NLDS Preview: Starting Pitching Match-ups and Bullpen

Yesterday, we broke down the positional battles for the Dodgers-Braves upcoming NLDS matchup. Today, we look at the starting pitching and the bullpens for each team and predict who has the edge.

We break down the starting pitching matchups game by game to give a better sense of the rotation overall. Of note, The Dodgers surprised everyone when they announced that Clayton Kershaw would not be starting Game 1 of the Division Series, and it would be Hyun-Jin Ryu instead. But when you look at the overall implications, it’s not as shocking as one might think.

With the extra travel day in the first round, Kershaw will still be lined up on regular rest for a potential Game 5, so there’s really no difference between starting Games 1 or 2. Now, if they went with Ryu over Kershaw for a Game 5, that would indeed be surprising.

Starting Pitching

Game 1:  Mike Foltynewicz vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu

Ryu has been great this year, especially since making his return to the rotation back in August. He has a 1.97 ERA on the year, and he’s striking out hitters more often than ever, with a 9.7 K/9. He’s only pitched 82 innings this season due to injury, which means he should be fresh for the postseason.

This season was a breakout year for Mike Foltynewicz, who established himself as the clear-cut ace of Atlanta’s staff. The All-Star posted a 2.85 ERA and 3.37 FIP on the year, and his 9.9 K/9 is sixth in the league. His .194 BAA is also good for 4th in the N.L.

Game 1 could be a pitching matchup if both guys show up and pitch like they have lately. Ryu has been very good, but he’s done it over a lot shorter time period. Foltynewicz has done it all season long, and when he’s at his best, he can be really tough to hit.

Advantage: Braves

Game 2:  Anibal Sanchez vs. Clayton Kershaw

This will be the first time that Clayton Kershaw hasn’t started the Dodgers postseason opener since 2009. As stated above though, it’s probably less about any lack of confidence in him, than it is simply to give him an extra day of rest.

There’s no doubt that Kershaw hasn’t been his typical dominant self this year. His 2.72 ERA is the highest it’s been since 2010. His 8.6 K/9 and .225 BAA this season are the worst marks since his rookie year in 2008. He doesn’t seem to have that same unhittable stuff he once did, but considering how great Kershaw has been, it’s easy to regress from those previous numbers. He’s still one of the best pitchers in the game.

Although the Braves haven’t officially announced their Game 2 starter, it will likely be Anibal Sanchez, who’s had a nice bounce-back year after a couple of rough seasons in Detroit. Sanchez has a 2.83 ERA, and 1.083 WHIP on the year, and he’s coming off a good month of September.

Still, even a down year for Clayton Kershaw and a good year from Sanchez can’t turn the tables here.

Advantage: Dodgers

Game 3:  Kevin Gausman vs. Walker Buehler

Like Game 2, Atlanta has not announced their starter for Game 3, but it’s looking like it will be Gausman, who’s been fairly solid since coming over from the Baltimore Orioles at the trading deadline. Since being acquired by Atlanta, Gausman has posted a 2.87 ERA, far better than his 4.43 mark with Baltimore.

For the Dodgers, Walker Buehler has been everything they could have dreamed of this year. He had an enormous amount of hype entering the season and has somehow exceeded it. He’s emerged as the unofficial ace of the staff, putting up great numbers all year, with a 2.62 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 0.961 WHIP, and 9.9 K/9. He’s coming off another dominant performance against the Rockies on Monday, which won the Dodgers the division. The only concern might be his usage this year, as his 137 innings are by far the most he’s pitched in a season.

At his best Gausman is still hittable. At his worst, he can be very, very hittable. On the other hand, Buehler has been lights out pretty much all year long.

Advantage: Dodgers

Game 4 (if necessary):  Julio Teheran / Sean Newcomb vs. Rich Hill

It remains to be seen how Atlanta would handle a possible game 4, and who they’d turn to. Julio Teheran has experience starting in the postseason, although he wasn’t great back in 2013 when the Dodgers knocked him around for six runs.

Sean Newcomb struggles lately prompted the Braves to move him to the bullpen. He was good early in the year, however, and came within 1 out of no-hitting the Dodgers back in July. Also, as the only left-handed starting pitching option, the Braves may want to go with him in order to get the Dodgers to go with their right-handed lineup, which has struggled at times.

For the Dodgers, there will be no Kershaw on short rest for sure. Ryu’s start in Game 1 assures that. That means Rich Hill should get the nod, and he’s coming off a great start in the season finale against the Giants. Although Hill’s numbers took a dip this year (3.66 ERA, 3.97 FIP, & 1.123 WHIP) he’s still shown that he can be very effective at times. He’s also come up big in previous postseason starts.

Without knowing for sure who will pitch for Atlanta, it’s hard to judge who would have the edge just yet in a Game 4. Another x-factor would be if the Braves came back to Foltynewicz on short rest. If they do that, you’d figure they’d have the edge. We’ll assume they won’t right now though.

Slight Advantage: Dodgers

Game 5 (if necessary):  Mike Foltynewicz vs. Clayton Kershaw

This is projecting way out now, and assuming a lot. First, it assumes the series would actually go to five games. It also assumes the Braves don’t go with Foltynewicz on short rest in Game 4, and that the Dodgers come back with Kershaw instead of Ryu, which I would fully expect them to do if they indeed had a Game 5. If all these assumptions are correct, it would be a great matchup, and a tough one to call.

Advantage: Push


Both team’s bullpens have been suspect at times this year. The Dodgers bullpen ranked 8th in MLB in ERA and 7th in BAA. The Braves ranked 17th and 12th in each category, respectively. The Dodgers relievers ranked 5th in K/BB while Atlanta was way down at 26th.

There’s no hiding the concern for Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who has really struggled of late. He’s put up some of his poorest numbers ever, including a career-worst 3.01 ERA and 10.3 K/9. He’s also been susceptible to the long ball, giving up 13 homeruns on the season. By comparison, he gave up only 15 homeruns combined between 2015-2017.

After Jansen, the Dodgers figure to mix and match with the rest of their bullpen. Kenta Maeda would be the closest thing to a true set-up man, but they’ll also have Scott Alexander, Caleb Ferguson, Alex Wood, and Pedro Baez, among others to go to.

Arodys Vizcaino has been fairly solid in the closer role for Atlanta this year, and recently returned from injury. They also have A.J Minter, who was up and down while filling in for Vizcaino. Dan Winkler, Brad Brach, Jonny Venters, and Chad Sobotka are other options that the Braves will likely go to.

The biggest question mark for each team may very well be their bullpen. Whoever shows up in the divisional series, could mean the difference to their team advancing.

Advantage: Dodgers

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