Everything you need to know about the NLCS
(All times PDT; all games televised on TBS)
Game 1: Saturday, 5 p.m. at Truist Park
Game 2: Sunday, 4:30 p.m. at Truist Park
Game 3: Tuesday, TBD at Dodger Stadium
Game 4: Wednesday, TBD at Dodger Stadium
Game 5 (if necessary): Thursday, TBD at Dodger Stadium
Game 6 (if necessary): Oct. 23, TBD at Truist Park
Game 7 (if necessary): Oct. 24, TBD at Truist Park
Game 1 pitching matchup: Dodgers right-hander Max Scherzer (15-4, 2.46 ERA) vs. Braves left-hander Max Fried (14-7, 3.04 ERA).
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 walk-off, two-run homer. Then they outlasted the division-rival and 107-game-winning 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 Thursday night. 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 eighth-inning tie-breaking homer off Josh Hader in Game 4 on Tuesday.
Season series: Dodgers 4-2. The Braves won two of three in Atlanta on June 4-6, their only win of the series coming when they scored eight runs on four hits and eight walks in 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.
Dodgers projected lineup for Game 1
(Player, average, OPS, home runs, RBIs)
RF Mookie Betts .264 .854 23 58
SS Corey Seager .306 .915 16 57
2B Trea Turner .328 .911 28 77
C Will Smith .258 .860 25 76
3B Justin Turner .278 .832 27 87
CF Chris Taylor .254 .782 20 73
1B Cody Bellinger .165 .542 10 36
LF AJ Pollock .297 .892 21 69
RHP Max Scherzer .000 .000 0 0
Braves projected lineup for Game 1
(Player, average, OPS, home runs, RBIs)
SS Dansby Swanson .248 .760 27 88
1B Freddie Freeman .300 .896 31 83
2B Ozzie Albies .259 .799 30 106
3B Austin Riley .303 .898 33 107
CF Adam Duvall .228 .772 38 113
RF Joc Pederson .238 .732 18 61
LF Eddie Rosario .259 .740 14 62
C Travis d’Arnaud .220 .671 7 26
LHP Max Fried .273 .327 0 5
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 and had four hits, a big stolen base and scored a run in Thursday night’s clincher against the Giants. 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, where there is a bigger need to get on base in front of sluggers Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley. Joc Pederson, who came off the bench in the first three division games, will assume a bigger role, replacing Soler in the outfield against the Dodgers’ right-handed starters.
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, and middle relievers Joe Kelly, Corey Knebel, Phil Bickford and left-hander Alex Vesia. 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. Atlanta has a reliable left-right setup combo in Tyler Matzek (2.57 ERA in 69 games) and Luke Jackson (1.98 ERA in 71 games), but the quality and depth of the bullpen drops off from there.
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 they the opportunities arise, as they did in the division series against the Giants. Their chances also will improve if Trea Turner, the 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 emotionally 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, even after losing MVP candidate Ronald Acuna Jr. to a season-ending knee injury in July, can slug with anyone in baseball. They hit 239 homers this season, third-most in baseball behind Toronto (262) and San Francisco (241) and two more than the Dodgers (237), and they led the NL in scoring with a 5.1 runs-per-game average over the final two months of the season, a surge that fueled a 40-20 record during that span.
Prediction: Dodgers in six games.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.