A capsule look at the best-of-seven NL Championship Series between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers in Arlington, Texas, beginning Monday night:
Season Series: Did not play.
Playoff Entry: NL East champions.
Playoff Seed: No. 2.
Manager: Brian Snitker (fifth season).
Projected Rotation: LHP Max Fried (7-0, 2.25 ERA, 50 Ks), RHP Ian Anderson (3-2, 1.95, 41 Ks, 32 1/3 IP, 6 starts), RHP Kyle Wright (2-4, 5.21, 30 Ks), RHP Josh Tomlin (2-2, 4.76), RHP Bryse Wilson (1-0, 4.02, 1 save in 15 2/3 IP) or RHP Huascar Ynoa (0-0, 5.82).
Top Hitters: 1B Freddie Freeman (.341, 13 HRs, 53 RBIs, 51 runs, 1.102 OPS), DH Marcell Ozuna (.338, 18, 56, 77 hits, 1.067 OPS), OF Ronald Acuña Jr. (.250, 14, 29), C Travis d'Arnaud (.321, 9, 34).
Top Relievers: RHP Mark Melancon (2-1, 2.78 ERA, 11 saves), LHP Will Smith (2-2, 4.50), LHP Tyler Matzek (4-3, 2.79, 43 Ks in 29 IP), RHP Chris Martin (1-1, 1.00, 1 save), RHP Shane Greene (1-0, 2.60).
Series Summary: Winners of three straight division titles, the Braves are still looking for their first pennant since 1999. They finally won a playoff series for the first time since 2001 when they beat Cincinnati in the first round, holding the Reds scoreless over 22 innings in a two-game sweep at home. Atlanta had dropped 10 straight post-season rounds. ... Then the Braves swept upstart Miami 3-0 in the Division Series to reach the NLCS for the first time in 19 years. They've thrown four shutouts in five playoff games and outscored their two opponents by a combined 24-5, but the competition gets much tougher here. ... For the first time during this pandemic-altered season, a limited number of fans from the general public will be allowed to attend these NLCS games, played at the Texas Rangers’ new ballpark. ... This is the fourth post-season meeting between the clubs. The first three came in the NLDS, with Atlanta sweeping the Dodgers in 1996, and Los Angeles winning in four games in 2013 and 2018. The Dodgers also swept the Milwaukee Braves in the 1959 NL tiebreaker playoff. ... Dodgers and Braves ranked 1-2 in the majors this season in runs (349-348) and homers (118-103). LA also led the big leagues with a 3.02 ERA, while Atlanta was 15th at 4.41. ... Against the Marlins, d’Arnaud was 6 for 10 with two homers, two doubles and seven RBIs — the most by a catcher in a Division Series. ... Freeman, perhaps the favourite for NL MVP, is batting .167 (3 for 18) with one RBI in the playoffs — although that was a game-winning hit in the 13th inning against Cincinnati. ... Led by a power-packed lineup, the Braves won the NL East despite a wave of injuries and demotions from their rotation, including the loss of top starter Mike Soroka and veteran Cole Hamels. Fried stepped up to become a Cy Young Award contender, and Atlanta relied heavily on its outstanding bullpen. Once the playoffs rolled around, the Braves began getting terrific starts, too. The 22-year-old Anderson is 2-0 in two post-season games, permitting five hits while striking out 17 in 11 2/3 scoreless innings. ... The only other team to toss four shutouts in the first five games of a post-season was the 1905 New York Giants behind Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson and Joe McGinnity. Atlanta needs one shutout to match MLB record for one post-season set by the 2016 Indians over 15 games. Still, back of the rotation remains a huge question mark after Wright, and Snitker could go with a bullpen game or two.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Playoff Entry: NL West champions.
Playoff Seed: No. 1.
Manager: Dave Roberts (fifth season).
Projected Rotation: RHP Walker Buehler (1-0, 3.44 ERA, 42 Ks), LHP Clayton Kershaw (6-2, 2.16, 62 Ks), RHP Dustin May (3-1, 2.57, 44 Ks), LHP Julio Urías (3-0, 3.27, 45 Ks), RHP Tony Gonsolin (2-2, 2.31, 46 Ks).
Top Hitters: SS Corey Seager (.307, 15 HRs, 41 RBIs, 38 runs, 12 doubles, .943 OPS), RF Mookie Betts (.292, 16, 39, 47 runs, 10 SBs, .928 OPS), C Will Smith (.289, 8, 25, .980 OPS), LF AJ Pollock (.276, 16, 34, .881 OPS), 3B Justin Turner (.307, 4, 23, .860 OPS), CF Cody Bellinger (.239, 12, 30, .789 OPS).
Top Relievers: RHP Kenley Jansen (3-1, 3.33 ERA, 11 saves), RHP Blake Treinen (3-3, 3.86, 1 save), RHP Joe Kelly (0-0, 1.80), RHP Pedro Báez (0-0, 3.18, 2 saves), RHP Brusdar Graterol (1-2, 3.09), RHP Dylan Floro (3-0, 2.59).
Series Summary: The Dodgers won their eighth consecutive NL West crown with baseball’s best record but are still chasing their first World Series championship since 1988. They made back-to-back World Series appearances in 2017 (lost to Houston in seven games) and 2018 (lost to Boston with Betts on the Red Sox roster). They won a franchise-record 106 games last year and didn’t make it out of the Division Series. ... Los Angeles dispatched No. 8 seed Milwaukee and division-rival San Diego in the first two rounds this year, outscoring them by a combined 30-11 while winning all five games. ... Biggest question mark for the favoured Dodgers is at closer, where Jansen struggled with diminished velocity during a shaky outing in Game 2 against the Padres before getting pulled. Kelly came on and got the final out with the bases loaded to save a 6-5 win. In the days afterward, Roberts wasn't ready to make a definitive declaration about Jansen’s role moving forward. Treinen also has closing experience. ... Buehler has been dealing with a troublesome blister. He's totalled just eight innings in two playoff starts, but piled up 16 strikeouts to offset six walks. ... Urías hasn't allowed an earned run over eight innings in two stingy relief appearances, striking out 11 and earning two wins. ... Bellinger, the reigning NL MVP, has been more productive in the playoffs following a 2020 drop-off. Max Muncy (.192) and Joc Pederson (.190) are also looking to bust out in October. The offence received unexpected boosts from Pollock, Smith and Chris Taylor (.270) this year. ... Turner’s exploits in October have made him one of the franchise’s greatest post-season performers, but he was on the injured list with a strained hamstring in September and tweaked his thumb on the last weekend of the regular season. He is 2 for 18 (.111) with three RBIs in the playoffs. ... One of the Dodgers’ biggest weapons is their depth. They move players in and out of multiple positions frequently — Betts even started at second base. Roberts has all sorts of options at his disposal. ... Keep an eye again on Kershaw, considered by many the greatest pitcher of his generation despite some notable post-season struggles. The three-time Cy Young Award winner is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two playoff starts this year, including a 13-strikeout gem in the first-round clincher against Milwaukee. That leaves him 11-11 with a 4.23 ERA in his post-season career.
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