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MLB Roundtable: Who's Going to Win the NLCS?

Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
 2021-10-16

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Will it be the Dodgers or the Braves representing the National League in the World Series?

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This rematch from last year's NLCS may seem like a bit of a let down following the epic NL West Division Series showdown that preceded it. However, don't let that take away from the excitement still ahead.

The Braves were one win away from upsetting the Dodgers last October, and Atlanta's pitching staff is deeper now than it was then. But Los Angeles, too, is a more complete team now, in no small part because of the trade deadline acquisitions of Max Scherzer and Trea Turner .

The winner of this series goes on to face either the Astros or the Red Sox in the World Series. Will the Dodgers earn their fourth NL pennant in five years? Or will the Braves finally return to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1999? Let's make our picks.

Tom Verducci

Prediction: Braves over Dodgers (seven games)

Atlanta had Los Angeles on the ropes in the NLCS last year. Add Charlie Morton, a much improved Austin Riley and home field advantage, and the Braves can win a low-scoring series.

NLCS MVP Prediction: Max Fried. He has been one of the best pitchers in baseball for more than two months: 8–0 with a 1.35 ERA in 12 starts.

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Stephanie Apstein

Prediction: Dodgers over Braves (six games)

I could be convinced in Atlanta's favor: The team will host the series and has spent the last three days resting its players, plus there's always potential for a letdown by the Dodgers after such a tense NLDS against such a good team . But it's really hard to pick against a club that employs Mookie Betts, Max Scherzer and Walker Buehler. Even if Max Muncy doesn't make it back for this one, Los Angeles boasts a lineup that can overcome even Atlanta's strong pitching staff, and with Ronald Acuña Jr. still sidelined , the Dodgers' pitchers should be able to squeak by Atlanta's lineup.

NLCS MVP Prediction: Mookie Betts

Emma Baccellieri

Prediction: Dodgers over Braves (seven games)

The Braves do have the ability to make this a highly competitive series—just look at how they overpowered the Brewers' talented pitching in the NLDS. Don't judge this Atlanta team by its regular-season record: The front office's wholesale remake of its outfield at the deadline remains one of the most impressive trade-deadline maneuvers in recent memory. But, in the end, the Dodgers are simply too deep and too talented to pick against.

NLCS MVP Prediction: Max Scherzer

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Will Laws

Prediction: Dodgers over Braves (seven games)

Different year, same result, although Atlanta has the pieces to make this closer than many expect. Everyone knows Charlie Morton's postseason credentials , but Max Fried and Ian Anderson have also proven to be more than capable in October, combining for a 1.69 ERA in 10 playoff starts (53 1/3 innings) dating back to last year . The Dodgers' bullpen sticks out as an obvious advantage, however. Luke Jackson and Tyler Matzek appeared in all four games of the NLDS against Milwaukee, highlighting manager Brian Snitker 's flimsy trust in the rest of his options. Even closer Will Smith—who served up the home run that changed the complexion of last year's NLCS to the Dodgers catcher of the same name , spawning a thousand memes—seemed one bad outing away from being replaced near the end of the season. Additionally, if Jorge Soler misses most of this series after testing positive for COVID-19 , that will have the Braves relying on Guillermo Heredia far more than planned after their midseason outfield overhaul.

NLCS MVP Prediction: Corey Seager

Matt Martell

Prediction: Dodgers over Braves (seven games)

The most difficult thing for a team to do in baseball over the last 20 years is win consecutive World Series. The second most difficult thing is for a team to return to the Fall Classic in its title-defense season, which has happened only twice ('01 Yankees, '09 Phillies). The 2021 Dodgers will be the third. They made it through the two NL teams I thought had a chance to knock them out of the postseason—the surging Cardinals in the one-game wild-card round, and the best ever regular-season Giants team. As others in here have pointed out, Atlanta is far better than people think. Its starting rotation is excellent, and as Los Angeles knows all too well, Joctober is a very real thing. These games should be close, and this series should go the distance. In the end, the Dodgers will take advantage of a thinner Braves bullpen as it fatigues later in the series.

NLCS MVP Prediction: Corey Seager

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Nick Selbe

Prediction: Dodgers over Braves (five games)

The reigning champs have been pushed to the brink in the last week , but their talent advantage over the Braves will shine through. The Dodgers have enough depth to overcome the hot starting pitching from Max Fried and Charlie Morton. Atlanta will do enough to avoid a sweep, but the Dodgers have a big enough advantage to safely secure a spot in the World Series.

NLCS MVP Prediction: Mookie Betts

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