Braves vs. Dodgers NLDS preview: Playoff schedule, TV channel, stream, predictions and things to know

The National League Divisional Series between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers will begin on Thursday, with Game 1 beginning at 8:37 p.m. ET. 

The Braves won the East with a 90-72 record and are the only NL team to not play since the regular season ended. The Dodgers earned the West crown with a win over the Colorado Rockies in Monday's tiebreaker game. They finished the season 92-71 as a result. 

Here are some things to know about the series.

NLDS schedule

NLDS games will air on FS1 and MLB Network. Games on FS1 can be streamed on fuboTV (Try for free). For a look at the complete schedule, click here  

Date Time Matchup TV

Thurs, Oct. 4

8:30 p.m. ET

Atlanta at L.A. Dodgers

MLBN

Fri., Oct. 5

9:30 p.m. ET

Atlanta at L.A. Dodgers

FS1

Sun., Oct. 7

8 p.m. ET

L.A. Dodgers at Atlanta

FS1

Mon, Oct. 8*

4:30 p.m. ET

L.A. Dodgers at Atlanta

FS1

Wed., Oct. 10*

8 p.m. ET

Atlanta at L.A. Dodgers

FS1

*- if necessary  

Rotation matters

Clayton Kershaw tends to get the series-opening assignments for the Dodgers. He won't this time, however, with the honor instead going to Hyun-jin Ryu. Kershaw will start Game 2, and will be followed by Walker Buehler in Game 3. Depending on how the series plays out, it's possible the Braves end up facing four left-handers in a five-game set.

clayton-kershaw-dodgers.jpg
Kershaw won't start in Game 1. USATSI

Intimidating? Maybe for most teams, but the Braves performed better against southpaws than against right-handers during the regular season. Atlanta ranked fourth in the majors in OPS versus lefties, with four players -- Tyler Flowers, Ronald Acuna, Freddie Freeman, and Ozzie Albies -- posting individual marks over .900 in more than 75 plate appearances. Should Dansby Swanson miss the series, then the Braves will have just one regular (Ender Inciarte) who posted an OPS below .700 against lefties during the season, and he's in there foremost for his defense.

Naturally, there's something to be said about the small-sample sizes in play. The Dodgers lefties -- Ryu, Kershaw, and likely Rich Hill -- are also a bit different, a bit better than the normal left-handers the Braves saw during the regular season. But if the team-wide trend holds true a while longer, the Braves might be unusually well-equipped to handle the Dodgers' rotation.

Will Swanson play?

One of the looming questions about this series pertains to Swanson's availability. He was sidelined late in the year by an injured hand.

If Swanson is unable to play, he will be replaced by journeyman Charlie Culberson. On paper, that may look like an upgrade at the dish. Culberson posted a 112 OPS+ during the regular season (Swanson checked in at 88) while amassing a surprising .196 ISO in more than 300 plate appearances -- remember, he entered the season with a career .324 slugging percentage.

How sustainable is Culberson's newfound offensive competency? It's hard to say, but none of the tell-tale signs of genuine growth are present. His exit velocity is down from past years, and he remains a groundball hitter. He did pull the ball more often than usual, yet this seems like a case where a player who had more natural strength than his past numbers indicated tripped into a few more extra-base hits than he would otherwise and that's that.

None of this is meant to take away from Culberson. Credit him for making the most of his opportunity, and for having an impressive year -- emphasis on year. It was around this time in 2017 that Culberson stepped into the lineup for the Dodgers in place of Corey Seager and shocked the world by having a productive postseason. Perhaps the good times will continue.

Or perhaps Swanson's hand will be healed enough to allow him back into the lineup. For as much as he's struggled this season, he's still outperformed Culberson on a career level.

The running game

The Braves and Dodgers are two of the best defensive teams in baseball. Each ranked top-six in park-adjusted efficiency, as measured by Baseball Prospectus, with the Braves coming out ahead by a nose. It makes sense. Inciarte is one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, and in Johan Camargo and Albies the Braves are starting two players at second and third base who could cut it at shortstop but moved elsewhere in deference to Swanson. The Braves also shifted an additional 300 times this season when compared to their 2017 total.

There is one flaw to the Braves defense, though, and it's their inability to control the running game. For as much as the onus to stop basestealers is on the pitching staff, it's hard to overlook how overmatched Atlanta's catchers are in this regard. Tyler Flowers has arguably the weakest arm among big-league backstops, while Kurt Suzuki ihas a slow release.

Statcast recorded pop times for 108 catchers this season, Suzuki (93) and Flowers (106) each finished near the bottom, averaging more than two seconds per attempt. Predictably, the Braves permitted the fourth-most steals in the majors, at 102, 10 more than any other NL playoff team.

If there's a silver lining for the Braves, it's that the Dodgers aren't a running team. They finished 22nd in stolen-base attempts during the regular season, and had just four players steal more than five bases -- only two, Yasiel Puig and Cody Bellinger, finished in double digits.

Theoretically, the Dodgers could carry Tim Locastro or Andrew Toles, a burner on the bench ready and waiting to take advantage in a high-leverage situation. The Braves, as a result, may elect to roll with a third catcher in the person of Rene Rivera, a late-season addition who has thrown out 37 percent of attempted thieves in his big-league career.

Dodgers owned season series

The Braves and Dodgers met seven times during the regular season. The Dodgers won five of those contests, finishing with a plus-17 run differential in those games. (The Braves, by the way, scored 18 runs total.) Most recently, the Braves hosted the Dodgers for a four-game set in July. The Dodgers won the first three games of that set by a 17-4 tally. Ouch.

So who wins every playoff game? And which teams are a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to get MLB Playoff picks from the proven model that simulates every game 10,000 times, and find out.    

Predictions

Here are our expert's guesses at how the series will play out. 

Braves-Dodgers
CBS Sports Staff

R.J. Anderson joined CBS Sports in 2016. He previously wrote for Baseball Prospectus, where he contributed to five of the New York Times bestselling annuals. His work has also appeared in Newsweek and... Full Bio

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