The Los Angeles Dodgers take on the Atlanta Braves on Thursday to start the NLDS.
The Dodgers and Braves are just a few hours away from Game 1 of the NLDS, so let's make a position-by-position breakdown of the two clubs. The Braves may have the better overall record (96-66) and head-to-head record (5-2), but the Dodgers still stack up evenly at many positions.
Catcher: A.J. Ellis struggled with the bat at the end of the season, hitting .189/.262/.333 since August 1. Behind the plate, Ellis was second in the league throwing out 44.4 percent of would-be base stealers.
Brian McCann watched his average drop from .274 to .256, and missed several games with a groin injury, in September. He says he is ready to go, but without him the Braves would be missing the fifth bat in their normal lineup.
Advantage: Braves, if McCann is healthy
First Base: Adrian Gonzalez was the Dodgers most consistent position-player this season, and an argument can be made for him as the team's MVP. In terms of other NL first basemen he rounds out the Top 5 of most offensive categories.
You may remember Freddie Freeman from the All-Star Final Vote. He beat out Yasiel Puig behind Brave fans strong voting turnout, but he proved he was worthy of making the team. He finished second in Slugging, third in OPS, third in WAR, and second in RBI among first basemen this season.
Second Base: Mark Ellis is not the best hitting, or flashiest, second basemen in baseball, but he gets the job done and has proven that all season with the Dodgers. He tied for third in NL second baseman with a .989 fielding percentage, and finished sixth among the same group with a .270 batting average (minimum 425 plate appearance).
Dan Uggla, the Braves highest paid player, was left off their playoff roster due to a huge slump to end the season, and is due $26,000,000 over the next two seasons. Not a good sign for Atlanta. Instead they will be bringing Elliot Johnson, who played in 111 games with the Royals and Braves this season and hit .209/.255/.283 with five errors in 92 chances at second base.
Third Base: Juan Uribe has been one of the biggest surprises for the Dodgers this season with a resurgent bat, and Gold-Glove caliber defense. Uribe has provided a consistent bat in the lineup the last few months, and finished September with a line of .308/.341/.603.
Chris Johnson matches or exceeds Uribe in most offensive categories, but not by much. His OPS+ is just four ticks above his Dodger counterpart. The difference comes with the glove, where Johnson is a below-average defender. He made 14 errors at third base this season, compared to Uribe's five.
Short Stop: We all know what Hanley Ramirez has to offer with the bat and it is extremely exciting to see what he will do in his first-ever playoffs. Without Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp in the lineup a lot more pressure will be on his shoulders, but he has embraced that role this season.
Andrelton Simmons is not a strong hitter .248/.296/.396, but his role with the Braves relies mostly on his defense. He led the National League in Defensive WAR in 2013.
Outfield: The Dodgers outfield is partially in shambles as they enter the postseason. With Matt Kemp out and Andre Ethier's role limited to pinch hitting, they are missing two of their four starting outfielders. That leaves Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig with an awful lot of slack to pick up, and Skip Schumaker with some big shoes to fill.
The Braves outfield of Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, and Justin Upton are an all-or-nothing kind of group. They combined for 62 home runs this season, but Justin Upton is the only one in the group with an batting average over .260.
Advantage: Braves, because they at least get to play at full health.
Starting Pitchers: The Dodgers have the best trio of starters in the playoffs with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Braves may have home-field advantage, but they still have to face Kershaw and Greinke in Games 1 and 2.
The Braves starters are all pretty solid. Their top-three (Kris Medlen, Julio Tehran, Mike Minor) all posted a season ERA between 3.11 and 3.21, and WHIP between 1.09 and 1.22. When matched-up individually against their Los Angeles counterpart this is an easy Dodger advantage.
Relief Pitchers: It took a few months for the Dodger bullpen to settle down, but when they did they became one of the best in the league. With the smaller playoff roster it is even better, as they cut out risky relievers like Brandon League, Carlos Marmol and Edinson Volquez.
The Braves led the National League with a bullpen ERA of 2.46. That is 46 points lower than the number 2 bullpen in Pittsburgh. Not only is their relief core solid, but their starting rotation ranked second in innings pitched, giving the bullpen extra rest as the year went on.
Bench: The Dodgers bench has players ready for several different situations. Ethier and Scott Van Slyke are prepared for some big, pinch-hit moments and Dee Gordon gives them speed on the base paths in a must-score scenario. Nick Punto and Michael Young will also deliver solid pinch-hit at bats and fill in the mandatory "Veterans with Playoff Experience" category.
The Braves bench is a mishmash of utility backups. Rookie Evan Gattis provides some pop with 21 home runs, and Jordan Schafer brings a .331 OBP and 22 stolen bases. This bench is somewhat shallow and does not have the solid, game-tested bats that the Dodgers have to offer.
Overall this a very close matchup, the kind of baseball that October was made for. If the Dodgers pitching can deliver some lights-out performances, they will only need a few runs of support and this lineup should be able to do it. This series will easily go four or five games, but in the end the Dodgers should be able to pull out the NLDS victory.