The Tale Of The Tape: Braves Vs Dodgers In The NLCS

Two of the most potent offenses in baseball go head up this week in the National League Championship Series. Neither has lost a single game against their opponents during this postseason. This will be the third they meet since 2013 but the first in a league championship series.

The Braves come in holding the Reds and the Marlins to a total of five runs. That is not a typo. They began the playoffs shutting out Cincinnati in the wild card series. In the first game of the division series, Atlanta gave up 5 runs but still won since they put up 9. They went on to shutout Miami in games 2 and 3 to complete their sweep. Four shutouts in 5 games is a phenomenal feat regardless of the strength of their opponents.

But a word on the Reds and Marlins offense. According to baseball-reference, both teams are ranked in the bottom half of the NL in offensive wins above replacement (oWAR) for the 2020 season. It obviously showed during the playoffs. Still, holding a pair of playoff teams to an average of 1 run per game is impressive.

The Dodgers, like every other team in this postseason, have allowed more runs than the Braves. But like Atlanta, Los Angeles has a WHIP under 1. And this is against teams who were in both spectrums of the oWAR NL ranks. The Padres were arguably the most explosive offense this season. The Brewers were not. But both teams pitching staffs sat within the NL top five in rWAR (baseball-reference WAR). With neither the Reds nor Marlins in the top five in pitching rWAR, Atlanta accumulated 24 runs. The Dodgers ran up 30 runs against the two opponents they have played so far.

Atlanta’s lineup is deep with talent that was very productive this season. Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Dansby Swanson sat in the top 20 of the NL’s offensive WAR rankings compared to the Dodgers who had Mookie Betts and Corey Seager within that grouping. And no team scored more runs than the Braves from the 6th to 9th inning. That is not to say the Dodgers are not a threat late in the game since they were ranked third in runs scored within those same innings.

Both Atlanta’s and L.A.’s offenses have had a successful year. Not much telling the two apart except in one category: Plate Discipline. This is where the Dodgers hold the upper hand.

Four statistics prove the difference in self-control at the plate between the two ball clubs:

  • O-Swing% is the rate of pitches swung at outside the strike zone.
  • Z-Swing% is the rate of pitches swung at inside the strike zone.
  • Z-Contact% is the rate of pitches in the strike zone that was put in play.
  • SwStr% (Swinging Strike%) is the rate of pitches that were swung at and missed.

The Dodgers O-Swing% was the lowest in baseball while the Braves sat in the bottom half of the NL ranks.

Atlanta was NL ranked first in Z-Swing% but last in Z-Contact%. The Dodgers sat in the top half of the NL ranks in both categories.

The Dodgers were tied for fourth with the lowest SwStr% in baseball while the Braves were tied for the third-highest SwStr%.

Regardless of how both teams approach their plate appearances, they still sit above most teams offensively. You can argue that even though Atlanta didn’t make much contact but recorded hits when they did. And the proof lies in their MLB best batting average with balls in play. The counter-argument to that: There’s little room for error in the playoffs, and the more disciplined team usually holds the odds in their favor.

Where the two teams stand most apart isn’t in their offense. It’s in their pitching staffs. The Dodgers, as a whole, finished the season with a 71 ERA-. That’s tied for an MLB best 29 points above league average. The Braves held an ERA- of 99. Only 1 point above league average.

Now, you can’t just evaluate a team’s pitching staff by lumping the starters and relievers together. Let’s break down matchups since we know who the Brave starters are for the first three games and Dodger starters for games one and two.

Braves

Max Fried gets the nod for Atlanta in game 1. He finished the season with a 2.25 ERA and 3.10 FIP in 11 starts, and 56 innings pitched. He went five innings in 10 of his 11 starts and never allowed more than three runs in any of his outings. The problem was his last start of the season, where he left after the 1st inning due to an ankle injury. It didn’t stop him from pitching a week later and recording seven scoreless innings in game 1 of the wild card series. His next start didn’t go so well, giving up four runs in four innings pitched.

Ian Anderson is a rookie that finished the season with a 1.95 ERA and 2.54 FIP in 6 starts, and 32.1 innings pitched. In his 2 starts, he’s gone nearly 6 innings both times and has allowed zero runs. He’s only 22 years old, but the pressures of performing in the postseason don’t seem to bother him much. He’ll go up against Clayton Kershaw in game 2.

Kyle Wright finished the season with a 5.21 ERA and 5.90 FIP in 8 starts, and 38 innings pitched. That would be considered a poor season, but it didn’t translate in his sole outing this postseason against the Marlins in game 3 of the NLDS, where he pitched six scoreless innings. He gets the game 3 nod again in the NLCS.

Dodgers

In 8 starts, Walker Buehler only recorded six innings pitched once with every other start going for less. He ended with a 3.44 ERA and 4.36 FIP. He only went 4 innings in both his postseason starts giving up 2 runs in one and a sole run in the other. His short outings can be attributed to a blister issue he’s been dealing with in his right index finger. This is a potential concern since it affects his repertoire. He’ll pitch game 1 against the Braves.

Kershaw started 10 games this season, finishing with a 2.16 ERA and 3.31 FIP. His stellar season has translated well into the postseason. In his WCS game 2 start, Kershaw pitched 8 scoreless innings allowing only four batters to reach base. In game 2 of the NLDS, he gave up 3 runs in 6 innings pitched, which equates to a quality start. As mentioned, he gets the nod against rookie Ian Anderson.

Who goes up against Wright in game 3 is anyone’s guess. Julio Urias, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin (who hasn’t pitched this postseason) are three potential starters or bulk inning eaters. All three have the potential to do both successfully. The potential any piggyback each other seems unlikely with a seven-game series and no days off but with the Dodgers depth and the team’s willingness to get creative, anything possible.

That covers the starters, which the Dodgers hold the edge in depth because, after the third game, the Braves will potentially go with multiple bullpen games while the Dodgers won’t need to go with any at all.

Both team’s bullpens finished 1st and 2nd respectively in ERA- in the NL. Both teams have 9 relievers that have recorded 10 innings pitched, with weighted on-base averages against under .300. The league average for relievers is .323. In the reliever department, both teams, statistically, are near equally matched.

The Dodgers are favored to win this series by most, and it’s likely due to their pitching depth. If I had to pick how many games, I’d say Dodgers in five.

Oskar is a writer and contributor for Dodgers-Lowdown. Follow him on Twitter @2Rawsko94.