For Braves and Dodgers, there shouldn’t be many surprises in NLCS

Atlanta Braves' Freddie Freeman, top, greets Los Angeles Dodgers' Mookie Betts, bottom, at first base in the fourth inning of a baseball game Friday, June 4, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Braves' Freddie Freeman, top, greets Los Angeles Dodgers' Mookie Betts, bottom, at first base in the fourth inning of a baseball game Friday, June 4, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

There are no secrets in this National League Championship Series.

The Braves and Dodgers are facing off for the third time in the past four postseasons. Much of the core roster has remained intact for both teams during that time, even with the Dodgers continuously flexing their financial muscle and the Braves reinventing their outfield a few months ago.

“I think we’re very familiar with this team and understand how deep they are, how strong they are,” manager Brian Snitker said. “They’re relentless. They’re just so -- I know offensively these guys just, the at-bats they put up are something else. They just keep coming after you. Their pitching is so deep, and it’s a really good club, obviously. So are we.

“So when we’re doing (advance scouting) and all, I think there’s probably things that our people will dig up, but I think the guys, they know pretty much going in what they’re in for and have faced all these guys numerous times, and so it should be good.”

These new-era Braves first encountered the Dodgers in a 2018 Division Series. That was the Braves team that surpassed expectations and surprised with 90 wins and a division title, emerging from a total rebuild. The Braves were overmatched in that series, losing 3-1.

In October last year, the Braves and Dodgers ran into each other again. It was the Braves’ first trip to the NLCS in 19 years. The teams played in Arlington, Texas, at the Rangers’ new stadium as part of MLB’s postseason bubble in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Braves went up 2-0 and 3-1 in the series, only to see the Dodgers win the final three games and advance. Los Angeles then won its first World Series since 1988, upending Charlie Morton’s Rays in six games.

Now, a chance for revenge. The 88-win Braves own homefield advantage over the 106-win Dodgers because they’re division champs (the Giants secured the NL West with 107 victories). A potential Game 6 and Game 7 at Truist Park is a luxury the Braves didn’t have in the past two meetings.

It remains to be seen whether familiarity will be a factor. Even the new Dodgers, infielder Trea Turner and ace Max Scherzer, saw the Braves plenty while with the Nationals. The Braves have outfielder Joc Pederson, who spent the past seven seasons with the Dodgers.

“(The familiarity) can work for you and against you,” said Max Fried, the Braves’ starting pitcher for Game 1. “They obviously know what you’ve done in the past, but they have also seen you a couple times, too. So at the end of the day, it’s kind of like what I said before, it’s just really about execution and just going out there and laying it out on the line. There’s no secrets. We know each other well enough by now, and it’s just going to go out there and just handle it between the lines.”

Game 2 starting pitcher Ian Anderson added: “It’s the playoffs, so some guys tend to step up, some guys tend to falter, but knowing these guys will definitely help, just kind of formulate a game plan. We kind of know what they like to do offensively and I think that’s going to be a big part of the chess match of kind of figuring things out as how we pitch to these guys and how we go.”

The Braves boast an impressive group of pitchers, led by Fried, Anderson and Morton, who will start Game 3. Their offense, even without slugger Jorge Soler, who’s out because of a positive COVID-19 test, can change the game with a swing. It’s highlighted by powerful hitters such as Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies and Adam Duvall.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, is even deeper. Its rotation, despite missing Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Bauer, who are due over $50 million combined this season, is top-tier. Scherzer joins Walker Buehler and Julio Urias to form a three-headed monster at the top. The Dodgers’ lineup is versatile and potent. They defeated the Giants in the NLDS even without the best performances from some key players.

It all sets up an NLCS in which there should be no revelations. The Braves and Dodgers know each other’s strengths and (few) weaknesses.

“We have seen Buehler, Urias, (Tony) Gonsolin, Scherzer so much especially, with their relievers and their lineup, so there’s going to be no surprises,” Freeman said. “I think they’re familiar with us, we’re familiar with them, so I think it’s just going to be another good series, just like it was last year.”