It's been a few years since the Atlanta Braves have been in the position to play for a World Series berth – 19 years in fact. After dismantling the Florida Marlins in impressive fashion – two shutouts, 18 runs – the Braves have the opportunity to play in the National League Championship Series. But they'll have to take down the N.L. favorite, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The only advantage the Braves have in this series may be all the advantage the Braves need to advance to their first World Series since 1999.
Yes, the Braves' offense is explosive from top to bottom, features two top-5 MVP candidates in Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna, a dynamic leadoff hitter in Ronald Acuna Jr. and a catcher in Travis d'Arnaud who has been the team's hottest hitter this postseason. But the Dodgers counter with a lineup that's just as explosive with Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner. With the experience the Dodgers have, that may give them a slight edge.
Yes, the Braves feature an exciting 1-2 punch atop the starting rotation with Max Fried and Ian Anderson. But how long before the youthfulness of both pitchers becomes a factor that the Braves can't overcome? After all, the Dodgers feature a terrific rotation themselves, headlined by Clayton Kershaw, who might be the greatest pitcher of his generation. Walker Buehler is equally as dynamic of a pitcher as the team's No. 2 option.
So where does that leave us? The bullpen, where the Braves have simply overwhelmed the opposition this postseason. It has to be comforting for manager Brian Snitker to know that all he needs is a good six innings, may be even five innings, from his starting pitchers. The Braves are deep enough and feature a variety of arm angles, lefties, righties and talent to be the difference in this series.
Mark Melancon, Chris Martin, Will Smith, Darren O'Day, Tyler Matzek and Shane Greene are reliable arms that can be called upon in any inning. Now, the starters do need to last past five innings, especially with no days off during the National League Championship Series.
On the flipside, the Dodgers have question marks surrounding their closer Kenley Jansen. He struggled against the San Diego Padres in the previous playoff series in game two, allowing two runs and three hits in two-thirds of an inning. The Braves also have a tendency to come from behind to win games so that could be the deciding factor.
The Dodgers have the experience factor. They have just as much talent atop the rotation and up and down the lineup. But the Braves own the bullpen advantage. I'm hoping that's all they need.
—Clint Thompson is a special contributor to The Union-Recorder.