LA-ATL roundtable: Who has NLCS edge?

October 16th, 2021

Alyson Footer, editor/moderator: A Dodgers-Braves NLCS may not have been what we THOUGHT was going to happen, but here it is. I guess the most obvious thing that stands out to me heading into the NLCS is the strength of the starting pitching. Is there one team that has the advantage over the other in this area?

Mark Feinsand, executive reporter: I think a lot of it depends on when Max Scherzer can pitch. I’m going to assume Walker Buehler goes in Game 1, but can Max go in Game 2 after pitching on Thursday night? The guess here is yes, so I’ll give the Dodgers the edge.

Anthony Castrovince, reporter: In a normal application, the Dodgers have the edge. But in this situation, the Braves have the edge because they're rested. Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson have a combined 2.11 ERA over the last two postseasons. Fried has a 1.35 ERA going back to the beginning of August. If Scherzer doesn't go in Game 1, it could be Fried against a short-rested Buehler or Tony Gonsolin and the bullpen.

Feinsand: Buehler only threw 71 pitches on Tuesday, so I’m not as worried about the short rest situation.

Castrovince: But if it's not Buehler or Scherzer in Game 1, the Braves really have to utilize that edge. You can't lose Game 1 and then face Scherzer, Buehler and [Julio] Urías and expect to win this series.

Footer: That's interesting, Castro, because I've always been a believer in adrenaline carrying a team, and the team that has the most rest doesn't always benefit from that.

I feel like the Dodgers are rolling and can't be stopped.

Feinsand: I agree, Alyson. I think the Dodgers viewed the Giants as the mountain they needed to climb. Unless there’s a hangover à la 2003 Yankees against the Marlins, I think they’re a super confident team.

Castrovince: I get that, and you are probably right. The flip side is the emotional energy expended to take down the rival Giants. That was a series brewing all season. The Dodgers' response to that win (who wouldn't want to party with Max Scherzer?) was testament to how much that meant to them. It was not an ordinary NLDS by any stretch of the imagination. Then you have to travel across the country to face a Braves team that is rested and has been playing great since the beginning of August.

The Dodgers are the best remaining team and could/should steamroll their competition the rest of the way. I just want to present the counter-argument that the Braves are actually, you know, good. They're 19 games over .500 since Aug. 1.

Footer: I sense the Giants care way more about the Dodgers than the Dodgers care about the Giants. Like, if the Giants had won the DS, maybe there would be some sort of "letdown" after exerting so much energy against the Dodgers, whereas with the Dodgers, they're just like, "On to the next," as they've done so many Octobers of late.

Castrovince: I can't get in their heads. Perhaps you are right. But losing the division could not have felt good, and I'm sure that made the Game 5 win all the more sweet. All I know is I'm just glad Mookie Betts answered honestly when somebody tried to get him to say Dodgers-Giants is more heated than Red Sox-Yankees. Sorry, folks, but we're not there yet.

Footer: In addition to the fact that these are two loaded teams capable of winning the pennant, there are several of what I call “feel good” storylines as well. We have to start with Freddie Freeman, the heart and soul of that team and the hero of the NLDS clincher. I know he’s a pending free agent, but I don’t think anyone believes he’ll sign anywhere but Atlanta. Freddie hits walk-off homer to lift the Braves to their first World Series title since 1995 -- who says no?

Castrovince: I really can't imagine him signing elsewhere. But hey, he will be a ... free man.

Feinsand: Ah, Castro and dad jokes. Like peanut butter and jelly.

Castrovince: Actually, I pair even better with horrendous predictions. But I picked the Braves to win it all on Jan. 1. Of course, that was when Ronald Acuña Jr. had two working knees, and we thought Mike Soroka would pitch this year. We also thought whoever won the NL East would be battle-tested. Oops.

Feinsand: Freddie isn’t going anywhere.

Castrovince: Freeman's on the short list of most likeable guys in this sport. So sure, if the Braves are going to advance, sign me up for another Freddie finale.

Feinsand: Also, wouldn’t it be crazy if after this entire season of dismissing the NL East, the Braves made it to the World Series? Maybe this is their time. All the years where they’re favored, they have come up short.

Footer: My general philosophy about the postseason is this: In a five-game series, anything can happen, and it’s not necessarily always the best team that wins. But in a seven-game series, it’s harder to mask weaknesses and usually, the team that is supposed to win it, does. I feel like this is a series the Dodgers will not have difficulty winning. I've also been ... (checks notes) wrong on every single prediction I've made since the postseason began. But really, the Dodgers aren't losing this series, are they?

(Well, actually I did predict the Astros would beat the White Sox. But the Rays-Giants World Series isn't looking good.)

Feinsand: I picked Brandon Lowe to win World Series MVP. Hold my beer.

Castrovince: Seven games expose a lot. But the two off-days really give teams an opportunity to mask weaknesses in the bullpen. That's the area where the Braves are iffiest. But having the off-days allows you to get as many innings as humanly possible from, say, Tyler Matzek.

Would the Braves have held off the Dodgers a year ago if the NLCS had off-days (remember, at the neutral site, there were no off days this round ... and it was awesome)? We'll never know.

Feinsand: I give the Dodgers the bullpen edge. Though [Corey] Knebel is technically a starter now, right?

Castrovince: The Dodgers definitely have the bullpen edge.

There are no starters. There are no relievers. Everything we know is wrong. Corey Knebel started a playoff game that Max Scherzer closed. We are living in a simulation run by someone with a sick sense of humor.

Footer: Let's go around the horn. Who has the better starting pitching?

Feinsand: It’s really close. I’ll give the Dodgers the edge because of the Scherzer effect. Whichever game he starts, he’ll pitch twice in the series. Three times, if you include his relief appearance in Game 7.

Castrovince: I'll take the rested Braves. But barely.

Footer: You both said Dodgers have the bullpen edge. So we'll go to offense. Who's better?

Feinsand: Again, I will give the Dodgers the slight edge because of their experience. Mookie Betts is playing on another level right now, and even without Max Muncy, the Dodgers lineup is just so deep. If Cody Bellinger carries some momentum from his big Game 5 hit, watch out.

Castrovince: Man ... if the Dodgers are without Max Muncy again, I might have to say Braves? They've got tons of power in that outfield now, even if Jorge Soler doesn't make it back before the end of the series. But if Cody Bellinger's going to be ripping sliders, and Gavin Lux is going to keep cranking out 100-mph batted balls, I am willing to edit my selection.

Footer: And finally … defense.

Feinsand: Braves get the infield edge, Dodgers get the outfield.

Castrovince: I'll say Braves, just to point people to Mike Petriello's piece: The secret to Atlanta's defensive turnaround

Footer: Let’s conclude with predictions. I say Dodgers in 5.

Feinsand: If Buehler and Scherzer pitch 1 and 2, Dodgers in 6. If they go 2-3, Dodgers in 7.

Castrovince: Braves in 7, when Joc Pederson hits the game-winning blast off closer Max Scherzer and everybody at Truist Park waves their pearl necklaces in celebration.