one hit.
The Dodgers have taken advantage of the long ball with home runs from Kike Hernández, Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, Manny Machado and Yasmani Grandal. It’s no surprise considering they led the National League in runs scored, home runs and slugging percentage during the regular season.
Better yet, the powerful offense and impenetrable pitching has allowed Los Angeles to protect their weakness, a so-so bullpen. Their ‘pen has been tasked with just three innings, split amongst four different pitchers. Pedro Báez has not even made an appearance yet, and he was their best reliever for most of the season. A well-rested bullpen with an off day on Saturday bodes well for Los Angeles in both this series and looking forward to a late-October run.
It has not been so easy for the Braves relievers who have had to toss 10.1 frames. However, those have been effective innings as they have allowed just one run on two hits so far and used just one pitcher (Max Fried) more than once.
The real problem for Atlanta may prove to be their lack of depth on the mound. Kevin Gausman, a mid-season pickup from the Baltimore Orioles, will head to the hill to start game three. Gausman has proven solid since the trade recording a (2.87 ERA, 4.46 xFIP, 0.9 WAR). However, Game 3 features a tough matchup against Los Angeles’ Walker Buehler, who compiled a 1.58 ERA and .154/.241/.239 opponent slash line between August 5 and the end of the season.
Even if they are able to get past Buehler, the Braves will still have to beat Kershaw at some point. Back injuries have lessened how great the three-time Cy Young award winner can be, but he still has the ability to produce an outing like he did in game two, and for an offense this out of sync, beating him could be an impossible task.
It feels like Atlanta’s hitters need that one spark to ignite a rally, but that could be hard to come by. They don’t have any real sluggers in the lineup, and rookie Acuña led the team with 26 home runs. As a team, Atlanta hit only 175 home runs during the regular season, which ranked in the bottom half of the league.
Lacking power, Atlanta will have to get lead off hitters on base and apply pressure with speed on the base paths. Often times an effective running game will induce more walks and base hits. By putting a runner in motion, pitchers at times lose command while holes in the infield open up. The product, long offensive rallies and game winning run production. Unfortunately, so far in this series, Braves hitters have worked zero walks, zero stolen bases and notched a minuscule nine hits.
History is not on Atlanta’s side either. Since the current 2-2-1 division series format has been implemented, teams that win the first two games at home have gone on to win the series 89 percent of the time. It would take a monumental turnaround to change that.