Here we will compare the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers before the MLB trade deadline to see how the two NL contenders match up.
At this point in the season, there isn't much question as to who is the best team in the National League. If the Atlanta Braves are going to reach the World Seris in 2019 they'll have to go through the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Round one between these two teams did not go well for the Atlanta Braves as they were swept out in LA.
But that's not a fair comparison as the Braves are almost a completely different team at this point. Two of the Braves starters in that series, Kevin Gausman and Mike Foltynewicz, aren't even part of the starting rotation anymore.
Now, that's exactly who the Braves would face if these two teams meet in the playoffs again so it was a good test. But the lineup then and now is completely different for the Braves.
And even that Braves lineup put up a good fight against Buehler and Kershaw scoring 7 runs off them in 13.2 innings combined. Ryu has been on another level this year and dominated the Braves in a complete game shutout.
Comparing team stats on the season, these two teams are 3 and 4 in the NL in average, 2 and 3 in home runs, 2 and 3 in runs scored, 1 and 2 in OBP, 1 and 2 in SLG, and 1 and 2 in OPS.
Essentially, these are the two best offenses in the National League with the Dodgers holding a slight edge on the season.
Pitching is where you'll see the difference as the Dodgers rank 1st in the NL and the Atlanta Braves are fifth. But it's even more dramatic when you compare the starters where LA still ranks first but the Braves are 11th.
On the flip side, the Atlanta Braves are first in the NL in bullpen ERA while the Dodgers are fifth.
Let's take a deeper look at the two teams and compare lineup, bench, starters, and bullpen to see just how close the Braves are and what changes they need to make before the trade deadline in order to compete with the Dodgers this year.
Comparing Lineup and Bench
As we saw, these two offenses are pretty even. But when you compare them over the last month -- or when Acuna was moved back to leadoff -- you could argue the Braves have been better.
Based on OPS, Max Muncy has been the Dodgers second best offensive player. And again, while Muncy is having the better season so far, I'd take Acuna over him every day.
Catcher is the only position where I feel the Atlanta Braves have a distinct advantage.
Both of these teams have great bench players and they ranked third (LA) and fifth (ATL) in all of baseball in pinch-hit hits.
This one is pretty much a wash as well.
Overall, I'd still have to give the Dodgers a slight edge here if fully healthy. But the gap is closing.
Comparing pitching staffs
We'll start by comparing the starting pitchers, where I'll go ahead and tell you, the Dodgers are supreme. Other than maybe the Nationals, I don't know anyone in baseball that has a better top three.
In game one of a series right now the Braves would likely send out Mike Soroka against Ryu. I love the rookie, but Ryu is winning that duel 8-out-of-10 times this season.
Dallas Keuchel would likely get the ball in game two for the Atlanta Braves against Kershaw.
The fact that both Keuchel and Soroka are ground ball pitchers could play well against the home run happy Dodgers. But the Atlanta Braves have to do a better job of aligning their infield defense.
It seems like the Dodgers are always hitting it where our players are not.
I actually like the Braves chances in this pitching matchup, but it's certainly not a slam dunk.
Buehler would have a big advantage in this matchup -- unless the Braves trade for a top of the rotation arm, or Folty regains his 2018 form.
The Dodgers and Braves will be battling for bullpen help before the trade deadline.
As far as the number of good arms goes, the Atlanta Braves hold the edge in the bullpen.
But overall, the Dodgers have a big edge in the pitching staff. Their starters consistently go deep into games so they don't have to rely on their bullpen as the Braves do.
Where Braves can improve to catch Dodgers
Earlier this week I wrote about why the Atlanta Braves might not want to trade the farm in order to go for it in 2019.Related Story:A case for not making a big move
It's mostly because the Atlanta Braves are built to contend and get better for the next decade. And if they can't make the proper moves to beat the Dodgers, then why trade away any future assets for this season?
After comparing these two teams -- on paper -- you can see they are pretty even in every area except for the starting rotation.
Fortunately and unfortunately for the Atlanta Braves, that's the easiest but most painful area to improve your team.
The Atlanta Braves have the prospect capital to go out and trade for any starting pitcher out there that is available. But at the same time, you'd be jeopardizing your future by giving up your top prospects.
It's not like the Atlanta Braves need to trade for a middle of the rotation arm, they have plenty of those already. They need someone who can go up against that vaunted Dodgers lineup and give our offense a chance against one of their three aces.
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At the moment, there just aren't many of those pitchers available through trades. Madison Bumgarner and Marcus Stroman are the top starters known to be available, but even they probably wouldn't close the gap between the Braves and Dodgers.
The Braves best chance could come from within the division if the New York Mets decided to blow things up and made some of their pitchers available. But it's hard to see the Braves and Mets getting together on a deal of that magnitude.
If the Cleveland Indians fell out of the race Trevor Bauer would be someone that could make a difference.
I know Zack Greinke is having a great year, but his stuff doesn't normally play in the postseason, and that contract is atrocious.
The Atlanta Braves play the Dodgers again in August -- this time at home -- and it will be fun to see how much closer the two teams are at that point.
But as we prepare for the trade deadline, the only way the Braves are going to catch the Dodgers this season is by making a major upgrade in the starting rotation.