SportsPulse’s Trysta Krick catches up with For The Win’s Ted Berg and USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale, who give us their predictions for this year’s baseball playoffs.
It took an extra game, but the Los Angeles Dodgers are in the National League Division Series for the sixth season in a row.
The Dodgers meet the Atlanta Braves in an intriguing best-of-five series pitting the reigning NL champs against an exciting young team that’s here ahead of schedule. Los Angeles plays host to the first two contests and a Game 5 if necessary.
Atlanta’s grand rebuild came to fruition earlier than most expected and the team ran away with the NL East down the stretch. This battle-hardened Dodgers group presents a major test for the young Braves, who hope that their first postseason appearance since 2013 is just the beginning of a long, fruitful era.
Here are the keys for each team in the series:
Dodgers can’t let Acuna set the tone
Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna had a .634 slugging percentage out of the leadoff spot, second in the majors behind Mookie Betts. The rookie crushes lefties to the tune of a .992 OPS, which is cause for concern with the Dodgers starting at least two – if not three – southpaws in the series. They’ll need to keep the 20-year-old in the park and off the bases (16 steals) to avoid falling behind early every game.
Braves should be running
Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal ranked near the bottom of the league, throwing out 27.8% of runners. The Braves were one of baseball’s more aggressive teams with five players having double-digit steal totals. They’re the underdogs in this series and are going to have to force the issue to get guys in scoring position.
Dodgers must get into the Braves’ bullpen
Atlanta’s starting pitchers ranked second in the NL in ERA, behind only the Dodgers, but the team’s bullpen was shaky for most of the year. Brad Brach was great following his acquisition in July (1.52 ERA in 23 ⅔ innins), but Dan Winkler and A.J. Minter struggled down the stretch, while presumed closer Arodys Vizcaino made just six appearances in September after missing two months with shoulder inflammation.
Braves have to keep their composure
There’s the old adage that an inexperienced team has the upper hand in big games because they aren’t as weighed down by the stakes. Still, Acuna and Ozzie Albies are 20 years old and were playing in the minors not too long ago. Starters Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb have terrific stuff, but neither has any postseason experience.
- Game 1: Thursday, at L.A. Dodgers, MLB Network, 8:37
- Game 2: Friday, at L.A. Dodgers, FS1, 9:37
- Game 3: Sunday, at Atlanta, FS1, 8:07
- Game 4 (if necessary): Monday, at Atlanta, FS1
- Game 5 (if necessary): Wednesday, at L.A. Dodgers, FS1