National League Division Series Preview

It’s natural to hate the Dodgers. The Braves used to share a division with them, and they’ve had pennant chases with them in 1982, 1983, and 1991. Most recently, you may have bad memories of David Carpenter grooving a home run to Juan Uribe while Craig Kimbrel stands with his arms folded in the bullpen. That was the last memory Braves fans have of the playoffs, and it’s not a good one. And since we’ve not won the last game we’ve played since 1995, Braves fans are a little shellshocked. Who knows, maybe 28-3 plays a role as well.

But it may be helpful to know that these are two very different teams. Only four players remain from the 2013 Dodgers’ Division Series roster: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Yasiel Puig. We have even less: Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran. And if you can believe it, there’s even less similarities from those 1982 rosters. We won’t be seeing Fernando Valenzuela toe the rubber for the Dodgers or Dale Murphy step in the box for the Braves. What’s done is done, and this is a new time.

The Dodgers won 104 games last year and took it to 7 games in the World Series. They were one of the preseason favorites in the NL, but they stumbled out of the gate. After losing to Atlanta on June 9th, they were 32-32. On July 1st, they were 5 games above .500, and they took off from there. They went 49-32 from July 1st on, including 19-9 in September and October as they fought off the Rockies. Long story short, they are a really good team that has been playing well recently.

They can hit, and they can pitch, no doubt about it. In the second half, they were second in wRC+ and first in position player WAR. They were 6th in pitcher WAR, 1st in ERA, and 3rd in FIP. They traded for Manny Machado at the deadline, which greatly improved their middle of the order. Hyun-Jin Ryu has been tremendous in the second half, forming a strong lefty 1-2 punch with Clayton Kershaw. We will see those pitchers games 1 and 2. Good thing we hit lefties much better than we hit righties, right?

That’s the bad news. The good news is there is one key area of the game that they don’t do very well that the Braves do quite well. The Dodgers kick the ball quite a bit; the Braves do not. The Dodgers are 24th in defensive WAR, and they did not get any better by adding Manny Machado to their middle infield. The Braves, on the other hand, are 7th. Their outfield of Joc Pederson (or Matt Kemp) in LF, Cody Bellinger in CF, and Yasiel Puig in RF gives up a lot of outs. Their infield of Max Muncy, Manny Machado, Chris Taylor, and Justin Turner does not have a plus defender either. They have designed their lineup around offense, and while they have indeed gotten it, it’s come at the expense of their defense. Can we capitalize?

The Braves have their own issues in the pen, but the Dodgers were not great in relief in September. Kenley Jansen was hittable (4.86 FIP), and like us, they lacked a wire-to-wire 6-7-8th setup combo all year. They are having to mix-and-match in the bullpen just like us. Like us, they rode a newcomer like Pedro Baez the way we did with Chad Sobotka and Brad Brach down the stretch.

It’s going to be very difficult to beat the Dodgers, no doubt. For us to beat them, we will need to see heavy strikeout and ground ball performances from our starters. Mike Foltynewicz can rack up the strikeouts, and Anibal Sanchez can induce lots of ground balls. The same with the bullpen with Jonny Venters, Chad Sobotka, Brad Brach, and whoever closes out the game. With their poor defense, our line-drive heavy team will have to take advantage of their poor defense. We have to get to Kershaw and Ryu, and the back of our pen needs to pitch more like they did in the first four months of the season than the last month. You only need to win 3 games, and then no one cares who was the better team. Why not us?

107 thoughts on “National League Division Series Preview”

  1. And yet 2nd in runs allowed per game…weird. It’s almost like pitching might matter a lot more than “defense”.

  2. Or you have to have even more pitching to compensate for bad defense. I don’t think most times have that luxury.

  3. Thanks, Rob, excellent preview. Why not us? Go Braves!

    Has anyone seen any information on what time they will start the game tomorrow?

  4. They are 7th in defensive runs saved above average. So it might also be about which questionable measurement methodology is “best”. This is why I just ignore it.

  5. Game times are set.

    Thursday @ 8:37PM ET on MLBN
    Friday @ 9:37PM ET on FS1
    Sunday @ 8:07PM ET on FS1

  6. @6 That goes both ways, though. The Dodgers are 8th in DRS, but the Braves are 3rd. The Braves’ DRS total is 80% higher — almost double — the Dodgers. At some point, you just have to use your head and say, “When it comes to defense, do I believe this stat or this stat based on what my eyes tell me?” If a team has a 1B playing CF, Matt Kemp in LF 50% of the time, Manny Machado as their shortstop, and Max Muncy at 3B, then I think I believe there’s a big gap. According to unit rankings, the biggest gap between the Dodgers and Braves is the Braves’ superiority on defense. Whether that ends up mattering or not obviously remains to be seen.

  7. One big advantage for them that I didn’t include is their bench. Since we won’t throw a LHP SP, they’ll have Matt Kemp, David Freese, and Brian Dozier against our lefty relievers. Those options against RHP will still be pretty good when we pretty much only have Duda.

    In other news, Josh Donaldson has a .920 OPS in 60 PAs for Cleveland.

  8. For specificity, it doesn’t seem to have been announced that he won’t be on the roster, but it doesn’t look like he will.

  9. Bowman thinks they start Newcomb. That’s if we haven’t already swept them. /hope

  10. @6 @8 Here’s where it makes a difference. The Braves have the third fewest K’s in the NL (although basically tied with the gNats for second) and 7th overall fewest. The Braves also have the second fewest HRs given up in the NL (basically tied for second overall with the Astros).

    We got beat by HRs last time – mostly of the Muncy variety (great reasons not to start Teheran). If we put the ball in play (i.e. don’t K much), then we can take advantage of poor defense – especially with our excess of speed. Limiting HRs (and walks, of course) and keeping the ball in play is our path to winning. The Dodgers also strikeout a lot (8th most overall)

    The Dodgers are only average at preventing steals and they don’t steal all that much (good since Braves are 4th worst overall at preventing steals).

    Speed, defense, put the ball in play, and limit HRs and walks. That’s how we win. We have been good at all of that except the walks part. Of course, the Dodgers lead all of baseball in walks.

    The Dodgers win with a few walks and a couple of 3-run HRs. A walk is a rally……

  11. Speed, defense, put the ball in play, and limit HRs and walks. That’s how we win.

    Well, yeah. If we prevent them from scoring and score ourselves, we should do well.

  12. @17 My response is not that simple. I’m not suggesting we have to hit a bunch of 3-run HRs to win or keep them from getting hits. Others suggested we should make sure they hit the ball on the ground; how is that different from what I was suggesting?

    The point is the items I mentioned, except the walks, are things we do well and have done well all year.

  13. As I understand it, the best way to pass along your advice for how to manage playoff games directly to the Braves is to email that advice at least twice daily to bravesjournalrob at gmail dot com.

  14. If I had had to guess, one or the other, between “Matt Holliday is dead” or “Matt Holliday will be the starting LF for the play-in WC game,” I’d have gone with dead.

  15. I have strong doubts that any numbers that have been compiled W/R/T defense over 162 games will matter a whit in this series.

    It will come down to who pitches better and who hits the most HRs as it normally does.

  16. @15, Sounds like Joe, Chip, then Rick Sutcliffe (the absolute worst) are the final three voices before Junior tells the grumpy old men to put a sock in it.

  17. That is so embarrassing for the Braves for both of their TV guys to be 2 of 3 announcers being ridiculed on a video marketed by MLB. I think Chip doesn’t have as big of a problem if you have a different color guy, but Joe absolutely needs to go.

  18. Of the acquisitions we’ve made where they were basically salary swaps/dumps, the absence of Adrian Gonzalez/Bronson Arroyo/Trevor Cahill is obvious, and Scott Kazmir is understandable. But does it bother anyone that Brandon McCarthy hasn’t traveled with the team? He made 15 starts, spending almost half of the year on the roster. This is the first time where it’s given me pause that a player is nowhere to be found in team activities while sharing a sizable portion of the year on the team.

  19. @30 I would not have given it even a second’s thought until you brought it up. Whatever he and the team want is fine.

  20. I hate the Dodgers and the Cubs more than I hate the Rockies and Coors Field.

    Game 1 will be Ryu rather than Kershaw…unbelievable decision…

  21. I would be in favor of Coors Field being named the new home for every MLB postseason game if it meant that the Cubs would go away.

  22. The Cubs couldn’t buy a break even with all of the Tribune Company’s money.

    Edit: Aaaaand right as I say that, they do.

  23. I’m jealous that they have Schwarber and Heyward off the bench. But let’s be honest, if Heyward’s performance matched his name, he would still be in the lineup everyday.

  24. Heyward for some reason never adjusted enough to fulfill his potential. It was a good decision to let him go. He got us Ender and Dansby so I don’t have negative feeling toward him.

  25. I wish they would move the season back to 154 games and make the Wild Card a quick 3-game series. Sending the Cubs home doesn’t bother me, but I don’t think one game should be enough to unseat the team with the second-most wins out of the 5 playoff teams.

  26. Snit won’t bring in a lefty that kills righties to pitch to a righty and Madden has Pedro Strop pitching for the first time in 3 weeks in a tie ballgame in the 9th in an elimination game.

  27. Watching Cole Hamels mow through the lineup one good time makes me dream of Max Fried doing the same.

  28. What a great game…now we know what the Rockies got for their 150 million.

    My first Statcast event, impressive, educational. Eduardo was the perfect sage backing up the nerd guy who was very good and a so so PBP type.. their shift chart, to scale and superimposed, was a wow.

    Torrance Gore
    the fastest man in the game per Statcast, sure looked it.

    Braves trivia…first time ever, surely, two xBraves pinch hit back to back, twice. To no avail, like most everyone else. TLS at least got on through catcher interference.

    Jason had an awful evening after he came on. 0 for 3, left 4 on some in crucial situations late, never got the ball out of the infield.It still hurts.

    Glad the Rocks one. There is now an air of entitlement at Wrigley which does not sit well. LA will be much worse of course.

    GOAT OF THE NIGHT…Rizzo, hitting into back to back double plays.

  29. So happy the cubs are gone. Now hope the Braves will take care of the Dodgers and the Brews beat the Rockies.

  30. @23 Chief, you may be right and that’s why I advocate for signing Harper in the offseason (over a Markakis type) and letting Riley swing away. However, this year, it’s the Braves’ job to not make it about the HRs because in the pitching and HR department, the Dodgers win every time. In the future, the Braves need to add about 30 annual HRs to what we have now. Harper will add 20 and, hopefully, Riley will add 10.

    The primary reason we killed the Phils this year is because of defense and small ball. The Phils pitching was statistically better than ours and they hit more HRs. But their defense was historically bad. These are the same advantages that the Braves need to press against the Dodgers or it will be a very short series. Speed, contact, and defense. And we can only hope the pitchers will find a way to avoid walks.

    The Braves led the NL in doubles so whether from a true hit or by taking the extra base, that is the path to runs. That and some better small ball than we are noted for.

  31. @56. I’ve said in earlier posts that when a defense is as bad as the Phillies’ was this year that it matters.

    I also STRONGLY agree with you though that adding ~30 HRs overall to this team is what will take them from good/great to a real threat to win it all.

  32. Continue to believe Swanson will be in our 25.

    I might also add that there could be an additional element to this.He might have declared himself fit a couple of days ago and Snit and AA, the master Machiavellians, hatched a plot to keep that quiet, imply the opposite, thus creating an eleventh hour announcement to boost morale sky high.

    Believe.

  33. It would not be the first time that’s been done, blazon. Here’s hoping.

    If they can add 30 HRs and increase their overall runs scored — which is not as easy as it sounds — then they’ll have accomplished what they need to on the position player side. And there’s plenty of money to do it. But they could easily add 30 HRs to say they did and sacrifice their overall offensive output. This is essentially the argument for why Markakis was so valuable in the first half and why Camargo is still seen as the future at 3B.

    And of course, there’s the obvious concern that some may not share that you add 30 HRs, lose 30 runs, and also lose 15-20 runs in the field resulting in… the Philadelphia Phillies.

  34. It’s really not getting much attention on here aside from Alex posting a link, but the Department of Justice is looking into MLB signing practices internationally, and they’re currently looking at the Braves and Dodgers.

    https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/10/02/fbi-investigation-mlb-atlanta-braves-los-angeles-dodgers

    It was seemingly enough of a problem that the Dodgers were grading employees from zero to criminal internally.

    https://www.sbnation.com/2018/10/2/17928568/mlb-department-of-justice-sports-illustrated-investigation-dodgers-chart-of-known-criminals

    We’ve already had enough problems with this, and it probably doesn’t help that that was the organization AA came from. Their scouting director at the time was Gabe Kapler.

  35. Adding 30 home runs.

    This can be done without the need to indulge in Boras worship. Such resources are far better employed elsewhere in our other areas of need.

    30 more HR will come from …

    a) Acuna playing a full year and getting wiser by the minute and will total 45.

    b) Ozzie will finally see the virtue of reason and reassess his HR production over the first 6 weeks of this year and where it came from. Modestly, that will add 12 to 15 to our pile.

    As Casanova once famously said, ‘Why pay for it when you can get it at home? ‘

  36. The fact that Cuban players were establishing residency in other countries in order to obtain visas to the U.S. has been reported in the press for several years. No surprises there.

  37. I think MLB will make the Dodgers forfeit the upcoming series with Braves. How else can you do justice in this?

    Maybe the Braves are protected by double jeopardy.

  38. @59 If you use Duvall as the new RF then you might end up with a scenario like you mentioned (adding 20 HRs and losing 20runs), although he’s likely a better defender than Nick. I would think the same is true of Riley as RF – you might not lose 20 runs but he will almost certainly not be as good a defender. If you add 20HRs via Harper, you will not lose 20 runs and, all statistics to the contrary, you should not negatively impact the defense.

    Also, MLBTR seems to think the Marlins will non-tender Dietrich. He would be a great addition for the bench – a lefty Culby.

  39. I think the Braves are included in the corruption discussion because they were the team beat out by the Dodgers for Olivera. A good case to use to compare how far any team was willing to go to sign a player. I am sure the Braves have already paid our price (unless AA is in jeopardy).

  40. @61 You are wildly optimistic and we have to replace Nick with someone; it might as well be Harper. I am not ready to predict Acuna will be a perennial contender for the HR championship. We still have the dichotomy of how he played earlier in the year (above average) and how he played in the second half (superstar).

    With regard to Ozzie, I think you may have seen his career high in HRs this year. I’d be happy if he continued to be a perennial contender for the league doubles title and hit occasional HRs.

    Although, according to FG, Camargo has posted better defensive numbers at 3B than anyone else in the NL – inched ahead of Arenado. If he wins a GG this year, it may be awfully difficult to see a path for Riley at 3B.

  41. Showalter out. I’m sure MLB loves that 3 managers have been fired in the first week of the playoffs, but oh well.

  42. @66

    I would see if you can move Riley to left and push Acuna to right.

    Or keep Riley at third and move Camargo to short.

  43. Just dropping by to say that it’s great to get a Wednesday off! And to thank Rob for a great job wrangling us recappers for a year. True, he’s aided by the great salaries he got from MLB to pay us, but there are those of us who might do it for less…(Don’t tell our union reps.)

    As to the playoffs, the objectively worse team wins about 40% of the time. That’s better odds than Freddie at the plate. Go Braves.

  44. If you can get Bryce Harper for nothing but money, you got get Bryce friggin’ Harper for nothing but money. It’s not your personal pension or 401k, people.

  45. @70

    I generally agree. If you can sign Harper for a figure that doesn’t wreck the long term budget, you do that.

  46. Is Heyward broken or does anyone have any hope that he can become the 5 WAR player he was before he signed his mega deal? Is there any precedent for a guy falling off like this and ever getting it back sustainably?

  47. @70 Exactly right. We gotta see some benefit from all the salary dodging we’ve been doing the last few years – especially the Kemp dump. We have plenty of money to go big on one at least.

    On another note, I have been very pro-Riley but I looked at some more numbers and I am beginning to think that Camargo is Machado-lite. His hitting stats in his second year line up pretty well with Machado’s in his second year. I don’t know if I think he’ll ever get to 35 2B / 35 HR like Machado but I think 35 / 25 is not unreasonable. And he doesn’t have a platinum glove but it’s sure GG worthy. There is certainly no way I’d pay for Machado with the guys we’ve got now.

    By next year, we should have at least 3x 5 WAR players (Freeman, Acuna, Camargo), 1x 4 WAR (Albies), and 1x 3 WAR (Ender). If we add a 5+ WAR in the OF and a 4+ WAR at C then we will have a Red Sox / Yankee style powerhouse.

  48. @69 Hey JonathanF, where are you getting this number from? Are you talking about the whole series or a single game?

    Thanks! Love your numbers work.

    I write from Cartagena, Colombia, close to the house where Julio was born.

  49. For the record, I don’t like the “opener” concept (which the A’s are employing tonight) at all, but if there’s a game to do it in, it’s the wild card game.

    UPDATE: Ha! …or maybe not. The editing window hadn’t even closed on my comment yet when the Yankees blew up the A’s plan.

  50. Oakland’s starting pitching is really bad. I’ll be interested to see if the opener and subsequent reliever work keeps them in the game. I know I would not want to hand the ball to Cahill or Friers with this lineup.

  51. Well, if they win, they’re playing Boston, so I guess making the Division Series is better than not, but I’m not sure what the endgame is if they don’t have one starting pitcher they’re willing to trot out there against a dangerous lineup.

  52. I feel like if we add Harper we will win the WS. Is it a gamble. Yes. Hell yes. A huge gamble. But I would go for it.

  53. I hate Bryce Harper as much as the next guy, but if we actually have a shot to sign him, we should sign him.

    I think a lot of the pushback comes with the thought that it’ll never actually happen. This team is instantly one of the favorites to win the World Series next year if we sign him, though.

  54. I can’t see us moving Camargo to make room for anyone. He had a really good year.

    If Bryce Harper can sign with the Braves, of course we should do it. AJ Pollack would be the 2nd choice. If we can’t get either of those two, we should probably have Riley learn the outfield.

  55. Harper needs a change of scenery. i am not concerned, we will not sign him. Somebody will go crazy and that team will not be the Braves.

    As for Riley, I still think there are enough at bats to accommodate all five of Ozzie, Dansby, Johan, Charlie and Riley in a 162-game season among the 2B, SS and 3B positions. Should not and can not rely the luck of perfect health.

  56. I know people here have posted a lot about how much they hate the Cubs or Dodgers. As I watch the game tonight, I’m reminded of how the Yankees are exponentially more hateable than any team in the national league.

  57. @74: Dammit Roberto… I was afraid someone was going to ask me that. To be accurate, it was semi-completely made up number. But to justify it, all you have to do is think that in a single game between two playoff-quality teams, the better team has about a 55% chance of winning every game (which is really high) that would translate into about a 60 percent chance that the better team would win through binomial expansion in a best-of-five series. (By the way, that shows that in a short series, the probability of the better team winning is not that much more than their probability of winning a single game. As the series lengthens, their advantage lengthens.)

  58. It’s weird that I don’t really hate the Yankees. I hate our failure to beat them in the WS, but I don’t hate them per-se. I hate the Cardinals. The Dodgers. Lately the Cubs. The Yankees I just have begrudging respect for. They are smart and rich, yeah I get how that’s annoying, but their team is mostly young and a lot is home-grown. They are more root-able than the Red Sox right now.

  59. Yankees are the worst and it’s not close. I want them to lose every game. I have not and will not ever get over 1996.

  60. Imagine what it’s like living up here… I have a “friend” who will, uncalled for, drop the word Leyritz into a sentence every now and then just to piss me off.

  61. @72, not a whole lot of precedent with hitters. (More with pitchers, I think.) I’m racking my brains, honestly. Maybe you could come up with a few of the launch-angle success stories of the last few years who literally changed their swing midcareer. But his swing is broken, he’s had quite a few changes of scenery, and this year was the supposed sort-of comeback (wRC+ of 99, compared to 88 and 72 the last two years) and sometimes there’s nothing you can do.

    On the other hand, he’s trending in the right direction, but he’s trending up to “won’t kill you” from “unplayable.” I don’t think he can get back to “star,” and don’t think anyone ever really has.

  62. DID YOU KNOW THAT THE ATLANTA BRAVES BASEBALL TEAM WILL BE PLAYING A MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYOFF GAME OF BASEBALL TODAY?

    AM I SHOUTING RIGHT NOW? WHY YES I AM.

  63. The last year the Braves won a playoff series was the same year GWB was inaugurated as president. It’s been awhile, and we are due.

  64. If Chicago wants to eat 20 million of Heyward’s salary, I’d take him. If not, no.

    As a child of the late 80’s and 1990’s, it’s hard for me to really wrap my head around the fact that the Braves haven’t been to a World Series since 1999. 18 and 19 year olds have no living memory of a Braves team making it past the NLCS. A 16 year old has no living memory of team making it as far as the NLCS (2001 vs Arizona.) This is actually almost unthinkable for me.

  65. @98 – They were eliminated from the playoffs that year by Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. This is very difficult for me to get my head around.

  66. Eight consecutive playoff round defeats.

    Eight consecutive Game 1 playoff losses.

    Would love to end both streaks tonight, even as an underdog.

  67. From my buddy Chris Jaffe, who runs a “how old things are” web app thinging: “The Braves haven’t won a World Series game since Oct. 21, 1996. That’s 8,018 days ago. That’s exactly halfway between the present and the day the members of the Ohio National Guard were acquitted in the deaths of the four Kent State students.”

  68. https://www.mlb.com/braves/news/brian-snitker-had-long-journey-to-postseason/c-296994770

    Gosh, I’m so sick of these articles about “the previous regime”. More than half the decade we’ve been reading these articles about how bad the previous FO is. At some point, they just start looking stupid themselves. And I know this is blasphemy, but AA has been involved with the two orgs connected to what make become the newest big baseball cheating scandal, so maybe dial down the “propping up the current regime just to tear them down when they leave” routine.

  69. Carter Stewart (Boras client) is filing a grievance to become a free agent, claiming the Braves did not follow the rules during his negotiation following the draft. Details at Talking Chop. If successful the Braves would lose the 9th pick in the draft.

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