The Dodgers and Braves will begin their second consecutive National League Championship Series between each other on Saturday. This will also be the fifth time these two teams have met in the postseason. That ties the Braves with the Phillies for the second-most postseason appearances against the Dodgers, among National League teams. Only the Cardinals in the NL have more with six, including the NL wild card game this season.
Here is a look back at these two teams postseason series history that started with one team having a Hall-of-Fame rotation against the other in a matchup.
Peak Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine
After winning three consecutive NL West divisional titles (1991-1993), the Braves finally joined a more geographical friendly NL East and in 1995, continued their divisional championship run.
The Dodgers only played the Braves once during this run, and that happened in 1996. That season, the Dodgers had to make an in-season managerial change when Tommy Lasorda had to step down due to health concerns and Bill Russell took over. Despite that change, the Dodgers appeared to be headed to their second consecutive divisional title only to get swept by the San Diego Padres in the season’s final weekend.
That meant instead of playing the St. Louis Cardinals, the now-wild-card Dodgers had to play the Braves. And that meant facing one of the best rotations and in particular three top starting pitchers in recent baseball history.
From 1991 to 1998, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz won seven of the eight NL Cy Young Awards. Maddux won his first in 1992 as a Chicago Cub and after that season he joined the Braves and proceeded to win three straight Cy Youngs. Tom Glavine won his Cy Young Awards in 1991 and 1998.
Smoltz broke Maddux’s streak with his best season as a starting pitcher in 1996. He led the league with 253⅔ innings pitched, 276 strikeouts, and 24 wins, winning the pitching triple crown.
Those three combined to pitch 22⅔ of the 28 innings in the Division Series. Smoltz pitched nine innings in Game 1 and allowed one run. Maddux started Game 2 and pitched seven scoreless innings.
Glavine won Game 3 to complete the Braves sweep over the Dodgers. He pitched 6⅔ innings and allowed a single run. As a team, the Braves had a 0.96 ERA, allowing only three earned runs. The Dodgers did score two unearned runs, which meant the Braves outscored the Dodgers 10-5 in this series.
Clayton Kershaw postseason era begins
Clayton Kershaw made his postseason debut in his rookie year in 2008 and made his first two postseason starts in 2009. After a brief October hiatus, the Dodgers returned to postseason play after winning the first of eight consecutive NL West division titles in 2013.
After pitching a career-high 236 innings pitched and leading the league with a 1.83 ERA and 232 strikeouts, Kershaw began the series by striking out 12 in his seven-inning Game 1 start as the Dodgers won 6-1.
Kershaw made his first career postseason start on short rest in Game 4. This was a pattern for the next few seasons, and perhaps one reason the Dodgers would continue to finish short of their ultimate goal was the necessity to go this route during Kershaw’s peak.
Putting that discussion aside, Kershaw’s first short-rest postseason start was a success. Kershaw pitched six solid innings in Game 4 and he left with the score tied 2-2.
Juan Uribe’s big hit happened in the eighth inning, one of the biggest moments in Dodgers NLDS history. The Dodgers won the NLDS in four games, evening their postseason matchups with the Braves at one apiece.
Hyun-Jin Ryu dominant Game 1 start
From 2013 through 2017, one thing you knew is if it was at all possible, Kershaw would start Game 1 of any postseason series. He started Game 1 in seven of the nine postseason series in that period, with the only non-Game 1 starts because not enough days passed after a short-rest NLDS start.
But for the first game of the 2018 NLDS against the Braves, the Dodgers had a choice between Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu. They opened themselves up for second-guessing when instead of the experienced Kershaw, the Dodgers gave the assignment to Ryu, keeping the pair in order.
Ryu made three postseason starts in his first two seasons (2013-14), but after shoulder surgery, rehab and roster decisions, Ryu did not have an opportunity to make another postseason start until 2018.
The Dodgers shutout the Braves 6-0 to take Game 1. In seven innings, Ryu allowed four hits and struck out eight. Kershaw led another Dodgers shutout win over the Braves in Game 2 to take a 2-0 lead back to Atlanta.
With their 6-2 win in Game 4, the Dodgers moved on to the NLCS against the Brewers.
Total team effort made comeback possible
After sweeping the Brewers and Padres, the Dodgers won 48 of 65 games played in the 2020 regular and postseason. Would this dominance continue as the Dodgers prepared to meet the Braves for the first time in their NLCS history?
Atlanta answered that with a firm “No” by winning the first two games. And after a record Dodgers offense show in Game 3, the Braves had their own blowout in Game 4 to put the Dodgers in their first must-win situation in 2020, down 3-1 in the series.
Trailing by a run in the sixth in Game 5, Will Smith came up with two on and two outs against left-handed reliever Will Smith.
Smith’s three-run homer gave the Dodgers a lead they did not relinquish as the Dodgers won Game 5, 7-3.
Walker Buehler made his second start of the series, pitching six scoreless innings in Game 6. Corey Seager and Justin Turner each hit solo home runs as they went back-to-back in the first inning.
The 3-1 Dodgers win forced a winner-take-all Game 7.
It was Seager’s fifth home run of the series, as he continued his strong play that earned him an NLCS MVP award.
Mookie Betts had already made some big defensive plays in the series and with the Dodgers trailing by a run in Game 7, he made one more to keep the Dodgers in the game.
After a game-tying home run from Kiké Hernández in the sixth, Cody Bellinger came up in the seventh looking to make something happen.
Julio Urías took over the game in the top of the seventh and retired all nine batters he faced to earn the Game 7 victory.
That win made it three consecutive postseason series over the Braves. Will the Dodgers extend this streak? We’ll know that soon enough, but here’s to some more great memories being created in this year’s NLCS.