The upcoming NLDS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves will be one of the most exciting playoff matchups of the MLB Playoffs as the stars of L.A. take on the young guns of Atlanta. While pitching is at the forefront of the series with Clayton Kershaw and Kris Medlen likely opening Game 1, the people behind the pitchers will be even more important.
According to studies completed by Baseball Prospectus, the three most important variables relative to playoff success are measures of defense. Specifically, the three metrics in question are closer WXRL, pitcher strikeout rate and FRAA (fielding runs above average). Each team is amongst the top in all three categories, but there are glaring differences between both contenders in all of them.
As far as strikeout rate goes, the Dodgers take the cake on this one. With Kershaw and Zach Greinke as their one-two punch, striking batters out is something L.A. knows how to do as they own an 8.09 K/9 rate. The Braves aren’t bad themselves though as they posted a 7.65 K/9 rate.
While each team’s strikeout rate is good, Atlanta’s batters are specifically known for their high strikeout rate, so I think the ability for Kershaw to strikeout batters will come into play even more in this series.
Despite the strikeout advantage that the Dodgers claim, the Braves best them in both remaining categories. As far as closers go, Craig Kimbrel is the undisputed leader in the world. With 50 saves this season and numbers that continue to baffle stat-heads, he’s nearly unhittable. Kenley Jansen has been outstanding for the Dodgers as well, but there’s no doubt that Don Mattingly would take Kimbrel over him any day of the week.
Defense goes to the Braves as well. With Matt Kemp officially done for the season and Andre Ethier likely missing at least the NLDS, the Dodgers’ defense is vulnerable. That isn’t to say Atlanta isn’t without their faults. Since B.J. Upton has struggled so mightily this season and with the emergence of Evan Gattis‘ explosive offensive potential, Fredi Gonzalez finds himself forced to play Gattis in left field.
Despite that, the Braves still have Jason Heyward in the outfield and most importantly Andrelton Simmons at shortstop, two of the best defenders in the game.
Each team has slumped through September, but both have also demonstrated their ability to go on long stretches where they are nearly unbeatable. While there is no doubt that Atlanta has the upper hand defensively in this series, there is even less doubt that it will be one of the most compelling of the postseason.
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