The Dodgers will take on the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS starting Monday. Both teams were the top two seeds in the National League playoffs, and each has advanced through the first two rounds without losing a game so far.
With the shortened 60-game season this year, the teams did not face one another, so this will be the first meeting between the two since last season. The Dodgers will be looking to appear in their third World Series in four years, while Atlanta will be trying to get to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1999.
Below, we break down both teams by position, and how they match-up with one another.
Travis d’Arnaud hit out of his mind this year, batting .321/.386/.533, numbers that are way above his normal career production. He may have been playing over his head a bit, but it’s hard to ignore that kind of production. If he can continue that in the playoffs, this is a much closer matchup then many would think.
As good as d’Arnaud was this year offensively, he still had an OPS 60 points lower than Smith’s .980. Smith’s 163 wRC+ led all catchers, and his numbers could have been even better if not for some bad luck early this season. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Smith is probably the best offensive catcher in the game. And though there’s a significant drop-off when Austin Barnes catches, he’s 4-5 so far this postseason, and one of the best pitch-framers in the league.
Freddie Freeman has been one of the best hitters in the league for the last few years now. His 1.102 OPS was 2nd in baseball this year and he also had the 2nd highest OBP and wRC+. He’s one of the top players in the game and could certainly be the N.L MVP this season.
You could argue that Max Muncy was just as good as Freeman in the two years before this season, and the numbers would support that claim. However, Muncy has taken a step back during the shortened 2020 season, slashing only .192/.331/.389. Muncy is still a solid player, but Freeman is one of the league’s best.
Ozzie Albies only had 124 plate appearances this year and didn’t put up the same kind of numbers that he had in 2019, when he had a .852 OPS. With such a small sample size, it’s hard to determine if he was truly on his way to a down year, or if his numbers would have come back closer to his normal production. Either way, he’s still a good young player that has a lot of potential.
The Dodgers are one of the deepest teams in the league, and second base is just one of several positions where many players can fill the spot. Chris Taylor has settled into that role this postseason after a very productive regular season, where he rotated around the field. His .842 OPS this year was the highest it’s been since 2017, and he gives the Dodgers a lot of versatility.
Austin Riley took the reins at third base for Atlanta this year, and although his production wasn’t bad, it paled in comparison to Josh Donaldson’s numbers. The former first-round pick still has a lot of potential, but his .239/.301/.415 slash line is a far cry from Justin Turner.
Even though Turner battled a hamstring injury earlier this year, he still had a good season, slashing .307/.400/.460. Turner has always been a key player for the Dodgers during the playoffs, and he recently passed Steve Garvey for most postseason hits in team history. He’s been here before and perhaps has the most playoff experience of any position player in the series.
Dansby Swanson had the best season of his pro career, improving his offensive numbers across the board. He became a fixture in Atlanta’s lineup, leading the league in at-bats while playing a decent shortstop, and probably has a defensive edge over his counterpart.
As much as Swanson improved, it’s still nowhere close to the offensive numbers that Corey Seager put up this year. Seager was one of the best shortstops in the league, posting a 151 wRC+, and clubbing 15 home runs. He’s a huge part of the Dodgers’ lineup.
Adam Duvall hit 16 home runs this year, but only posted a .237 average and .301 OBP. His 0.28 BB/K was also the worst on the team among qualified players. The pop in his bat makes him a threat, but if he’s not hitting the long ball, he can be a non-factor at times.
A.J Pollock had a nice bounce-back season, posting a .881 OPS, which is the highest mark of his career. He also had 16 home runs in only 55 games and hit lefties particularly well this year (1.185 OPS.) Before the season began, most believed Pollock would have to share time if left with Joc Pederson, but given the former’s success and the latter’s struggles, Pollock has basically turned into the everyday option.
This may be the most interesting positional comparison, considering each guy is one of their team’s most important players. Ronald Acuna continues to be one of the most exciting young players in the game, and his .987 OPS was the best mark of his brief career. Like Cody Bellinger, Acuna is a five-tool player, but unlike Bellinger, he has produced well in the postseason, hitting .304/.400/.607 over 65 playoff PAs.
After his 2019 MVP campaign, Cody Bellinger took a significant step back this year, putting up an OPS (.789) almost 250 points lower than last season. He still offers plenty of value with his defense, illustrated by his home run robbing catch against the Padres, and his ability to move around the diamond to play different positions. Bellinger’s potential makes this one close, but it’s hard to go against Acuna based on what each player has done recently.
Sight Advantage: Braves
Nick Markakis figures to man right field for the Braves, and the veteran brings plenty of experience to the table. His production, however, fell off this year, and he put up some career lows during the shortened season.
In his first year with the Dodgers, Mookie Betts lived up to all the high expectations placed on him. He’s made an already good lineup great and given the Dodgers their first true leadoff hitter in a long time. His .927 OPS this season is second only to his 2018 MVP year. Betts also offers gold glove defense, and great base running. He’s just flat-out good at baseball.
The Braves have one of the best options at DH this year with Marcell Ozuna, who was on pace for a career year. Ozuna led the NL in home runs with 18, and his 1.067 OPS was 3rd best in baseball. He’s been a consistent threat in Atlanta’s lineup all year.
With such a deep team, the Dodgers haven’t utilized one player as their primary DH. They can go with Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, Will Smith (when Barnes is catching), or even Edwin Rios if he comes back healthy after missing the NLDS. While all those options are capable, none are on the level of Ozuna.
Both teams are very good, with stars up and down their roster. The Dodgers were labeled the best team in the game before the season started, and they’ve lived up to those expectations and then some. But the Braves are not too far behind them overall, and they should give the Dodgers a run for their money. And, as we all know, playoff baseball can be volatile.
Drop your series predictions in the comments below!
And check out part 2 of this mini-series where we breakdown each club’s pitching staff head-to-head!