In recent history, the Dodgers have been a behemoth, but the Braves aren’t that far behind. Since the start of 2018, the Dodgers lead baseball with 241 wins, but the Braves are second in the NL (sixth in MLB) with 222. Roll it back to 2010, and the Dodgers are still first, but the Braves are hanging in there in eighth place overall (fourth in the NL). Go back to 2000, and they’re third (Dodgers) and fifth (Braves) in MLB. And, in the Wild Card era, they’re the top two NL teams, with the Braves having the second-most wins in baseball and the Dodgers coming in fourth. Yet, these two teams have only met in the playoffs three times until now. The last two didn’t go the Braves’ way, so they can exact some payback and even the postseason tally at two series a piece with an NLCS win. Here’s how those past series went.
1996, NLDS: Braves 3, Dodgers 0
The 90-win Dodgers entered this series not having won a playoff game since their 1988 World Series victory, as they were swept in the 1995 NLDS by the Reds. The Braves extended that streak by three more games, and the Dodgers wouldn’t reappear in the postseason until 2004, or win a playoff series until 2008.
When this series began, the Dodgers were very heavy underdogs. The Braves were the reigning World Series champions and had the NL’s best record at 96-66; the Dodgers lost their division by a game. Still, it was a fairly entertaining series despite the sweep.
In Game 1, John Smoltz and Ramon Martinez engaged in a classic pitcher’s duel, which was perhaps a bit surprising given that the former was the best pitcher in baseball that year and the latter was essentially an innings-eater. A sacrifice fly and an RBI double accounted for the only runs in regulation, but Javy Lopez hit a homer on the ninth pitch of his at-bat to lead off the tenth, and Mark Wohlers slammed the door.
Baseball’s second-best pitcher in 1996, Greg Maddux, faced off against a strong Ismael Valdez in Game 2. The defense let Maddux down, as both LA runs through four innings were pushed across thanks to errors. But, a Ryan Klesko homer in the second and a Fred McGriff homer to lead off the seventh knotted the game up. Jermaine Dye also went deep in the seventh (dingers!), and the Dodgers didn’t manage another baserunner, giving the Braves a 3-2 win.
After two fairly close games, the Braves essentially punched out the Dodgers with a four-run, two-out rally in the fourth. The Braves were already up 1-0 when Tom Glavine, of all people, hit a gapper into right-center for a double. Marquis Grissom worked a seven-pitch walk, and Mark Lemke imitated Glavine by following with a first-pitch double of his own. Chipper Jones was up next and his own first-pitch contact cleared the right-center fence — the Braves scored four times on first-pitch swings that sent balls to roughly the same place. The Dodgers got a couple of runs late, but it wasn’t enough.
2013 NLDS: Dodgers 3, Braves 1
The records for these two teams were pretty similar to 1996 — the Braves were 96-win division champs for the first time since The Streak ended in 2005; the Dodgers had 92 wins and were returning to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
In Game 1, the Braves got Clayton Kershaw’d while the Dodgers knocked around Kris Medlen, who allowed five runs in four-plus innings. The Braves managed just a measly run as Kershaw struck out 12, including six straight at one point.
Game 2 was far more interesting, as Mike Minor (barely) outpitched and outlasted Zack Greinke. Up 2-1 in the seventh, the Braves extended their lead thanks to Jason Heyward’s two-run groundball single up the middle off Paco Rodriguez. They’d need both of those runs, because David Carpenter yielded a two-run homer to Hanley Ramirez (who drove in all three of his team’s runs in this game) in the top of the eighth. But, Carpenter struck out the next two batters, and Craig Kimbrel sealed the deal with a four-out save, despite giving up two walks in the ninth. (The Dodgers helped as Dee Gordon was caught stealing for the game’s second-to-last out.)
Unfortunately, that was all the Braves ended up getting, series-wise. The Dodgers obliterated Julio Teheran in Game 3 in demoralizing fashion, as the righty squandered his 2-0 lead by giving up a four-spot (sac fly to Hyun-Jin Ryu, Carl Crawford three-run homer) in the second. The Braves immediately came back to load the bases with none out and tied the game on two productive outs (lol), but Teheran gave two runs right back. Alex Wood couldn’t stop the bleeding, while Chris Capuano (!) threw three scoreless in relief of Ryu. The game ended with a 13-6 score, which was very bleh.
But not as bleh as how Game 4 ultimately ended. Look, you know about this game. It is an unfortunate part of the Braves lore, and the last playoff game the Braves managed in a half-decade. The Dodgers went for the jugular, throwing Kershaw on short rest. The Braves countered with Freddy “Just Make Pitch” Garcia, and make pitch he did — despite giving up solo shots to Crawford in both of his first two PAs, he gave up nothing else. After six innings, the game was tied 2-2, which let the Braves take the lead on Elliot Johnson’s triple and Jose Constanza’s pinch-hit single off Ronald Belisario. Carpenter came on for the eighth, and, well, you know the rest. Yasiel Puig hit a leadoff double, and with Kimbrel standing in the bullpen, arms crossed, sour facial expression, and all, Fredi Gonzalez let Carpenter give up a go-ahead two-run homer to Juan Uribe. Now suddenly down by one, the Braves had zero answers for Kenley Jansen in the top of the ninth, striking out thrice on 14 total pitches to end the game. Welp to the nth power.
2018 NLDS: Dodgers 3, Braves 1
Aaand of course, the Braves’ return to the postseason featured a rematch with their last postseason opponent. This one went more or less the same way, albeit with a few more positive memories.
In Game 1, Mike Foltynewicz could not carry over his regular season breakout into the playoffs, as Joc Pederson hit a leadoff homer in the first, and Max Muncy connected for a three-run shot in the second. Ryu, meanwhile, fared much better than in his prior playoff start against the Braves, pitching seven scoreless with an 8/0 K/BB ratio as the Dodgers prevailed 6-0. Foltynewicz lasted only two innings; five Braves relievers, including Sean Newcomb and Max Fried combined to give up two runs over the next six frames.
The Braves also couldn’t do anything against Kershaw in Game 2, as the southpaw went eight scoreless, allowing just three baserunners (two hits and a hit-by-pitch), though he only struck out three. Manny Machado continued the “Dodgers hit homers early off the Braves” thing by connecting for a two-run shot off Anibal Sanchez in the first. Yasmani Grandal capped the scoring with a homer off Sanchez to lead off the fifth. The Braves only had baserunners in four innings, one of them was erased on a double play, and Ronald Acuña Jr. had two of his team’s three hits, including a leadoff double that went nowhere.
A raucous crowd greeted the Braves as they returned to Atlanta in a 2-0 hole. Sean Newcomb began Game 3 with double plays helping him in back-to-back innings. The bottom of the second was insane, featuring an intentional walk to Charlie Culberson to bring up Newcomb... who promptly drew a four-pitch walk from Walker Buehler to drive in the game’s first run. Then came possibly the loudest moment in Braves history (why am I telling you this? you know this), as Buehler also fell behind Acuña 3-0, got a very, very questionable strike call, and then gave up a grand slam to the phenom. That’s probably the thing most people remember about this game, but it was hardly a blowout from there. Newcomb only lasted 2 2⁄3 with an 0/3 K/BB ratio; the Dodgers plated a couple in the third, Chris Taylor hit a two-run homer off Kevin Gausman in the fifth, and when Max Fried came on for a lefty-lefty arrangement with Muncy, the latter took him deep to tie the game. Freddie Freeman bailed the Braves out with a leadoff homer off former mate Alex Wood to lead off the sixth, and the Braves somehow hung on from there — Chad Sobotka, A.J. Minter, and Arodys Vizcaino closed it out, but the latter two allowed two baserunners each, and Vizcaino struck out the side after allowing two baserunners with none out (and later, a wild pitch that moved the go-ahead run into scoring position).
Game 4 was pretty brutal, albeit perhaps not so much as the same from five years prior. Foltynewicz fared better than in Game 1: despite a first-inning RBI double by Machado and four walks overall, he allowed just that one run in four innings. Rich Hill issued back-to-back walks to start the fourth, and Kurt Suzuki cashed them in to give the Braves a lead. Jonny Venters kept LA off the board in the fifth, but after a couple of singles in the sixth, he gave way to Brad Brach with David Freese at the plate. Freese placed a grounder up the middle outside of Culberson’s reach (Dansby Swanson missed the series due to injury), and the Dodgers were back on top. It didn’t matter because the Braves failed to score any more runs, anyway, but Machado took Sobotka deep for a three-run shot in the seventh. Pinch-hitter Lucas Duda offered an iota of salvation when he nearly homered with two on and two out, which would’ve made it a one-run game... but the ball was foul and he flew out on the next pitch. Jansen didn’t strike out the side to end it, as Acuña grounded out, but Ozzie Albies and Freeman went down on strikes, and that was that.
So, the Braves have won in three, and taken the Dodgers to four in two series losses. We’ll see if they can take them to at least five in this upcoming four-game set... or perhaps do even more damage than that.