Monday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves renew their recent rivalry with the opener of a three-game series at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers beat the Braves in the NLCS en route to the 2020 World Series title, then the Braves beat the Dodgers in the NLCS en route to the 2021 World Series title. These teams have played a lot of important games against each other the last two years.
"When you face a really good ballclub in the Braves, it's always people trying to say it's a litmus test or barometer. But I think that it's a good ballclub that we're trying to win a series," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters, including Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times, on Sunday. "It's gonna be a fun series, and it's a very good ballclub. They knocked us out of the postseason last year. But it's a different year. So I would expect us to have the same focus as we do against the Reds (this past weekend) as the Braves."
The defending World Series champs are 5-6 in the early going. The Dodgers are tied with (who else?) the Giants for baseball's best record at 7-2. They have outscored their opponents 51-24 in their nine games. Here are the details for this week's Dodgers vs. Braves series at Dodger Stadium. Games on MLB Network can be streamed on fuboTV (try for free).
|Date||Start Time||Pitching Matchup||TV|
Mon., April 18
10:10 p.m. ET
SportsNet LA, Bally Sports Southeast, MLBN
Tues., April 19
10:10 p.m. ET
SportsNet LA, Bally Sports Southeast, TBS
Weds., April 20
3:10 p.m. ET
SportsNet LA, Bally Sports Southeast, MLBN
Kershaw was of course removed from his first start of the season after seven perfect innings. He'd thrown 80 pitches and, like just about every other pitcher in baseball, he is not yet fully stretched out following the short spring training. On paper, the Fried vs. Buehler matchup is the best this three-game series has to offer.
Here are five things to know about this week's Dodgers vs. Braves series at Dodger Stadium with a prediction thrown in, because why not?
1. Familiar faces in new places.
Understandably, the focus will be on Freddie Freeman this series. Freeman played 12 seasons with the Braves -- he signed a team-friendly extension, sat through a rebuild, won an MVP, and helped them win a World Series -- before joining his hometown Dodgers this past offseason. It was shocking, frankly. It seemed fait accompli Freeman would re-sign with Atlanta.
"I didn't think I'd ever get to free agency if we're being honest about it," Freeman said during his introductory press conference. "... The emotions were all over the place. When you spend someplace for 15 years and you see that chapter got closed right then and there, I didn't really speak for a couple of hours, just trying to figure it all out."
Freeman is not the only star player set to face his former team for the first time in this series, however. Longtime Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen signed with Atlanta over the winter. Unlike Freeman, who had serious discussions with the Braves about a reunion, there never seemed to be much traction between the Dodgers and Jansen this offseason. At least not publicly.
"I will never say I wanted to go back to L.A.; I will go wherever I feel wanted," Jansen told Scott Miller of the New York Times this past weekend. "That blue will be in my blood for my whole life. Everywhere I go, people tell me I'm a Dodger. It's just the business side of it. It didn't work out for both of us for obvious reasons. We both tried hard, but it didn't happen."
Furthermore, the Dodgers acquired Craig Kimbrel to replace Jansen as their closer, and Kimbrel spent the first five seasons of his career with the Braves. Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud spent about a week with the Dodgers in 2019, and then there are the Will Smiths (Wills Smith?). The Dodgers catcher and Braves lefty share a name but not much else, though they have a history:
Freeman facing the Braves and Jansen's return to Los Angeles will be the big stories this series and understandably so. Freeman is one of the greatest Braves ever (surely they will retire his No. 5, right?) and Jansen is the greatest reliever in Dodgers history. No pitcher has appeared in more games for Los Angeles than Kenley. Both were central figures to their team's recent championship.
2. Who's hot, who's not?
The season is still young and, like every other season in baseball history, some players have started out better than others. Here are three Braves hitters who are really tearing the cover off the ball in the early going:
Olson, preemptively acquired from the Athletics to replace Freeman, has been outstanding in the early going this year. He has more walks (11) than strikeouts (8) and leads baseball in times on base (27). Ozuna missed much of last season with a finger injury and also while being investigated under MLB's domestic violence policy. He's produced at a high level in the early going.
On the flip side, Atlanta is still waiting for Dansby Swanson (.158/.238/.263) and postseason hero Eddie Rosario (.034/.152/.034) to get going at the plate. Alex Dickerson and Guillermo Heredia are a combined 3 for 31 (.097) coming off the bench this season. Now here are three Dodgers players lighting it up in the early days of 2022:
Freeman did not drive in his first run of the season until Saturday, though he has still been plenty productive. The Dodgers traded AJ Pollock for Kimbrel and that opened a lineup spot for Lux, who is taking advantage fully. Taylor signed a new four-year contract over the winter and has been productive as always.
Los Angeles is still waiting for Mookie Betts (.206/.289/.265) and Justin Turner (.235/.316/.265) to find their stroke. Ditto Max Muncy (.167/.342/.333), who is returning from an elbow injury suffered on the final day of the 2021 regular season.
3. It's an NLCS rematch.
A rematch of a rematch, technically. As noted, the Braves and Dodgers met in the last two National League Championship Series. The Dodgers erased a 3-1 deficit to win the 2020 NLCS and the Braves won the 2021 NLCS in six games. These two clubs have met five times in the postseason:
- 2021 NLCS: Braves in 6
- 2020 NLCS: Dodgers in 7
- 2018 NLDS: Dodgers in 4
- 2013 NLDS: Dodgers in 4
- 1996 NLDS: Braves in 3
Of course, what happened in last year's postseason has no bearing on this year's regular season. The Braves and Dodgers both figure to be among the best teams in the league this year, which should make for an exciting series. The recent postseason history will add a little spice to it.
4. Neither team is at full strength
Alas and alack, the Braves and Dodgers are both missing key players due to injury. Ronald Acuña Jr. is on the mend (and about to start a rehab assignment) following last July's torn ACL and Atlanta has a "loose" return date in early May in mind. When healthy, Acuña is simply one of the best players in the game. He was on an MVP pace, if not the MVP frontrunner, at the time of the injury last season.
News: Ronald Acuña Jr. will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-Gwinnett on Tuesday.— Justin Toscano (@JustinCToscano) April 17, 2022
The Dodgers, meanwhile, are without righty Dustin May, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery. He went under the knife last May, indicating he won't return to the Dodgers until much later in the season, possibly August or even September. May is one of the game's most exciting young pitchers. Unfortunately for baseball fans, he will be sidelined another few months.
We'll close with a prediction because I don't see a good reason not to. The official CBS Sports prediction: Dodgers win two of three. The Dodgers have won six straight and they really seemed to hit their stride over the weekend. The Braves are still trying to find a rhythm in the early going. Having to do that against a team as good as Los Angeles won't be easy. Two very good teams, but in this three-game set, we predict the Dodgers will walk away with the series win.