NLDS Preview: Dodgers vs. Braves

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You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Dodgers and Braves have in store for us in the National League Division Series.

The Teams

Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70) vs. Atlanta Braves (96-66)

The Matchups

Game 1 Today in Atlanta: Clayton Kershaw vs. Kris Medlen
Game 2 Friday in Atlanta: Zack Greinke vs. Mike Minor
Game 3 Sunday in Los Angeles: Julio Teheran vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu
Game 4 (if necessary) Monday in Los Angeles: Freddy Garcia vs. Ricky Nolasco
Game 5 (if necessary) Wednesday in Atlanta

Overview: 

The Dodgers had huge preseason expectations which looked to be dashed after stumbling out of the gate to a 31-42 record which had them 9.5 games back in the NL West as late as June 22. Don Mattingly was assumed to be on the hot seat and the season seemed lost. Then all they did was call up rookie Yasiel Puig and go on a tear and put the division in their rear-view mirror. Most of the headlines about the Dodgers in the second half were about Yasiel Puig’s exploits and the injuries to offensive stars like Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez. The real story of this team, however, is its stellar starting pitching, led by presumptive Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and a man who would be the ace on just about every other team, Zack Greinke. Indeed, the Dodgers led the NL in ERA.

Atlanta, on the other hand, was in first place every single day of the season except for one day in early April and were never challenged for the NL East crown. Its a team which, for much of the season, featured a feast-or-famine approach at the plate, with lots of homers and lots of strikeouts to go with them. Indeed, Atlanta led the NL in both categories.  As the second half progressed, however, a bit more dynamism entered the offense, with outfielder Jason Heyward moving to the leadoff position and B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla increasingly riding the pine. And while the Dodgers have the best pitching around, don’t sleep on the Braves’ staff. They were second in the NL in ERA and their bullpen was the best in the National League.

Storylines

  • The Dodgers and the Braves both stumbled in September, with L.A. posting a record of 12-15 and Atlanta going 13-14. September records can be misleading, however, especially when the teams involved had more or less sewn up their playoff positions before Labor Day. As such, “momentum” — a dubious idea when it comes to the playoffs anyway — is  not exactly on the table here.
  • While momentum may not always be meaningful, the stuff underlying the poor finishes can matter. In the Dodgers case, injuries loom large. Center fielder Matt Kemp will not appear in the playoffs. Andre Ethier may very well be on the playoff roster, but he has had one plate appearance since September 13. Hanley Ramirez has not played back-to-back games for some time and has nursed multiple injuries during his otherwise outstanding season. Puig fouled a ball off his foot last weekend and has suffered various bumps and bruises.
  • Head-to-head matchups are likewise of minimal use here. Yes, the Braves took five of seven in the season series against the Dodgers, but that season series was totally wrapped up by June 9, which was before the Dodgers turned their season around. And they haven’t faced Kershaw since 2011. For all practical purposes, these teams are strangers to one another.
  • The Dodgers rotation and the Braves bullpen will be much talked about, but it’s not as if the Braves rotation and Dodgers bullpen are chopped liver. Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran have been quite good this year, with Medlen being particularly hot in September. Meanwhile, the late season addition of Brian Wilson as the Dodgers setup man and the fact that Kenley Jansen strikes out 13 batters per nine innings makes the Dodgers bullpen formidable indeed.

Prediction

This would appear to be a very even matchup. The Dodgers fantastic starters against a Braves lineup which, while potent, can look lost against top hurlers. The Braves shutdown bullpen against a Dodgers lineup racked with injuries and, recently anyway, inconsistency. If the games are close, the Braves’ dominant bullpen could be the difference maker, but with Kershaw and Greinke taking three of the five possible starts, the Braves’ offense could find itself tied in knots, preventing them from ever getting close.

This is about as close to a coin-flip as I can see among the four Division Series matchups, but if I have to pick one team, I’ll pick The Dodgers in Five.

And That Happened: Friday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Friday’s scores and highlights:

Cubs 7, Blue Jays 4: Friday saw the Blue Jays return to Wrigley Field for their first game since 2005, and in the end, they may as well have stayed away. Jake Arrieta led the charge against Toronto, improving to a 13-8 record with 6 1/3 innings of one-run, six-strikeout ball, and even Kevin Pillar‘s eighth-inning rally couldn’t close the door against the Cubs.

Cardinals 11, Pirates 10: It just wasn’t Trevor Williams‘ night. The rookie right-hander was tagged for a career-worst eight runs in three innings, helping the Cardinals to a six-run lead by the time Steven Brault came in to relieve him in the fourth. Pittsburgh’s bullpen fared little better, propelling the club to their sixth consecutive loss and pushing them 6.5 games back of the division lead and nine games out of the NL wild card race.

Orioles 9, Angels 7: No one did more than Manny Machado on Friday night — and, during a game that saw a cumulative 10 home runs between the Orioles and Angels, that’s saying something. He started off with a two-run homer in the third inning, taking Andrew Heaney deep with a 418-foot blast into the right field stands:

In the fifth inning, with the Orioles trailing 7-4, Machado roped another 398-footer off of Heaney for Home Run No. 2:

The dinger brought Baltimore within two runs of tying the game, but they entered the ninth still down 7-5. Anthony Santander, Ryan Flaherty and Tim Beckham loaded the bases for Machado, who needed just two pitches before finding one to crush for a walk-off grand slam:

Dodgers 8, Tigers 5: The Dodgers made another push to pad their offense on Friday night, trading for Mets’ centerfielder Curtis Granderson following a decisive win over the Tigers. They didn’t appear to need any additional help toppling opposing starter Ryan Zimmerman, however, and racked up seven runs in the first six innings to earn their 86th victory lap of the year.

Marlins 3, Mets 1: Even two hours of stormy weather couldn’t put a damper on the Marlins’ road trip, which started with a bang following 5 1/3 solid innings from southpaw Justin Nicolino and a three-run spread from their offense. J.T. Realmuto stunned rookie starter Chris Flexen with a first-inning, two-RBI home run, setting a new career high with his 50th RBI of the year:

The Mets, on the other hand, extended their streak to five consecutive losses and now sit a distant 13 games out of postseason contention.

Red Sox 9, Yankees 6: The Red Sox moved a comfortable five games ahead of the Yankees on Friday, powering their second straight come-from-behind win with a monster seventh-inning rally from Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Mitch Moreland. While almost every Red Sox-Yankees matchup has felt like a nail-biter this month, don’t expect Boston to relinquish first place that easily. They’ve won 13 of their last 15 games and taken three of four from their AL East rivals.

Mariners 7, Rays 1: The Mariners picked up their third straight win with a seven-run charge against the Rays, capping their efforts with Nelson Cruz‘s mammoth solo shot in the ninth inning:

It marked the slugger’s 30th blast of the year, making him just the fourth Mariner to record 30+ home runs in three consecutive seasons. More impressively, the homer set a new Statcast record for the longest home run recorded at Tropicana Field, at a whopping 482 feet.

Reds 5, Braves 3: It looked like it was all over for Zack Cozart in the seventh inning, when the shortstop took a fastball to his left shin. He remained on the ground for several seconds before walking to first base, but made his exit after the half inning and figures to be day-to-day while the swelling in his leg subsides. Even without their star infielder, the Reds continued to dominate the Braves, coasting to a 5-3 finish with a handful of home runs from Adam Duvall, Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker.

White Sox 4, Rangers 3: Nicky Delmonico is having himself quite the rookie campaign, slashing .382/.452/.691 with five home runs and a 1.143 OPS through his first 15 games in the majors. He padded his big league resume with his first inside-the-park home run on Friday night, clearing the bases on a first-pitch slider from Ricardo Rodriguez for his second home run of the game and the game-winning knock.

Not only did the homer help power the White Sox’ win, but it was the first rookie-engineered inside-the-park home run in almost 15 years:

Twins 10, Diamondbacks 3: Speaking of speedy outfielders legging out inside-the-park home runs, Byron Buxton stole the spotlight during the Twins’ six-homer night with his second career inside-the-parker in the fourth inning:

His 13.85-second charge around the bases set a new Statcast record for the fastest home-to-home sprint, which would be even more meaningful had he not already broken that record with a 14.05-second dash on his first inside-the-park home run last October.

Astros 3, Athletics 1: It didn’t take a big offensive surge to back Dallas Keuchel‘s gem on Friday night. The Astros’ ace held the Athletics to three hits and three strikeouts in seven strong innings, extending an impressive rebound after blowing an eight-run loss to the White Sox earlier this month. Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve swatted a pair of home runs in the third inning, giving Houston just enough of an edge to clinch their 75th win of the season.

Indians 10, Royals 1: The Indians kept spinning their carousel of injured pitchers on Friday, swapping out a healthy Andrew Miller for Corey Kluber after their starter twisted his ankle during the Royals’ attempted rally in the sixth inning. Kluber’s loss didn’t slow Cleveland down for long, however, and they completed their seventh win in eight games after taking a nine-game lead over their division rivals.

Rockies 8, Brewers 4: The Rockies still top the NL wild card standings, and this time, they’re not sharing first place with anyone. They slugged their way to eight runs on Friday night, banking on big shots from Gerardo Parra and Carlos Gonzalez to secure a one-game lead over the Diamondbacks. The Brewers’ Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana, meanwhile, had more modest goals, each reaching 20 home runs in the Brewers’ losing effort.

“All my life, I’ve always wanted to hit 20 home runs,” Broxton told reporters following the loss. “I’ve never done it, and it’s nice to actually do it in the big leagues.”

Nationals 7, Padres 1: We don’t always get to pick and choose our moments in the spotlight, and for rookie right-hander Matt Grace, his moment coincided with an untimely injury to Max Scherzer. The Nats’ ace was scratched with neck inflammation prior to the game, accelerating Grace’s big league debut against San Diego. He turned in 4 1/3 scoreless innings, holding the Padres to just two hits and registering his first major league strikeout against Dusty Coleman to help the Nationals to a cushy 14-game lead in the NL East.

Giants 10, Phillies 2: The Giants could face the rest of the season without closing pitcher Mark Melancon, but at least on Friday, a solid start from Matt Moore and an explosive run by the offense was enough to single-handedly shut down the Phillies. Moore kept the Phillies off the board for 7 1/3 innings, backed by a handful of base hits and home runs from Hunter Pence and Brandon Crawford to establish the club’s first double-digit win in two weeks.

Mets trade Curtis Granderson to the Dodgers

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The Mets traded centerfielder Curtis Granderson to the Dodgers for cash considerations or a player to be named later, the teams announced late Friday night. Granderson was rumored to be drawing interest from teams earlier in the week, and found a landing place after slashing .256/.360/.721 since the start of the month. In a corresponding move, the Dodgers designated right-hander Dylan Floro for assignment to clear roster space for the outfielder.

As a whole, the 36-year-old’s 2017 campaign has been a tad underwhelming. Granderson entered Saturday batting .228/.334/.481 with 19 home runs and an .815 OPS through 395 PA, and accrued 1.7 fWAR to the 5.1 fWAR he produced during his pennant-winning, MVP-contending season in 2015. Still, with under $4 million remaining on his contract, another 20+ homer season around the corner and the defensive chops to man center field, it looks like a prudent deal for the Dodgers as they continue to bulldoze their way to the playoffs this fall.

The club has yet to outline their plans for Granderson, but his addition to a crowded outfield could displace centerfielder Joc Pederson, who turned in a meager .214/.329/.415 batting line through 292 PA in 2017. It could also have ramifications for fellow veteran Andre Ethier, assuming he’s healthy enough to compete for a starting role when he comes off the 60-day disabled list in September. The Mets, meanwhile, are expected to lean more heavily on rookie outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who’s made just five starts this season after struggling to get consistent playing time on the field.