For Braves, clash with Dodgers in Los Angeles is full of storylines

SAN DIEGO – Just as he had many times before, Kenley Jansen mowed down the Padres in the ninth inning at Petco Park. And just as he’s always done, he went back to the visitors’ clubhouse, packed up and headed back to the team hotel. Nothing is new here.

Except this: When he heads to Los Angeles after a series in San Diego, he will find himself in the opposite clubhouse at Dodger Stadium. He is now the closer for the team who eliminated him from last year’s postseason and won the World Series.

Jansen is experiencing a lot of change, but there is one constant: He is still a crucial piece in what has become a heated matchup in recent seasons. The latest iteration has more steam than any regular-season series between these teams in recent memory.

There will be many more games after this month, but the baseball world has waited for this. The Braves and Dodgers, commonly viewed as the National League’s top teams, will square off for three games in Los Angeles.

“It gets you ready, it puts you in that competition,” Jansen said. “Once the season starts, it’s always going to be competition. But then you got to feel like they’re going to push you to your next level because of how great they are.”

The storylines are aplenty.

Freddie Freeman versus his former team. Jansen against his old club. Max Fried making a start in his hometown. The Braves’ dangerous lineup versus a couple of the Dodgers’ best starting pitchers. And on and on.

But all of those topics are less important than the bigger picture, which is this: The Braves and Dodgers are the class of the NL, the two teams with recent postseason history, the ones who might be viewed as rivals by fans. As the Braves showed last year, what occurs early in the season doesn’t have to define a team. But this series will be a fitting measuring stick for both clubs.

“They’ve been one of the better teams for a while now,” Fried said. “Any time that you can go up against one of the best and kind of see where you’re at in the year, it should be fun.”

The intensity between these teams has seemingly increased because of their epic postseason battles. In last year’s NLCS, the Braves defeated the Dodgers in six games. In 2020, the Dodgers outlasted the Braves in seven games in the NLCS. The Dodgers beat the Braves in four games in the 2018 NLDS.

Now, there’s an extra layer to this. Freeman is in Dodger blue instead of navy blue. He presents a challenge for the players and manager with whom he used to share a clubhouse.

What will it be like to see Freeman, a Brave his entire career prior to this, on the other side?

“Definitely going to be a little different,” Fried said. “I’m really excited to see him in person, give him a hug, say hi and catch up. But it’s just kind of the reality of the situation.”

“It’s always going to be a little weird just because you think of Freddie, you think of Braves,” Austin Riley said. “But it’s going to be good to see him. Last time we saw him was the parade. Give him a hug and wish him nothing but the best. He’s meant a lot to me and my game, learned a lot from him.”

“I’ll be honest with you, it’ll be neat to see him,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Once the game starts, I’ll be aware of where he’s at in the lineup and coming up and all that.”

The Dodgers have always been the big, bad powerhouse. They are the club that spends a lot and completes blockbuster trades to stay ahead of the competition. They have Mookie Betts and Trea Turner and Freeman and other feared hitters. Walker Buehler is their ace, but Clayton Kershaw has shown he still has something left and Julio Urías is another talented arm.

But the Braves have arrived. They had been successful, but made their strongest statement yet when they knocked off the Dodgers on their way to capturing a championship.

They have stars, like Acuña (who won’t play in this series) and Matt Olson. Ozzie Albies and Riley provide more pop to their lineup. And Fried, Morton and Ian Anderson are the big names in the rotation. Plus, the Braves’ bullpen is deep this season, complete with the guy who used to exit the bullpen gate to “California Love” by Tupac for his save opportunities.

The Braves are expected to start, in order, Huascar Ynoa, Fried and Charlie Morton. The Dodgers will counter with Kershaw, Buehler and Tony Gonsolin. Once again, the Dodgers have a deep and talented lineup. The Braves don’t have Acuña yet, but their lineup is still powerful enough to give opposing pitching staffs fits.

The season is not even two weeks old, but baseball fans – especially those in Atlanta and Los Angeles – have anxiously awaited this series. If these two clubs continue on the same trajectory, this could be a preview of October.

“It’s greatness here and it’s greatness there,” Jansen said. “They’re going to push you to your limit to go to the next level.”

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