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An NLCS rematch, but a different Braves offense this time around

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Analyzing the Braves lineup and how it compares with last year's version

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Come Saturday night the Dodgers will face a familiar foe in Game 1 of the NLCS, however just like this isn’t exactly the same Dodgers team that came back from down 3-1 against the Braves last year, the same is true on the other side of the spectrum.

Generally when you lose your best player in what at the time is a disappointing season, that’s generally a sign that things won’t go your way. But the 2021 Braves showed resilience and through shrewd acquisitions bounced back and overtook the collapsing New York Mets for the National League East lead.

This is the lineup that faced the Dodgers for game 7 of last year’s National League Championship Series:

  1. Ronald Acuña Jr. (RF)
  2. Freddie Freeman (1B)
  3. Marcel Ozuna (DH)
  4. Travis D’Arnaud (C)
  5. Ozzie Albies (2B)
  6. Dansby Swanson (SS)
  7. Austin Riley (3B)
  8. Nick Markakis (LF)
  9. Christian Pache (CF)

Keeping in mind that this was in a shortened season, nevertheless this team led all of baseball — with the added benefit of the universal DH — in total bases (1,001) and was second in runs per game (5.80) behind your very own Dodgers (5.82).

Interestingly enough, Adam Duvall was a part of that roster but he didn’t play in the 2020 NLCS after leaving Game 1 with an injury. Duvall left Atlanta for Miami during the off-season, but came back via trade and is now an integral part of the ‘21 Braves.

Now here’s the lineup for the Braves last game this year, the clincher at home on Monday versus the Milwaukee Brewers:

  1. Dansby Swanson (SS)
  2. Freddie Freeman (1B)
  3. Ozzie Albies (2B)
  4. Austin Riley (3B)
  5. Adam Duvall (LF)
  6. Joc Pederson (RF)
  7. Travis D’Arnaud (C)
  8. Guillermo Heredia (CF)
  9. Charlie Morton (P)

First things first, the leadoff hitter had been Jorge Soler up until this point but he tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the final game of the NLDS. He’s likely to miss at least part of the NLCS as well.

While some of those names look the same there’s a big difference in terms of production.

The emergence of Austin Riley as one of the best-hitting third basemen in the National League is more or less offset by the regression from Freddie Freeman, who still posted a rather productive season with a 133 OPS+ but nothing quite like his 2020 MVP form and also the massive decline of Travis d’Arnaud that went from being a top-5 hitting catcher to a below-average one.

Ronald Acuña Jr.’s absence — out since the All-Star break after knee surgery — has been the most important loss.

All of this serves as an indicator that, unlike the 2020 version of the Braves who could go toe-to-toe with the Dodgers and came as close as one can to advancing, it’s going to take a lot more breaks and thus a bigger upset for the 2021 Braves to continue this marvelous run and get to the Fall Classic for the first time in this century.

There are plenty of differences between the last two seasons that make for any comparison in terms of lineup production to be filled with caveats but take a look at how these two opponents compare in each year.

2020 offenses

Team BA OBP SLG wRC+
Team BA OBP SLG wRC+
Braves .268 .349 .483 120
Dodgers .256 .338 .483 121
Source: FanGraphs

2021 offenses

Team BA OBP SLG wRC+
Team BA OBP SLG wRC+
Braves .250 .327 .449 104
Dodgers .251 .339 .446 113
using non-pitchers only, to compare to DH-filled 2020 Source: FanGraphs

The gap is definitely larger for the current season and even more so when you factor in that two of the biggest contributors for the Braves in Acuña and Soler will miss time.

The Dodgers also have absences, but the depth for Los Angeles to replace Max Muncy is undoubtedly better.

Something that could happen after their triumph over Milwaukee is the perception that the Braves lineup is better than it is. The reality is that most lineups will experience that in comparison with the Brewers hitters, especially if your pitching can hold up like Atlanta’s did.

This has been as emotional of a postseason as you could possibly get, but looking at the big picture and knowing that this is a best-of-seven series, the Dodgers face a challenge perhaps not as hard as the previous two. That doesn’t mean they can take this Atlanta team lightly, on any given day that top three of Max Fried, Charlie Morton, and Ian Anderson can shut you down. But despite it being in a later series, an elimination here would be a bigger upset than if Los Angeles had gone down against St Louis or San Francisco.