May 28, 2024

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MLB 2024: Takeaways from Dodgers’ Series sweep of Braves

MLB 2024: Takeaways from Dodgers’ Series sweep of Braves

LOS ANGELES — Late Friday night, minutes after the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers pitched a tightly contested 11-inning game, Dodgers outfielder Teoscar Hernandez was asked if that was an indication of how closely these two teams are matched up. A smile crept in.

“We’re very close, but I will always say we’re better,” Hernandez said.

Just 38 hours later, Hernandez delivered the final blow to what looked like a series-clinching homer — a two-run sixth-inning homer that extended the Dodgers’ lead, propelled Los Angeles to another victory and secured a three-game sweep over the Mighty Ones. The Braves at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers beat the Braves on Friday (final score: 4-3), outscored them on Saturday (11-2), and outscored them on Sunday (5-1). Their offense combined for eight homers — all by Shohei Ohtani, Max Muncy and Hernandez — and their stout pitchers held them to six runs and 17 hits in 29 innings.

When asked what’s the biggest takeaway from this series, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said: “If we play well, we can keep any team at bay. With our offense, every game is winnable.”

The Braves arrived in Los Angeles with the best record in the major leagues and left with the second-best record in the National League East, two games behind the Philadelphia Phillies — not to mention one game behind the Dodgers. But the season is young. Feelings fluctuate. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a reasonable baseball observer who still doesn’t believe the Dodgers and Braves are the two best teams in the NL and perhaps, even after the Braves’ miserable weekend, the entire sport.

So what exactly can we glean from their first live match of the season? Here’s a look at what we learned.

What is the biggest question raised in the series? Did either group answer it?

Alden Gonzalez: Heading into the series, it was surprising that the Braves maintained the best record in the National League even though Ronald Acuña Jr., last year’s consensus MVP, hit just one home run and looked little like his prototypical star. Nothing propels this offense quite like Acuña from the top spot. However, the Braves started the weekend ranked second in the major leagues — behind only the Dodgers — in OPS, as Acuña’s mark was at just .689. I wondered if a series like this would be the kind of thing that would excite Acuña — and maybe it is. Acuña homered on Friday, then went 3-for-4 with a double in a blowout loss on Saturday. He started off May with three consecutive multi-hit outings before an 0-for-3 showing on Sunday. If he gets really hot, this Braves offense will take it to another level.

David Schoenfeld: To beat the Dodgers, you have to check at the top of the standings. The Braves did a reasonably good job of that on Friday; The Dodgers’ top four hitters — Mookie Betts, Ohtani, Freddie Freeman and Will Smith — went 3-for-17 with three walks, including an 0-for-5 effort from Betts. After the Braves scored in the top of the 10th, Ohtani tied the game with a base hit on a soft line drive up the middle in the bottom of the inning — some bad luck for Russell Iglesias, who made a good throw, but Ohtani reached out and tucked it past a diving Orlando Arcia . Andy Pages would then win the game for the Dodgers in the bottom of the 11th on a bunker to center field with an exit velocity of 63 mph.

But Saturday was a different story: The Dodgers’ top four starters went 8-for-18 with two walks, including a home run from Ohtani. Of course, the big story in the 11-2 blowout was that Muncy, the No. 5 hitter, hit a three-run home run — a reminder that the Dodgers’ lineup doesn’t necessarily end after Smith. Sunday was the Ohtani show: 4-for-4, 3 RBIs and two home runs, including a two-run blast in the first inning from Max Fried that put the Dodgers on their way to the sweep. So, no, it’s hard to say the Braves did enough to contain Ohtani & Co.

What surprised you most?

Gonzalez: As dangerous as the top half of the Dodgers lineup was, the bottom half was sorely lacking — which is why Pages’ emergence was so important. Pages, a 23-year-old prospect from Cuba, had four hits in the series opener on Friday, including a single in the 11th inning. He followed that up by going 2-for-5 with a home run on Saturday. Pages has yet to draw his first inning of the season, but he has an OPS’ing .903 in 74 plate appearances. He was viewed as a stopgap while Jason Heyward worked out a back issue, but due to the struggles of Chris Taylor, James Ottman and Gavin Lux — they combined for a .153/.247/.203 slash line — Pages developed into a critical contributor.

Schoenfeld: Matt Olson’s struggles at the plate continue. He started the season really well, with three doubles on Opening Day and hitting .293 with a .973 OPS over 14 games. He looked poised for another monster season. Instead, I hit too few grounders and too many fly balls at too high a launch angle. After going 1-for-10 in the series, he’s 6-for-59 (.102) over his last 18 games with just one double and no home runs.

But the good news: he should be fine, because he seems to be having a lot of bad luck. The ball is hit hard once at 95 mph, and Olson remains in the 98th percentile among all hitters in hard-hit rate. Entering Sunday, his MLB average on hard-hit balls was .480, but he had just three hits and a sac fly on the past 23 balls he hit hard. In the previous series against Seattle, Olson was robbed several times on tough balls. However, to see him with a sub-.200 average and only three home runs is a surprise.

What is the biggest concern for either team?

Gonzalez: My biggest concern is the ability of opposing pitchers to tame the top half of the Dodgers lineup. Los Angeles’ offense received a lot of hype heading into this season, and somehow the top of their lineup exceeded expectations — with Betts, Ohtani, and Freeman excelling in the top three, but also with Smith, Muncy, and Hernandez still emerging behind him. Betts and Smith didn’t do much this series, but Ohtani and Hernandez homered five times combined, and Freeman doubled and tripled on Saturday. And Muncy recorded his first three-hitter on the same night. Keeping them all in check has seemed impossible all season — as the Braves have just learned. Betts, Ohtani, Freeman and Smith in particular have combined for a .337/.432/.567 slash line with 18 home runs this year — though Freeman didn’t necessarily feel right on most of them. silly.

Schoenfeld: A continued slow start in the power department for not only Olson, but also Acuña and Austin Riley. Last year, the three averaged a home run every 14.3 at-bats; This year, it’s one every 46.9 at-bats. As a result, the Braves are down as a team in home runs, averaging exactly one home run per game compared to last year’s offense of 1.9 per game. Olson and Riley are hitting at roughly the same rate as last season, so this hasn’t been an issue for them. However, Acuña saw his strikeout rate rise from 11.4% last season to 26.8% in 2024 — similar to where it was in 2021-22, when he struck out 23.6% of the time. After a 13-hit stretch in his previous five games before this series, it’s probably a good sign that he went 2-for-5 with a home run and just one hit on Friday and then 3-for-4 with no hits on Saturday. (However, he was hitless with one walk and one strikeout on Sunday.)

Which team is best prepared for October?

Gonzalez: The recipe for October success in this day and age is either too complex or non-existent. Last fall provided an extreme example, as the Braves and Dodgers were both bounced in the Division Series by two teams that finished a combined 30 games below them in the standings. Still: if there is He is A list of ingredients necessary for success in the playoffs: elite talent, pitching depth, big-game experience, and health. As far as the Dodgers and Braves are concerned – check, check, check, well, we’ll see. However, it is clear that both teams are determined to win the tournament.

If I had to pick one, I’d pick the Braves for something Roberts hinted at this weekend — a series of effective left-handed relievers in AJ Minter, Aaron Bummer, Dylan Lee, and Tyler Matzek. They all have a history of being tough on left-handed hitters, which could be a factor if you’re facing, say, Freeman, Ohtani, and Muncy in the late stages of the NLCS. Will it matter in the end? Who do you know? But if there’s one staff built to handle an offense as disruptive as the Dodgers’, it’s probably the Braves.

Schoenfeld: Honestly… it’s too early to say here. I’m old school in believing that two major league starters will go a long way in October, and that’s what the Dodgers are doing in Tyler Glasnow and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Glasnow held the Braves to two runs with 10 strikeouts on Friday, and while Yamamoto did not pitch in this series, he has a 1.64 ERA since that first-inning disaster against the Padres in Korea. On the other hand, despite the results of this series, the Braves could still keep up with the Dodgers in October, not only with all those lefty relievers, but also with Max Fried and Chris Sale in the rotation. Although Fried has never had a major platoon split in his career, Sale is still tough on lefties with that slider (.167 average this season) and that could pose a problem for Ohtani, Freeman, and Muncy.

What will you be watching for either team to progress?

Gonzalez: Walker Buehler returns to the Dodgers on Monday after a 20-month rehabilitation process following his second Tommy John surgery. Will it be the electric Buehler we remember from early 2022, or a watered-down version of that? Perhaps we could ask the same of Bobby Miller, who is dealing with a sore shoulder but should soon face hitters again and begin his progression in earnest. Clayton Kershaw, who threw his first bullpen on Friday — exactly six months after offseason shoulder surgery — won’t return until sometime in the second half. Glasnow (2.70 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 50 innings this season) and Yamamoto look dominant. But the Dodgers’ success in October may depend largely on who follows them.

Schoenfeld: The back end of the Braves’ rotation — which seems even more important now with the Phillies off to a hot start (that wasn’t the case the past two seasons, when the Braves ran away with the NL East title). Bryce Elder was an All-Star last season, but struggled in the second half and only made the rotation due to an injury to Spencer Stryder. The Dodgers blanked him for seven runs and three home runs on Saturday. Reynaldo Lopez has been great so far with a 1.50 ERA over five starts, but let’s see if he can continue to avoid the home runs that plagued him in his previous stints as a starter. Then there is selling. Can he play in 30 games, something he hasn’t done since 2017? The Braves may need him to do that to hold off the Phillies.

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