Thursday, October 3, 2013

NLDS Preview: Dodgers vs. Braves

            With the Los Angeles Dodgers preparing to face off against the Atlanta Braves later tonight, the National League Divisional Series is all set and ready to rock. This match-up could quite simply be the most intriguing of the four divisional competitions, as the Braves were dominant at home and the Dodgers impressive on the road. Turner Field could be the place where this series is one. Here is a breakdown of which team has the advantage at each position, followed by my predictions:

Catcher: A.J. Ellis vs. Brian McCann
Advantage: MCCANN
            McCann has the clear edge offensively, but Ellis takes the cake behind the dish as he threw out roughly 20% more runners than McCann did.

1st Base: Adrian Gonzalez vs. Freddie Freeman
Advantage: FREEMAN
            Two years ago, this conversation would be much more intriguing, however it really is not even close anymore as Freeman has really come into his own over the course of the 2012-2013 MLB season. Don’t get me wrong, Gonzalez is still an excellent, balanced hitter but Freeman is turning into what appears to be a MVP and Gold Glove candidate simultaneously.

2nd Base: Mark Ellis vs. Elliot Johnson or Dan Uggla
Advantage: PUSH
            Both teams would likely describe their second basemen as ‘serviceable’. Nothing stands out about any of these players, offensively or defensively. The only difference maker in this group would be Uggla, but Johnson was brought in to keep the struggling Uggla off the field. Any big play out of either second baseman would be considered a bonus for these teams.

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez vs. Andrelton Simmons
Advantage: RAMIREZ
            Simmons is a budding star in the game of baseball, especially considering he is probably the best defensive shortstop in the Major Leagues right now, but the amazing bat of Hanley Ramirez really shines through here.
3rd Base: Juan Uribe vs. Chris Johnson
Advantage: PUSH
            Once again, one takes the cake defensively and the other holds down the offensive side of the ball. While Johnson is clearly a better hitter, these players have extremely similar Wins Above Replacement (WAR) due to the abilities of Uribe with his glove.
Left Field: Carl Crawford vs. Justin Upton
Advantage: UPTON
            With a short series, the awesome power of Justin Upton is really what stands out here. Carl Crawford is a shell of his former self, but he still possesses the ability to get on base, steal some bases, and provides excellent range in the outfield. Having said that, Upton is the standout here and it could only take one swing of the bat to shift the momentum in the series and I simply do not think that Crawford has that ability.

Center Field: Skip Shumaker vs. B.J. Upton
Advantage: UPTON
            While this comparison is much closer than the left field discussion, the Upton wins again. This is a position where the Dodgers really miss Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier as Shumaker is simply not a prototypical center fielder. While he is a scrappy player and will get on base for Manager Don Mattingly, Shumaker has always been a back-up infielder and his lack of defensive prowess could show up in this series.

Right Field: Yasiel Puig vs. Jason Heyward
Advantage: PUSH
            This is the most talented push out there as both Puig and Heyward provide exceptional defense with well above average bats at the plate. While Heyward is probably the smoother and obviously more seasoned fielder, Puig holds the edge at the plate. While Puig’s numbers for the season far outweigh Heyward’s, the Braves right fielder has been hitting well above .300 since being moved into the leadoff spot by Manager Freddy Gonzalez. Both of these players have the bats and legs to be key difference-makers in this series.

Bench: PUSH
            This is essentially a match-up between Dodgers 10th man Michael Young and the Braves Evan Gattis. Both provide their own unique skill sets as the key members of each team off the bench. Gattis has a special kind of pop that could prove important in a late-inning pinch-hitting appearance. In the other dugout, veteran Michael Young has the ability to come in and play defense, but can also shoot a gap if needed. Left-hander Andre Ethier may be able to make a pinch-hitting appearance for the Dodgers, but otherwise these benches should remain relatively quiet throughout this series.

Starting Pitching: DODGERS
            With a starting three of Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu, the Los Angeles Dodgers have an exceptional chance to win each and every game they play. Compared to Medlen, Minor, and Teheran, I do not really think this part of the series is even close and it should ultimately be what gets the Dodges to the NLCS.

Bullpen: BRAVES
            The Atlanta Braves possess arguably the strongest bullpen in the National League, and it all comes down to closer Craig Kimbrel. He has established himself as the best in the game, and while the Dodgers have Kenley Jansen and Brian Wilson at their back end, Kimbrel is as close to lights out as it gets these days.

Manager: PUSH
            Both Don Mattingly and Freddy Gonzalez are short on playoff experience, but both managers appear to have a solid feel for their teams and bullpens. Neither team entered the postseason on much of a hot streak, and with such short benches and easily defined bullpens, this may be the one series where the manager’s role is greatly reduced.

Prediction: DODGERS IN 5
            Kershaw, Kershaw, Kershaw. The young phenom will likely get two starts in this series if it does not end up in a sweep and it’s hard to see the Braves taking either one of those games. While I would give the edge on defense to the Braves, the fact that the Dodgers’ lineup appears slightly deeper and their starting pitching vastly superior, I cannot come up with any circumstance in which the Braves pull this out.

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