The Dodgers went 5-2 against the Braves this season, but will that have an impact on the NLDS outcome? Ben Duronio of Talking Chop took the time to answer questions like these for TBLA. Let's see what he had to say.
DAVID LAUTERBACH: Who was the Braves' MVP this season?
BEN DURONIO: The general consensus is that it is Freddie Freeman. He hit far better than most anticipated this year and will probably finish at least within the top-10 of MVP voting for the National League. With that said, in my opinion, the MVP of the team is Andrelton Simmons.
BD: The Braves had the lowest ERA in baseball this season and much of that is due to Simmons at shortstop. He is by far the best defensive shortstop in the game right now and to be perfectly honest he is one of the most talented defenders I have ever seen. Couple the fact that his defense is so tremendous with 17 home runs and he was the team’s most valuable player.
DL: What about Cy Young?
BD: This is probably a tougher question. Of the team’s top three starters, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, and Kris Medlen, each has taken a turn as the team’s best rotation member. Minor was the best in the early stretch of the year, Teheran was the best during the middle months, and Medlen finished the year stronger than any of them.
BD: On top of the team having three reasonable options in the rotation, Craig Kimbrel’s name probably deserves attention in this debate as well with his third consecutive dominant campaign closing out games for the Braves. Even though Kimbrel is far better at his skill than any of the other three, it is hard to pick him over a starter due to the innings totals. Mike Minor topped 200 innings, so I am picking him.
DL: Rookie of the year?
BD: In the early going the rookie of the year would have been Evan Gattis. His home run abilities stayed true throughout the season, but his overall offensive output slugged along for most of the year and he is just awful defensively in the outfield. As a catcher he is simply "not good" but as an outfielder he is dreadfully bad, which hurt his value this season.
BD: Julio Teheran is the easy choice, and he should be near the top of the balloting for rookie of the year in the entire league. In most years he would probably win, with 184 innings of a 3.20 ERA and a 3.79 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This year, Jose Fernandez and probably Yasiel Puig will be head of Teheran, but his effect on the Braves has been as big as any rookie’s. The Braves relied on Teheran to not only be a quality rookie but to be one of the leaders of the staff at just 22-years-old.
DL: What contributed to Atlanta's dominance in the NL East?
BD: It was all about run prevention this year in Atlanta. The starting staff was strong all year and the bullpen was the best in baseball yet again. Having a strong bullpen has been a staple of Frank Wren’s tenure in Atlanta, headlined by Kimbrel in the back end, but they pieced together their bullpen this year after Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty suffered season ending elbow injuries early in the season. Wren got outstanding performances from waiver claim David Carpenter and a lefty most had not heard about in Luis Avilan. Alex Wood providing flexibility in the bullpen and rotation all season was critical as well.
BD: On top of the pitching, defense was a big factor, as Andrelton Simmons and Jason Heyward providing league-best defense at their positions was huge.
DL: What or who do you think can help the Braves go all the way?
BD: I think Jason Heyward will be the biggest key to the Braves advancing past the Dodgers and potentially even further into the playoffs. The Braves excelled with him in the leadoff spot prior to him being hit in the jaw by a Jon Niese pitch. He will also likely be manning center field, a position he is much less familiar with, although he has looked tremendous when playing there this season. There will of course be other factors, but I think if Heyward has a big series and playoffs then the Braves can have a huge postseason.
DL: What or who might prevent the Atlanta from making it to the NLCS?
BD: If I had to pick one person it would probably be Freddy Garcia. The Braves look like they are going to throw Garcia out there for game 4, and if there is a game 4 there is no possible way it’s not an absolutely huge game in a first-to-three series. He is no longer a quality pitcher and it is a mystery as to how the Braves ended up having such a great season yet will have Freddy Garcia starting a huge playoff game.
BD: Outside of Freddy Garcia, an inconsistent offense would be the biggest worry. The Braves can beat any starter any day of the week, but can also get beat and look silly almost as frequently. I would not at all be surprised with crooked numbers in their wins and goose eggs in their losses.
DL: What is the Braves' biggest weakness?
BD: I would go back to the inconsistent offense here for the biggest weakness. Similar to what I said above, they can look great or terrible without much rhyme or reason for either. They are an all or nothing type offense that whiffs a lot, walks a lot, and hits a lot of homers. They are not a base stealing team and they are one of those squads that "waits for the three run homer," which personally I do not mind at all. The story all year is that this type of offense won’t work during the post-season. We will see in a couple of days who was right all season.
DL: What is their biggest strength?
BD: To me it has to be the bullpen. Even though Scott Downs, Luis Avilan, and Jordan Walden struggled down the stretch, David Carpenter and Alex Wood have been incredible this season in front of Craig Kimbrel. They have the ability to mix and match lefties and righties to shorten up games, which will be huge as the Dodgers have quality bats on both sides of the plate.
DL: What does Atlanta need to do to beat Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in the first two games?
BD: I would say hit home runs. Kershaw and Greinke are two of the stingiest pitchers in the league in terms of allowing home runs, but the Braves led the National League in home runs by a decently wide margin and do not play in a hitter friendly park. They do not rely on any one guy to go deep, but all eight of their starters sans Elliot Johnson (he will probably start at 2B over Dan Uggla) has double digit home runs and five of them hit over 20 long balls.
DL: What's the deal with B.J. Upton? Will he start in the outfield with Justin Upton and Jason Heyward? Or will Evan Gattis take his spot?
BD: I expect Gattis to take his spot. Upton struggled all year and just never figured it out at the plate. It was an absolutely abysmal first year of his big free agent contract, and if it were not for solid defense in the outfield then this would not even be a question. I expect him to come in late in games to replace Gattis, as Gattis is a lefty masher (.240 ISO vs. LHP this season) and the Braves face two in the first three games of the series. B.J. Upton’s past playoff success may earn him a start in game two but it is up in the air at this point.
DL: Do you think Dan Uggla's decision to get eye surgery contributed to Atlanta losing the race for the number one seed?
BD: I do not. He was not hitting well and he wanted to try and figure something out. Even when he came back he struggled. It is unfortunate that the Braves two highest paid players, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton, have struggled so badly and likely will not be regulars in the playoffs. That does go to show how good the rest of the team has been though, as they were able to stomach poor performances from key players to win the division easily and almost come away with the number one seed in the league.
DL: The Braves won the season series between the two teams 5-2. All of the games were played before the Dodgers' miracle 42-8 run started on June 22nd and Atlanta never had to face Clayton Kershaw. So, do you think the season series results will affect the NLDS results?
BD: Not at all. I throw that stuff out the window when it comes to the playoffs. The games are different, the teams are different, the intensity is different. The Braves could be 7-0 or 0-7 and I would not have those results effect my outlook on the series.
DL: If you could pick one player that could lead Atlanta past Los Angeles in the NLDS, who would it be?
Jason Heyward, as I mentioned earlier.
DL: If you could pick one player that could lead the Dodgers past the Braves in the NLDS, who would it be?
BD: Clayton Kershaw. If they win both games he starts I have a difficult time seeing the Braves coming away with the series win.
DL: In depth series prediction time. Who wins, by how much, and why? What are the results of every game?
BD: I take the Braves in five. My thought process is that it is essentially a coin flip. Playoff series are always so unpredictable and I doubt this year is any different.
BD: I think the Braves steal game one off a great performance from Medlen (he was NL pitcher of the month in September) and lose game two as Mike Minor has struggled of late.
BD: Game three will be the critical outing with two rookies in Teheran and Ryu squaring off. I think the Braves win that game at 3-2 and then get blown out in game four if Freddy Garcia starts.
BD: The last game would be Medlen’s second start and I think he would build on his performance from the first outing. Of all the starters in the series, Medlen’s changeup has generated the highest swing and miss percentage of any other pitch. That gives me confidence in him this year. Good luck to the Dodgers and I am sure it will be an awesome series.