From the beginning of the season, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been the favorite to repeat as National League champions. All season, they have done nothing to dispel this theory, playing to the best record in the National League through mid-September and have already clinched the NL West.
However, a bit more under the radar, the Atlanta Braves are only three games behind the Dodgers through Wednesday night. The real question is whether the Braves can keep the Dodgers out of the World Series for the third straight season.
On paper, the Dodgers have the clear advantage between the teams. Their payroll alone is over $63 million higher than the Braves. In fact, the Dodgers’ nearly $41 million of dead money is over 35 percent of the Braves active roster. This is a topic for a different story when it comes to big market spending, but the Dodgers have some benefits for sure.
On the field, the Dodgers certainly have the experience. As previously mentioned, they have seen back-to-back deep October runs into the World Series. The Braves broke a slight playoff drought last season, with a division crown. They were eliminated in the division series by the Dodgers 3-1. With a rematch in mind, it would have to come in the NLCS this season.
On the field, both have MVP candidates. While Cody Bellinger will likely win the award after the Christian Yelich season-ending injury, Ronald Acuna Jr. will get some votes as well. Acuna and Bellinger have been two of the most consistent and balanced players in 2019 and deserve the huge stage of facing off in the NLCS.
As a team, the Braves are hitting .259 with a .794 OPS. The batting average is good for fourth in the league and their OPS and 231 home runs rank second in the league. The power numbers are trailing only the Dodgers, who have smacked 259 home runs and possess a .816 team OPS. The Dodgers also lead the league with a .340 on base percentage. Both teams rake and have depth from one to eight in the lineup.
When it comes to the pitching staffs, the Dodgers and Braves are both toward the top as well. The Dodgers lead the league with a 3.42 ERA and a 1.112 WHIP. Los Angeles pitchers are either first or second in all major starting pitching categories. However, Atlanta ranks fourth in the league with a 4.21 ERA and has allowed a 1.374 WHIP.
While it is impossible to top the trio of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Braves have an intriguing set of their own starters in Mike Soroka, Dallas Keuchel, and Max Fried. The Dodgers have a clear advantage with the starting rotation, but the difference could come down the bullpen.
The Braves made a splash at the deadline to address their needs with Mark Melancon, Chris Martin and Shane Greene. The Dodgers held firm. Combine this with the struggle of Kenley Jansen lately, the difference could come down to late in games. Each of the Braves relievers have had a sideways outing or two to skew their overall stats, but have allowed just nine runs and 22 hits in 34 innings combined over the last 28 days. Over the same span, Jansen has allowed eight hits and four runs in nine innings of work. The bullpen could come down to additional starters that the Dodgers can use in the role as well. The have Kenta Maeta, Julio Urias, and Ross Stripling to use, as well as rookies Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin to add to depth.
Basically, the two teams are very similar on paper, which makes it a great matchup and shows the importance of every single pitch. The underlying story of how experience plays out against youthful enthusiasm is a fun story. Assuming that neither slip up in the divisional round, this gives everyone something to look forward to just about a month from now.