Braves, Dodgers meet in NLCS rematch

The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate their 4-3 win against the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Curtis Compton / AJC

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The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate their 4-3 win against the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Curtis Compton / AJC

Several days ago, the Braves began selling standing-room-only tickets for this weekend’s series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, a signal that huge crowds are expected.

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In the most anticipated matchup of the season to date at Truist Park, the Braves and the defending World Series champions will meet for a three-game series beginning Friday night and continuing Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

It’s a rematch of last year’s National League Championship Series, which the Dodgers won in seven games after the Braves held a three-games-to-one lead.

But it’s not as if the teams are picking up right where they left off when they last saw each other in October.

Neither the Braves nor the Dodgers are in first place in their division. The Braves haven’t had a winning record all season. The Dodgers so far have fallen short of stratospheric expectations despite being 10 games over .500 and on a 95-win pace. Both teams have been hard hit by injuries, although the Dodgers are getting healthier.

In their last game before traveling to Atlanta, the Dodgers scored 11 runs in the first inning Wednesday and beat St. Louis 14-3 at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers won two of three from the Cardinals after losing three of four to San Francisco last weekend.

“I felt we were in position about 10 days ago to make a good run,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after Wednesday’s game. “We hit a little bit of a lull against the Giants, but guys are coming back. I just think, honestly, it really doesn’t matter who we’re playing. If we’re kind of lined up and playing good baseball, we’re going to go on a run.”

There is not a more talented team in baseball. The Dodgers have three former Cy Young Award winners (Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer and David Price) and four former MVP award winners (Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Albert Pujols and Kershaw). Among them, those players have won five Cy Youngs (three by Kershaw) and six MVPs (three by Pujols).

The Dodgers are scheduled to open the weekend series against the Braves with the same pitcher they had on the mound at the end of the NL Championship Series: Left-hander Julio Urias, the winning pitcher in NLCS Game 7 with three hitless innings out of the bullpen, will start Friday night’s game. He also was the winning pitcher in NLCS Game 3, allowing one run across five innings as the starter. Urias is 7-2 with a 3.61 ERA this season.

Kershaw (7-4 with a 3.33 ERA this season) is scheduled to start Saturday and Bauer (6-3, 2.24) on Sunday. The Braves will counter with starting pitchers Ian Anderson (Friday), Charlie Morton (Saturday) and Max Fried (Sunday).

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Freddie Freeman reacts to falling 4-3 to the Dodgers in game 7 of the National League Championship Series at Globe Life Field on Sunday, Oct 18, 2020 in Arlington. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Freddie Freeman reacts to falling 4-3 to the Dodgers in game 7 of the National League Championship Series at Globe Life Field on Sunday, Oct 18, 2020 in Arlington.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

caption arrowCaption
Freddie Freeman reacts to falling 4-3 to the Dodgers in game 7 of the National League Championship Series at Globe Life Field on Sunday, Oct 18, 2020 in Arlington. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Here’s a closer look at how the Dodgers have evolved since winning the NLCS and the World Series last season:

Additions, subtractions

The Dodgers added the 2020 National League Cy Young Award winner, Bauer, and a three-time NL MVP, Pujols.

In February, the Dodgers signed Bauer, a 30-year-old right-hander who pitched for Cincinnati last season, as a free agent. His addition bolstered an already-strong rotation and lifted the Dodgers’ already-lofty payroll past $240 million -- more than $100 million higher than the Braves’ payroll.

Last month, the Dodgers added first baseman/pinch-hitter Pujols, who won MVP awards with St. Louis in 2005, 2008 and 2009, after he was released by the Angels. Pujols, 41, has played in 13 games with the Dodgers, hitting .225 with three home runs, giving him 670 career homers.

The Dodgers brought back almost all key members of last season’s team but lost infielder-outfielder Kike Hernandez, who signed with Boston.

An uneven season so far

After winning 13 of their first 15 games this season, the Dodgers shockingly lost 15 of their next 20 to fall within a game of .500 at 18-17. But they’ve won 15 of their past 21 to improve to 33-23, 1-1/2 games out of first place in the NL West (entering San Francisco’s and San Diego’s games Thursday).

Hit by injuries

MLB teams have been hit harder than usual by injuries this season, and the Dodgers are no exception.

Shortstop Corey Seager (fractured finger) and outfielder AJ Pollock (strained hamstring) have been on the injured list since mid-May, but Roberts said Pollock will be activated Friday. Highly regarded young pitcher Dustin May is out for the season after “Tommy John” elbow surgery. Another promising young starting pitcher, Tony Gonsolin, could return from the 60-day injured list (shoulder) next week. The Dodgers’ bullpen also has battled injuries.

Center fielder Bellinger returned last weekend after missing 46 games with a hairline fracture in his left leg. Right fielder Betts hasn’t been on the injured list, but missed some time with back stiffness and shoulder soreness.

“When you’re playing our ballclub and you see Bellinger in there, you see Betts in there, it matters,” Roberts said. “For these guys to be there, to be healthy, just makes everyone around them better.”

Numbers of note

The Dodgers have scored the most runs in the majors (298) and have allowed the seventh-fewest (215). Their starting pitchers have a collective 2.98 ERA with 367 strikeouts in 317 innings.

Infielder Max Muncy hit .330 with 10 home runs in May and leads the NL in on-base percentage (.428). Betts is having a sub-par season to this point, hitting .264 with five homers, but he has six hits in his past three games.

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