Braves vs. Dodgers: NLDS Predictions

BY foxsports • October 1, 2013

1. Starting lineup

The dilemma for Dodgers manager Don Mattingly used to be figuring a way to keep four outfielders happy. Now he's down to two - Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig - with Matt Kemp lost for the postseason and Andre Ethier probably relegated to a pinch-hit role because of a sore left ankle. But the heart of the Dodgers' lineup remains Puig, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonalez, who combined for 61 home runs and 199 RBI, although only Gonzalez played a full season. The Braves led the National League in homers (181) and were third on on-base plus slugging (.723), but two of their expected big hitters, B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla, had miserable years offensively. Their key hitters will likely be Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton and Brian McCann, who each hit 20 or more home runs. Freeman is strong against left-handed pitching (.287), which could be pivotal against Dodgers lefties Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

THE EDGE: Dodgers

2. Rotation

The Braves don't have an ace, certainly not one who measures up to L.A.'s Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke, but projected Game 1 starter Kris Medlen has been on a consistent roll of late. The right-hander finished the season 15-12 but was 5-0 with a 0.83 ERA in his last six starts. Against the Dodgers, he pitched 13 2/3 innings over two starts and gave up just one unearned run. The Braves' other starters, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Freddy Garcia, each had at least 10 wins. Even so, the Dodgers clearly have an edge in Kershaw, whose 1.83 ERA led the majors, and Greinke, who finished 15-4 and yielded two earned runs or fewer in 15 of his last 16 starts. Rookie left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu won 14 games had success against Atlanta. The Braves could see Kershaw twice and Ryu once in a five-game series, not a good sign given their .239 team average against lefties.


3. Bullpen

The Braves' bullpen had the best team ERA in the majors (2.46), a mark built largely on the arm of untouchable closer Craig Kimbrel. The right-hander saved 50 of 54 games, had a 1.21 ERA and gave up just 39 hits in 67 innings. His primary setup men, Luis Avilan and David Carpenter, both had ERAs under 2.00, so the Dodgers' objective will be to take a lead into the latter stages of a game or risk being shut down. Kenley Jansen assumed the closer 's role for L.A. in June and has embraced it, saving 28 games with a 1.88 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings. Brian Wilson, signed in August, has quietly moved into the setup role over Ronald Belisario, giving up just one run in 18 appearances. Lefties Paco Rodriguez and J.P. Howell are tough on left-handed hitters.

THE EDGE: Braves

4. Bench

The Dodgers' bench will be thin if they put Ethier on the roster because he'll be limited to pinch-hitting duty. Skip Schumaker probably will start in center field, with capable Nick Punto as a reserve. Michael Young, a late-season addition, is a savvy veteran who hit .314 in 21 games and can play second or third. Scott Van Slyke is the team's lone power hitter on the bench. The Braves left Dan Uggla off the 25-man roster and kept B.J. Upton after both endured season-long slumps. As it is, Paul Janish is a strong late-innings infield defender, and Reed Johnson is a formidable pinch-hitter, but he's been slowed the past two months by tendinitis in his left heel.

THE EDGE: Dodgers

5. Intangibles

The Dodgers blended well together with the arrival of rookie Yasiel Puig and the return of shortstop Hanley Ramirez from thumb and hamstring injuries. Their incredible rise from 12 games under .500 in June to 28 games over in September - a stretch in which they won 53 of 66 games - proved to them they were capable of contending for a World Series. Manager Don Mattingly guided the team with a steady hand through injuries and mini-slumps. The Braves, meanwhile, were a team pointing toward the postseason through the entire summer. They're not your dad's Braves - Chipper Jones is retired, remember? - but they played cohesively and resisted prolonged slumps. How will players react now that the popular, hard-nosed Uggla was left off the postseason roster? It could tear apart the team 's fabric. One thing in the Braves' favor: They led the majors with 56 home wins and a .691 percentage, a significant edge with Games 1 and 2 at Turner Field.

THE EDGE: Dodgers

Final prediction
Dodgers in five.

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