The Los Angeles Dodgers have clinched their first NL West title since 2009. That is not news.
However, what remains to be seen over the next few days is whether the Dodgers will be the No. 1, 2 or 3 seed in the playoffs.
I’m not manager Don Mattingly, but I’d be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that, if asked his preference in the NL Division Series, Mattingly would respond with something like this:
“We’re not going to concern ourselves with things like that. Once we find out who our opponent is, we will plan accordingly. As long as we play up to our potential, I like our chances against the St. Louis Cardinals or the Atlanta Braves.”
You know what? If Mattingly didn’t have to be politically correct, I think this is what he would say if asked who he prefers to play in the NLDS:
“While we like our chances against both the Cards or Braves, we would much rather face Atlanta.”
At least that’s what Mattingly should say.
The Braves have been the most consistent team in baseball for most of the season. Atlanta has owned the NL East all year. However, as the regular season ends, there is a chink in the Braves’ tomahawks.
The Cardinals and the Braves have been moving in opposite directions in September. Perhaps it is because the Braves have known they were playoff-bound since the All-Star break and the Cardinals have been fighting for their playoff lives all season. Whatever the reason, St. Louis has a 15-8 record in September, while the Braves have struggled to a 10-13 mark. Adding insult to playoff momentum for the Braves is the fact they have been shut out four times in their past 10 games.
Atlanta has had its share of injuries to key players, including Jason Heyward, Brandon Beachy, Dan Uggla and Tim Hudson. Every team, though, has to deal with the injury bug; just ask the Dodgers, who lead the league in players on the disabled list. While I feel confident about the Dodgers’ chances against the Cards or Braves, I would rather have them face the Braves in the NLDS if given a choice. The reasons above are a big reason why.
In addition, the Dodgers are going to throw Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu in the first three games of the NLDS. How have those pitchers fared in their careers (or this season, in Ryu’s case) against the players they will face in St. Louis and Atlanta?
Glad you asked!
Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu have allowed the St. Louis starters to hit to a combined .287. Against the Braves regulars, those three pitchers have fared better — a .202 average.
With all this having been said, the Braves are obviously a good team. It’s hard to argue with the stats, though. The Cardinals have been hot the past month of the season and the Braves haven’t. In addition to getting shut out in almost half of their past 10 games, the Braves have struggled on the mound.
The Braves have allowed an average of 4.5 runs per game in their 13 September losses. Atlanta also is devoid of a true No. 1 starting pitcher, unlike the Dodgers and Cardinals. Heyward, the spark at the top of the Atlanta batting order, also is just settling back into full-time baseball after missing more than a month because of a broken jaw.
No matter which team the Dodgers draw in the playoffs, they will have to play their best to win. It just might not take quite as much “best” against the Braves as it will against the Cardinals to move on to the NLCS.