What regular-season meetings tell us (or not) about Braves-Dodgers NLCS

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

Credit: AP

When the teams met for the first time this season in early June, the Braves had Ronald Acuna in right field, and the Dodgers had Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Bauer – but not Max Scherzer – in their starting pitching rotation.

A lot changed for both teams on the way to meeting in the National League Championship Series, which begins Saturday night at Truist Park.

The Dodgers had a 106-56 record during the regular season to finish second in the NL West, while the Braves were 88-73 to win the NL East. If the teams had been in the same division with those records, the Braves would have finished 17-1/2 games behind L.A. In head-to-head meetings, the Braves were 2-4 against the Dodgers, with five of the six games decided by one or two runs.

The Braves won two of three games June 4-6 at Truist Park and were swept in a three-game series at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 30-Sept. 1. Here’s a look at the regular-season meetings in search of clues about what’s to come in the NLCS:

Dodgers 9, Braves 5 (June 4)

Rewind: Ian Anderson held the Dodgers hitless for four innings before the Braves had perhaps their sloppiest inning of the season in the fifth. Eight runs scored on three hits, five walks, a throw that hit a base runner in the back and a misplayed bunt. The Braves used three pitchers in the inning to no avail. Anderson was charged with four runs, Sean Newcomb with three and Grant Dayton with one.

Freddie Freeman, hitting .227 at the time, homered against Dodgers starter Julio Urias in the first inning. Urias worked five innings, allowing one run on four hits. The Braves’ starting lineup had Ehire Adrianza in left field, Guillermo Heredia in center, Acuna in right and William Contreras at catcher.

How this game relates to the NLCS (or not): Anderson will play a big role, but the other two pitchers involved in the fifth-inning meltdown, Newcomb and Dayton, won’t be on the active roster, and half of the Braves’ lineup will be different. The Braves lost Acuna for the rest of the season to a knee injury two days before the All-Star break, acquired an all-new outfield via four July trades and regained catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who missed 86 games with an injured thumb, in August. The Dodgers evolved at the trade deadline, too, adding Scherzer and star infielder Trea Turner in a blockbuster deal with the Nationals.

Braves 6, Dodgers 4 (June 5)

Rewind: The Braves got their first-ever regular-season win against Kershaw, who had a 5-0 record and a 1.78 ERA in 11 previous starts against them. They scored five runs against him in the third inning, all after two outs, on RBI hits by Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson.

Braves starter Charlie Morton allowed four runs (two earned) in five innings. The Braves bullpen allowed just one hit across four scoreless innings.

How this game relates to the NLCS: Kershaw is out for the postseason with a left forearm injury. Morton and four of the relievers who worked effectively in this game – A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson and Will Smith – loom large for the Braves.

Atlanta Braves' Ozzie Albies, left, celebrates a win with Ronald Acuna Jr., right, after a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Saturday, June 5, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
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Atlanta Braves' Ozzie Albies, left, celebrates a win with Ronald Acuna Jr., right, after a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Saturday, June 5, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Braves 4, Dodgers 2 (June 6)

Rewind: The Braves defeated 2020 Cy Young Award winner Bauer, one day after beating three-time Cy Young winner Kershaw. They scored three runs in six innings against Bauer, with RBI hits from Ozzie Albies and two players no longer on the team (Abraham Almonte and Ender Inciarte). Braves starter Max Fried outpitched Bauer, holding the Dodgers to one run in six innings to record his first career win against his hometown team.

After the game, which gave the Braves a series victory in a rematch of the 2020 NLCS, manager Brian Snitker said of his 28-29 team: “It should show those guys that we’re as good as anybody out there when we play the way we’re capable of playing.”

How this game relates to the NLCS: Fried will start Game 1 for the Braves. Bauer, who hasn’t pitched since June 28, is on paid administrative leave through the postseason as MLB investigates him under its domestic-violence and sexual-assault policy.

Dodgers 5, Braves 3 (Aug. 30)

Rewind: Drew Smyly made what turned out to be his last start of the season for the Braves, surrendering five runs on nine hits in 4-2/3 innings. The Dodgers hit four home runs against him: one apiece by Corey Seager, Mookie Betts, Max Muncy and Will Smith.

Urias pitched six innings for the Dodgers, allowing two runs on four hits, and picked up his second win in two starts this year against the Braves. Freeman homered against Urias for the second time this season. The Braves also got homers from Jorge Soler (against Urias) and Adam Duvall (against reliever Phil Bickford).

How this game relates to the NLCS: The teams combined for seven home runs in this game, and the long ball figures to be a big part of the NLCS as well. The Braves and Dodgers hit 239 and 237 homers, respectively, during the regular season, the third- and fourth-most among the 30 MLB teams.

Braves' Joc Pederson celebrates in the dugout after hitting a solo home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the third inning  Aug. 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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Braves' Joc Pederson celebrates in the dugout after hitting a solo home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the third inning Aug. 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Dodgers 3, Braves 2 (Aug. 31)

Rewind: Joc Pederson, sporting newly dyed blond hair but not yet wearing pearls, blasted a third-inning homer against his former team and one of its ace pitchers, Walker Buehler, who pitched seven strong innings.

Morton pitched well for the Braves, allowing one run in six innings, the run coming on a Betts homer. The Braves led 2-1, but Luke Jackson allowed a run in the seventh and Tyler Matzek a run in the eighth.

How this game relates to the NLCS: Pederson is in the NLCS for the fifth time since 2016, the first four trips coming with the Dodgers, and the Braves are looking for his “Joctober” success to continue. Since Aug. 31, Jackson has been scored upon in only two of 18 appearances and Matzek in only two of 17 (including no runs allowed in his past 14 outings).

Dodgers 4, Braves 3 (Sept. 1)

Rewind: The Dodgers’ monumental pickups at the trade deadline, Scherzer and Turner, figured big in this one. Scherzer dominated for six innings, holding the Braves scoreless on three hits and striking out nine. And after the Braves scored three runs against the L.A. bullpen to take a 3-2 lead, Turner ignited an eighth-inning rally with a leadoff double against Matzek.

Fried pitched well against the Dodgers for the second time this season, holding them to two runs on three hits and striking out nine in six innings. But the loss was the Braves’ seventh in a row at Dodger Stadium, dating to 2018.

How this game relates to the NLCS: The Braves’ record at Dodger Stadium underscores the potential significance of having home-field advantage in the NLCS. The Dodgers enter the series having won 12 of Scherzer’s 13 starts since joining the team, and the Braves enter with 11 wins in Fried’s past 12 starts. Turner has tormented the Braves throughout his career, hitting .319 with 16 homers in 92 games against them.

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