Braves at Dodgers – NLDS Game 2 Pick
Thursday’s Game 1 of the NLDS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves went about as expected. The Dodgers got to Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz early. Joc Pederson led off the game with a home run, and Max Muncy followed suit with a 3-run shot in the bottom of the second inning. Kiké Hernandez added the Dodgers’ third home run of the game later on their way to an easy 6-0 victory. The Braves could not figure out what to do with L.A. starter Hyun-Jin Ryu and the 3 relievers that followed him into the game.
So, Atlanta will now have to take 3 of the next 4 from Los Angeles in order to advance to the NLCS. That’s a tall order against any team, especially one that won the National League pennant a year ago. Things won’t get much easier for the Braves from a matchup perspective, either. Friday’s Game 2 will feature former Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw taking the mound for the Dodgers, while the Braves will counter with veteran right-hander Anibal Sanchez.
Kershaw is pretty clearly the best pitcher of his generation, but it looks like he has taken a step back this season. His numbers are still excellent by most standards, but the 2018 regular season was Kershaw’s worst in nearly a decade. The 30 year old left-hander went 9-5 with a 2.73 ERA across 26 starts. He spent some time on the disabled list earlier this year with persistent back trouble, as well.
Kershaw’s 3.45 SIERA is a bit worse than his 2.79 ERA. A 3.45 SIERA is still stellar, but it’s Kershaw’s worst mark since posting a 3.54 SIERA in 2010. His strikeout rate of 23.9 percent was also his lowest K-rate since 2008, when he was a rookie. The southpaw also allowed hard hits at a 36.1 percent clip, marking the first time Kershaw has ever allowed a hard contact rate over 30 percent in any season.
He still keeps the ball on the ground pretty well (47.9 percent), which helps him limit damage. That said, he has yielded a total of 40 home runs over the last 2 seasons combined. To compare, Kershaw allowed a total of 43 home runs over the 4-season stretch from 2013 through 2016. 17 of those dingers came this season.
To be clear, it’s not like Kershaw has fallen off a cliff, he’s just not the same guy we saw as recently as 2 years ago. His velocity has dipped to where his fastball currently sits in the 90-92 range. At his best, Kershaw would touch 96-97 with regularity.
In spite of it all, he is still an excellent pitcher. The Dodgers may not be as comfortable with him as they have been in years past, so we could see a bit of a quick hook here if he runs into any trouble. The Braves lineup on the other side is a decent one, but it’s also a young group susceptible to slumps. It’s worth noting that Kershaw was dominant in his lone meeting against Atlanta earlier this season. The lefty allowed a run on 6 hits with 8 strikeouts in 7.2 innings of work in what was eventually a 4-1 Dodger victory.
As for Sanchez, he has been reborn this season. The former Marlin started spring training with the Minnesota Twins before being released. The Braves took a flier on him back in March, and he eventually made his debut for the club as a reliever in early April. The 34 year old would eventually move into the Braves’ rotation, and he never left.
Sanchez finished the season with a 7-6 record alongside a tidy 2.83 ERA over the course of 25 outings, including 24 starts. Sanchez posted a strikeout rate of 24.4 percent, which was his best mark since since posting a K-rate north of 27 percent in 2013 as a member of the Tigers.
The right-hander’s 3.85 SIERA was over a full run higher than his ERA, but, again, a 3.85 SIERA is still pretty good. Sanchez kept the hard contact down under 28 percent and he generated ground balls at a 45 percent clip. He also conceded 15 big flies.
Sanchez’ lone appearance against these Dodgers earlier this season didn’t go all that well. He did pitch into the seventh inning, but he allowed 5 runs on 7 hits in the meantime. The Braves lost the game 8-2.
Sanchez also has shown reverse splits over the course of his career, and his performance in 2018 has been no different. Right-handers had a wOBA of .295 against him, while he kept lefties to a .259 mark. We saw lefties torch Foltynewicz last night, but I’d expect the Dodger righties to do the damage against Sanchez tonight. That means Manny Machado, Brian Dozier, Justin Turner, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig could give him some problems. 10 of the 15 homers Sanchez served up were hit by right-handed hitters during the regular season.
I’m not fully sold on Kershaw being able to turn back the clock here, but I do expect the former Cy Young winner to rise to the occasion. Sanchez is a good pitcher in his own right, but this Dodger lineup is just stacked top-to-bottom. Tonight’s game may not be as breezy as Game 1 was for Los Angeles, but I am expecting another relatively easy Dodger victory here. There is little value to taking the Dodgers at -215 on the moneyline, but I like them to cover the runline at -102.
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