2013 NLDS Preview: Atlanta Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

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Sep 22, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel celebrates after the game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Braves defeated the Cubs 5-2 and clinched the National League eastern division championship. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports


This is extremely interesting. The Braves had the best bullpen ERA in all of baseball at 2.46 for the full season, but this isn’t quite the same bullpen as it was back in May. On the other hand, the Dodgers fell near the middle of the pack at 13th in baseball in the same category (3.49 ERA), but that number is significantly lower in the post-Puig era of the second half of the year.

We have to lead off the preview with a breakdown of the two closers. Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen are arguably the two best closers in baseball today, and even if you don’t agree with that sentiment (especially on Jansen), they are no-doubt members of the top 5 at the position. Kimbrel has the slight edge in strikeout rate (13.16 K/9 to 13.03 K/9 for Jansen) and ERA (1.21 to 1.88), while Jansen has the edge in walk rate (2.11 BB/9 to 2.69 BB/9 for Kimbrel). The Braves right-hander has a 22-save edge over Jansen, but that is more a product of situation rather than effectiveness, and if this is an “edge” either way, it is a very slight one toward Kimbrel.

Elsewhere, the rest of the bullpen face-off is very interesting. The Braves have been lucky to unearth “stud” performances from guys like David Carpenter and Luis Avilan, while the Dodgers have struggled more in the middle innings. If Jordan Walden was healthy and “right”, the bullpen advantage would be significant toward the Braves, but he’s banged up and certainly not the same pitcher that we saw in the early season. With that, the Braves will turn to Carpenter (who has a lights-out 1.78 ERA on the season) as a primary set-up man, along with the left-handers in Alex Wood (we’ll come back to him) and the aforementioned Avilan.

For the Dodgers, former Giants closer Brian Wilson has joined the staff in recent weeks, and he’s been tremendous. It’s unclear whether Mattingly will have the trust to go to Wilson in a big spot, but his 0.66 ERA over 18 appearances indicates that the “old” Wilson could be back. Outside of Wilson, the three most highly-used relievers for LA this season are JP Howell (2.18 ERA), Paco Rodriguez (2.32 ERA), and Ronald Belisario (3.97 ERA). Rodriguez and Howell are the lefties of the group, while Rodriguez and Belisario form the right-handed duo for Mattingly in the bullpen, and while none of them are truly terrifying, it’s a solid group.

One “X-Factor” to watch in this series is the deployment of Alex Wood. In 21.2 innings out of the bullpen this year, Wood has a 2.08 ERA and a K/9 of 9.55, but it’s unclear what role Fredi Gonzalez has in mind for the young lefty. Could he be a high-leverage guy who could face both lefties and righties? or exclusively a long man? Either way, the Braves will need big things from Wood, as he’s suddenly their 2nd-most explosive relief option.

In the end, it’s closer than it would have been 2 months ago, but even with the question marks surrounding Walden, the Braves form one of the league’s best bullpens.

Advantage: Braves

Click through to see the final installment, taking a look at the two benches.