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Braves face the Dodgers in a clash of National League titans

Baseball’s two best teams square off in a series full of intrigue

Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

This weekend, te Atlanta Braves are headed to Hollywood to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in a matchup that will feature many of baseball’s biggest names. The Braves and the Dodgers have been the two best teams in the National League over the past five years, and that has been no different this year, with the two powerhouses lapping the NL field.

The Dodgers have had a dominant month of August, with a 23-4 record. They have been led by the two-headed monster of Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts, who have been otherworldly since the All-Star Break. Freeman is hitting .372 with a 1.074 OPS since the break, but somehow Betts has been even better. Mookie Betts is hitting an asinine .395 with a 1.141 OPS since the break. He has been particularly outstanding in the month of August, with a .452 batting average and a 1.317 OPS.

This historic August run by Betts has helped him close the gap in the MVP race between him and Ronald Acuña Jr. Heading into this series, the award is up for grabs, with Freeman and even Matt Olson lingering in the race. This four-game clash will provide an opportunity for someone to have a signature moment that could help sway voters. Going into the series, Betts has a 174 wRC+ and 7.5 fWAR, while Acuña has a 166 wRC+ with 6.5 fWAR. However, it is worth noting that Acuna has 61 stolen bases while Betts only has 10. It’s also worth nothing that leads Betts by .038 in xwOBA, yet Betts has the higher wOBA by .009.

Like the Braves, the Dodgers have a deep lineup that supports their stars. Guys like James Outman, Will Smith, J.D. Martinez, Jason Heyward and Max Muncy all have a wRC+ of 120 or higher. That is an impressive amount of depth, and many of those players have had their careers revived by the Dodgers. The Dodgers have been mashing as they always do, but their pitching has been underwhelming this season, with an FIP- that is just tenth in baseball, and an xFIP- that’s ranked even worse (though still in the top half). In particular, the rotation has dealt with numerous injuries. The Dodgers have used 14 starters, including nine for five or more starts, and have thrown seven scheduled bullpen games at this point. There’s been a steep drop-off after the foursome of Clayton Kershaw, Bobby Miller, Julio Urias, and Dustin May, and May went down with Tommy John Surgery earlier this year.

The Dodgers are once again among baseball’s elite, ranking third in total team fWAR (Braves are far and away first) and could stand in the Braves way in their quest for a World Series, but their pitching is not what it once was. This weekend could provide a sneak peak for the 2023 NLCS.

Thursday, August 31, 10:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Spencer Strider (26 GS, 153.1 IP, 38.1 K%, 7.6 BB%, 34.1 GB%, 3.46 ERA, 2.79 FIP)

Spencer Strider has been unbelievable in his last three starts, going 21 innings, while being charged with only one run. He has gone seven innings in all seven of those starts, a big milestone for Strider who has struggled in seventh innings for a lot of this season. Being able to give seven consistently is something that separates very good starting pitchers from elite Cy Young type arms. With a lot of the Cy Young favorites failing to pull away from the pack, Strider could re-establish himself in the race if he has a strong finish to the season. Strider’s slider has been electric this season with a 57.2 percent whiff rate and a .202 xwOBA-against. His elite fastball is a big reason for those numbers. While his slider is a good pitch on its own, it is improved massively by the fact that hitters are terrified of Strider’s fastball. His fastball has a 30 percent whiff rate which is an elite number for a fastball. With hitters struggling to catch up to the fastball, they have to sell out for it which sets up the slider. The right-hander has been good in his two career starts against the Dodgers: last June he threw six scoreless with a 7/0 K/BB ratio, and earlier this year, he had an 11/3 K/BB ratio in six innings in a loss that was marred by bad defense behind him.

Lance Lynn (26 GS, 150.2 IP, 25.8 K%, 7.7 BB%, 37.1 GB%, 5.56 ERA, 5.10 FIP)

While Lance Lynn’s full-season numbers don’t look great, they’ve been better since he’s come to Los Angeles. There’s a big ERA disparity, but that’s not unusual when one of the splits consists of five starts. More promising is a ten-point reduction in FIP- between his old team and his new team... but the xFIP- has actually increased a tiny bit. The Dodgers have implemented changes to his approach to get him to lower both his walks and strikeouts. Broadly, his evolution in L.A. is pretty obvious — throw more of your better pitches (four-seamer) and less of your worse ones (cutter, sinker). The Braves had few issues with Lynn earlier this season, as he managed just a 6/3 K/BB ratio and gave up two homers in 5 13 innings against them, but that also happened to be the game where Eddie Rosario’s defense completely tanked a Spencer Strider start, so the Braves didn’t come away with a victory.

Friday, September 1, 10:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Max Fried (10 GS, 53.2 IP, 24.1 K%, 5 BB%, 59.2 GB%, 2.85 ERA, 3.17 FIP)

Max Fried was very good in his last start against the Giants, going six innings, while allowing two runs. Fried’s 85.8 MPH average exit velocity allowed is among the best in baseball, as is his 3.2 barrel%, which ranks in the 92nd percentile. This is helped by the fact that he is outstanding at keeping the ball on the ground, with his 59.2 GB% being an elite mark. He is also outstanding at avoiding home runs, as his 0.84 HR/9 shows... but he has given up three homers in his last two starts, after allowing just two in his other eight starts on the year.

Julio Urias (20 GS, 112.1 IP, 24.7 K%, 4.8 BB%, 37.3 GB%, 4.41 ERA, 4.43 FIP)

Julio Urias has had a down year this year, with HR/FB the real culprit, but some concerning velocity things floating around as well. Since 2021, Urias has lost 1.4 MPH on his fastball, going from 94.1 MPH to 92.7 MPH, and lately it has been even lower than that. While Urias only just turned 27, he has a lot of miles on his arm and has a shoulder surgery in his past. Despite allowing six runs in six innings in his last start against the Red Sox, he has been better in August, posting his best monthly stats this month.

Saturday, September 2, 9 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Bryce Elder (26 GS, 149.1 IP, 17.4 K%, 8 BB%, 51.7 GB%, 3.50 ERA, 4.29 FIP)

After a phenomenal start to the season, Bryce Elder has fallen back down to earth, but has still been decent overall. Since June 27, Elder’s aggregate stats are still nasty, with an ERA, FIP, and xFIP all above 5.00. While his results have been hit or miss in that span, with six of 11 starts featuring an ERA of 3.00 or below, he hasn’t had back-to-back starts with an xFIP below 4.50 in that entire stretch. Elder has made one start against the Dodgers, where he was very good, going six innings, allowing a solo homer, and putting up a 6/1 K/BB ratio. The Braves could use more of the same here.


The Dodgers haven’t announced a starter for Saturday and a bullpen game appears to be a possibility.

Sunday, September 3, 4:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Charlie Morton (26 GS, 147.2 IP, 25.8 K%, 10.8 BB%, 44.1 GB%, 3.29 ERA, 3.80 FIP)
Charlie Morton has been rolling for three straight starts now, after making some adjustments following a seven-walk game versus the Mets. After tallying just seven games with eight-plus strikeouts all season, he has three in his last three games. It’s been a nice turnaround from a five-start rough patch he had immediately before these last three outings, and helped move his seasonal line back into well-above-average-starter territory.

Morton’s prior start this year against the Dodgers showed the limitation of a curveball-heavy approach without a quality fastball, as the Dodgers essentially forced him into throwing curve and curve and eventually punished it — he had just a 5/2 K/BB ratio and two homers allowed in five innings of work while being charged with six runs in a loss. Now that his arsenal has apparently added a consistently-used third pitch, a cutter, we’ll see whether the Dodgers can grind him down all the same, or whether that third option makes a big difference.

Bobby Miller (16 GS, 87.2 IP, 21.7 K%, 6.9 BB%, 48.4 GB%, 4.00 ERA, 3.64 FIP)
The hard-throwing Bobby Miller is an impressive young pitcher for the Dodgers who has had a very solid rookie season that includes an 82 FIP- and 92 xFIP- through 16 career starts. Miller averages 99 MPH on his fastball and has really come into his own lately. Surprisingly for a guy with a 100 MPH fastball, Miller’s biggest problem is his relative inability to get strikeouts and whiffs. His strikeout rate and whiff rate are both below average. While Miller throws hard, he only gets a 19.2 percent whiff rate on his four-seamer, while Strider, who has a bit less velocity, gets a 30 percent whiff rate on the pitch. He gets most of his whiffs on his breaking pitches, with his slider getting a 28.8 percent whiff rate and his curveball getting a more healthy 35.8 percent whiff rate. Even those are not super elite numbers. Miller might be more Sandy Alcantara than Spencer Strider if he were to become the ace many people think he can be. Miller went five innings while allowing one run against the Braves in his big league debut in the end of May.

Miller has a five-pitch mix, yet hitters seem to mostly sit on the four-seam fastball, and he obliges, throwing it nearly 60 percent of the time. He also throws a sinker which isn’t different enough from the four-seamer to bother with. It seems like, over time, he’s going to have to mix in his slider, curve, and changeup more just to hit another performance tear, but he’s helped the Dodgers stabilize their pitching situation so much at this point that there’s not a huge incentive to make wholesale changes right now.

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