Is it just me, or does anyone else feel like they were run over by a truck during the NLDS? I woke up Friday morning sure I was hungover, only to realize I hadn’t had a drop the night before, being too nervous from the tense, well-fought, thrilling series that was the NLDS against the mighty Padres.
This was the series many of us had been looking forward to and dreading since August when it became clear the Padres and the Dodgers would finish 1 and 2 in NL seeding, and then got slightly nervous about when the Padres beat is in the first of that 3-game series back in September…but in a delightfully surprising turn of events, the Dodgers left very little doubt of who the better team was. I mean, we all knew it was the Dodgers, but as we have come to learn, anything can happen in October, and this would have been a heartbreaker to lose.
So, on to the NLCS we go. Here in the latest in our round table series, the Dodgers Nation team discusses our thoughts on the upcoming Best of 7 with the Atlanta Braves.
What has been the most impressive aspect of the Dodgers run so far this postseason?
Gail Johnson (@GJOH29): Without a doubt, the offense and its ability to generate runs without having to rely on the long ball. The baserunning has been phenomenal. Guys who have let us down in past postseason runs (like Belli, Pollock, and Corey) are hitting well and with confidence, and we are starting to see output from guys like Muncy and Joc who did very little during the regular season. If this continues or even steamrolls into more and more offense, it’ll be big trouble for the Braves.
Brian Robitaille (@BriRobitaille): Gail hit the nail on the head. The Dodgers led baseball in home runs, but their offense has shown the ability to score in other ways, which is especially important in the ballpark they’re playing in, where home runs are not easy to come by. They’ve also hit pretty well with RISP, something that’s been an issue in past postseasons.
Tim Rogers (@SDDodger): Game 3 where the offense really clicked. They worked the Padres pitchers and took what was given to them. In a bigger park like that, they seemed to adjust from a homer-happy team to a more solid all around approach to offense.
Eric Eulau (@EEulau): The fact that neither Walker Buehler nor Clayton Kershaw pitched their best in the NLDS and the Dodgers still won both their starts. In years past, if Kershaw gave up three in a playoff game, the Dodgers were doomed. The Dodgers offense prowess has created a larger margin for error for the entire pitching staff, especially Kershaw. He no longer needs to be great in the playoffs for the Dodgers to win, just good.
What will be the keys to beating the Braves?
Gail: I’m going to whip out a sports cliché here and go with ‘continue to trust the process’. Even though I was riddled with anxiety throughout the NLDS (I chalk it up to age and unresolved PTSD), I still never lost the feeling that the Dodgers were just a few baserunners away from getting right back in the game. I think if they continue the same formula that helped them handle the Padres with ‘relative’ ease, they got this. In Acuna Jr and Albies, the Braves roster has young energetic players similar to Tatis Jr. and our friend Manny, so I believe that keeping those 2 reeled in as well as pitching carefully to Freddie Freeman are going to be key.
Brian: The Dodgers need to continue to put good at-bats together on offense, taking their walks, putting the ball in play, and manufacturing runs. They also need to limit Atlanta’s big hitters as much as possible. The Braves lineup may not be as deep at the Dodgers, but their middle of the order is just as potent, and going by the numbers this year, it may be even better. Atlanta’s top two hitters, Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna had the second (1.102) and third (1.067) highest OPS in baseball this year. They also have Ronald Acuna, who was ninth in the league at .987. As good as Mookie Betts and Corey Seager were this year, their OPS was still behind the Brave’s top three. The Dodgers pitching staff needs to make other hitters beat them, whenever possible.
Tim: Continuing the better offense approach is huge. It is imperative that they not think everything needs to be cute with the pitching staff. Having an opener is not a big deal as long as the main starters get a majority of the game. The Dodgers’ pitching is perfect for having no off days as they have five legitimate starters. No reason to force a bullpen game with this group. The only bullpen games from this point on would only be if a starter falters.
Eric: Solving the Braves pitching. Starter Ian Anderson hasn’t given up an earned run this postseason (11.2 IP) while Will Smith and Mark Melancon have combined for zero earned runs in relief (8.1 IP). The Braves offense is just as potent as the Padres, but their pitching staff is far superior. Like the Dodgers, the Braves haven’t lost a game this playoffs and just one more pitching stat: five earned runs total in five playoff games for Atlanta
How concerned are you with the Dodgers’ closer situation right now? How would you proceed going forward? Jansen should only pitch in the ______ inning.
Gail: Admittedly this is not the ideal time for Kenley’s wheels to finally fall off after years and years of use. We could see it coming with his increasingly nerve-wracking appearances this season and continued drop in velocity. The off-season should prove to be an interesting time for bullpen talk, but I think for now, the focus should be on winning 8 more games by any means possible, and that in my opinion will be by going with the hot hand as the match-ups present themselves. As for Kenley, I don’t he should be coming in any later than the 6th inning, but if he does, it would ideally involve Doc handing him the ball as a courtesy to throw the last pitch of the series on way to a 4-game Dodgers sweep of the Braves, with the team up by a margin of 9-10 runs.
Brian: Pretty concerned, to be honest. At this point, I’m not sure they can go to Kenley Jansen in a close save situation. That’s unfortunate because he’s been in that role for so long, and it surely won’t be easy for Dave Roberts to admit that he’s lost trust in his long-time closer. But that’s the reality. I’d close games from here on out based on matchups. Maybe it’s Victor Gonzalez one day, and perhaps it’s Brusdar Graterol the next. It depends on the situation and matchup. As far as Jansen goes, I’d only use him in some low-leverage situations for now, if any present themselves. Hopefully, he can build a couple of things back up… his confidence and his velocity.
Tim: My primary concern about the bullpen is the possible mismanagement that we saw in WC game 2. Using Jansen on consecutive days and backing him up with Joe Kelly was one of the worst possible decisions that could have been made. Treat Jansen like any other pitcher and don’t use him on consecutive days. Like any other pitcher, getting someone ready behind him is important. Jansen should be used sparingly and with only a decent lead until he proves he can be effective again.
Eric: Highly concerned. Tim couldn’t have said it better. I trust the talent in the Dodgers bullpen, I don’t trust the management of that talent. Hopefully, the Dodgers stop pulling setup pitchers after a clean eighth inning and let them pitch to the leadoff man in the ninth. The best plan for Kenley? Have him pitch the first innings for Julio Urias since Kenley can’t handle any other inning at this point and Urias can’t pitch effectively in the first innings. A mutually beneficial solution.
How should Roberts utilize Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin in this series?
Gail: I’d love to see them both start – Games 3 and 4 respectively. The bullpen is robust enough; this isn’t past years where the pitching staff was running on a wing and a prayer, so we can afford to have those two young arms designated as starters. I say let ‘em fly and have the bullpen ready to come in if needed.
Brian: Like many others, I was a little confused about the way Roberts decided to employ Dustin May last series. He used him for two innings in relief for Game 1, and then as an opener for only one inning in Game 3. Would May have been available for a possible Game 5, if needed? Personally, it doesn’t matter to me what order they use May, Gonsolin, and Urias, as long as all three are available for their respective starts in Games 3-5. If any come in for relief appearances that would jeopardize their starts, I wouldn’t be in favor of that. Roberts should trust his normal relief guys. And with no days off in a possible seven-game series, they really need their starters to go as long as possible so they don’t overuse their bullpen.
Tim: Both should be starters or bulk guys if the team wants to use an opener. Same for Julio Urias. No relief appearances on their non-start games before their appearance. However, let’s say May goes in game 3, he could pitch in relief later.
Eric: Unless things really come off the rails in the early part of the series, both May and Gonsolin should start. The deep Dodgers pitching staff is built for a seven game playoff series. Rolling out quality starters for each game is the best way for Roberts to utilize that advantage.
Gail: 5 high-intensity games in 5 straight days would be tough on anyone, which means it’s survival of the fittest, and the Dodgers are the fittest in the NL. Dodgers in 5.
Brian: Atlanta is a very good club, and they can play with any team in the league. But there’s no doubt that the Dodgers are the better team on paper, so they should certainly have an advantage, especially with no off days where they can utilize their depth. So, I’ll say the Braves in 7 cause the baseball Gods hate me and don’t want me to be happy. Also, #ReverseJinx.
Tim: Dodgers in 6. The Braves will battle but the depth of the Dodgers’ pitching depth should prove to be the deciding factor.
Eric: I think the fixation with the Padres and the lack of intra-league play this season has underrated the Braves in the eyes of Dodger fans. Yes, the Braves only had to beat the Reds and Marlins to get here, but the NLCS should be highly competitive. In Acuna, Freeman, and Ozuna, the Braves arguably have three of the best twenty hitters in the game. Their bullpen has been nails this postseason. However, after conquering the three game and five game formats, the Dodgers made it to the round their roster is designed for: best of seven. Dodgers in 7.