The National League Championship Series (NLCS) begins on Saturday night, fresh off the heels of two exciting National League Division Series. The Atlanta Braves will be hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2021 NLCS.
LA made the postseason as a Wild Card team, where they beat a surging Cardinals team in the NL Wild Card game. In the NLDS, the Dodgers faced the San Francisco Giants who, like them, were a 100-win team during the regular season. The Dodgers won the series 3-2 with the final game an epic 2-1 showdown.
Atlanta made the postseason as the NL East champion. While the Braves hovered around .500 for most of the season, they finished strong and were able to win a weak division. In the NLDS, Atlanta was able to beat Milwaukee as a series underdog to advance to the NLCS.
To figure out the best NLCS bets, I came up with win probabilities for each team in each game based on lineups and starting pitching matchups.
Below I go over my model’s probabilities in all potential NLCS games, and then I go over what the prices should be on NLCS futures.
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Dodgers vs. Braves NLCS Game Projections
NLCS Game 1: Los Angeles at Atlanta
Walker Buehler (16-4, 2.47 ERA) vs. Charlie Morton (14-6, 3.34 ERA)
NLCS Game 1 Projection (Kevin Davis Model): Dodgers 51.7%
NLCS Game 1 Pick: Dodgers if +101 or better, Braves if +116 or better
NLCS Game 2: Los Angeles at Atlanta
Max Scherzer (15-4, 2.46 ERA) vs. Max Fried (14-7, 3.04 ERA)
NLCS Game 2 Projection (Kevin Davis Model): Dodgers 56.9%
NLCS Game 2 Pick: Dodgers if -122 or better, Braves if +144 or better
NLCS Game 3: Atlanta at Los Angeles
Charlie Morton (14-6, 3.34 ERA) vs. Walker Buehler (16-4, 2.47 ERA)
NLCS Game 3 Projection (Kevin Davis Model): Dodgers 59.8%
NLCS Game 3 Pick: Braves if +162 or better, Dodgers if -137 or better
NLCS Game 4: Atlanta at Los Angeles
Charlie Morton (14-6, 3.34 ERA) vs. Walker Buehler (16-4, 2.47 ERA)
NLCS Game 4 Projection (Kevin Davis Model): Dodgers 57.7%
NLCS Game 4 Pick: Braves if +148 or better, Dodgers if -126 or better
NLCS Game 5: Atlanta at Los Angeles (If Necessary)
Max Fried (14-7, 3.04 ERA) vs. Max Scherzer (15-4, 2.46 ERA)
NLCS Game 5 Projection (Kevin Davis Model): Dodgers 62.8%
NLCS Game 5 Pick: Braves if +184 or better, Dodgers if -155 or better
NLCS Game 6: Los Angeles at Atlanta (If Necessary)
Julio Urias (20-3, 2.96 ERA) vs. Ian Anderson (9-5, 3.58 ERA)
NLCS Game 6 Projection (Kevin Davis Model): Dodgers 53.9%
NLCS Game 6 Pick: Dodgers if -108 or better, Braves if +127 or better
NLCS Game 7: Los Angeles at Atlanta (If Necessary)
Max Scherzer (15-4, 2.46 ERA) vs. Charlie Morton (14-6, 3.34 ERA)
NLCS Game 7 Projection (Kevin Davis Model): Dodgers 52.6%
NLCS Game 7 Pick: Dodgers if -102 or better, Braves if +121 or better
2021 NLCS Pitching Preview
Part of the reason why my model has the Dodgers as a favorite in every potential NLCS game is because of their strong pitching. During the regular season, LA’s bullpen had a 4.07 xFIP, which was the sixth best in MLB. Further complementing the Dodgers bullpen this postseason is their tendency to use starters like Max Scherzer, like they did to close out Game 5 of the NLDS.
As a result of a long, grueling regular season, several key Dodgers starters couldn’t make the postseason. This includes Clayton Kershaw, due to injury, and Trevor Bauer, due to non-baseball reasons. However, even without Kershaw and Bauer, the Dodgers still have a strong starting rotation, due to their loaded roster.
During the regular season, the Dodgers’ back end of the rotation came up short and they frequently used relievers to open games. However, during the postseason they have benefited greatly from a shortened three-man rotation of Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer, and Julio Urias.
Since coming over from the Nationals in a trade deadline deal, Scherzer has been the undisputed ace of the Dodgers rotation. During the regular season with the Dodgers, Scherzer had a 7-0 record with a 1.98 ERA and 2.89 xFIP in 11 starts. During the postseason, Scherzer pitched decently in the NL Wild Card Game, seven innings in a 1-0 loss in Game 4 of the NLDS and closed out Game 5 of the NLDS.
Buehler and Urias are also solid starting pitchers who on most teams would be the ace of their starting rotations. I suspect that Buehler, who had a 2.47 ERA this season, will start Game 1 and Game 4 and split innings with Scherzer in a potential Game 7.
The Braves had a vulnerable starting pitching rotation this season, but they have benefited from having a smaller rotation this postseason. Led by Charlie Morton, Max Fried, and Ian Anderson, the Braves have a plausible chance to win as underdogs in any of their NLCS games against the Dodgers.
The issue for Atlanta is going to be how long Morton, Fried, and Anderson can pitch, as their bullpen is not a strength. During the regular season, Braves relievers had a 4.36 xFIP, which was worse than most teams. On an individual game-by-game basis, ATL bettors might be better suited backing the ATL first five innings moneyline than their full-game moneyline.
While Atlanta has a weaker pitching staff than Los Angeles, they can compensate with their strong lineup. During the regular season, the Braves averaged 4.86 runs per game, which was the second best in the National League.
With 1B Freddie Freeman, 3B Austin Riley, and 2B Ozzie Albies, the Braves hitters could potentially cause problems for the Dodgers pitching staff. The only issue for the Braves is that they have been without arguably their best hitter in OF Ronald Acuna Jr. since early July. However, the Braves have shockingly played their best baseball this season without him.
While the Braves lineup is good, the Dodgers have an even better one. According to my model, outside of Cody Bellinger, every Dodgers position player is above-average offensively. With Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Will Smith, and Mookie Betts, there is no way for Atlanta to pitch around them.
Dodgers vs. Braves NLCS Futures Bets
Dodgers vs. Braves NLCS Winner Bets
Best Bet: Atlanta Braves to Win NLCS (+200) at WynnBet (would bet up to +200)
Wager: 1 Unit
My model has the Dodgers favored in all potential NLCS games, even though the Braves have home-field advantage. However, everyone and their mother, and their mother’s pet rock’s insurance agent, believes the Dodgers are a lock to win the NL pennant and that is why there is value on the Braves winning the NLCS.
Outside of WynnBet, every other regulated sportsbook has appropriately priced the NLCS odds. At +200, the Braves are worth a shot as they have a plausible path with home-field advantage to win the pennant.
With a strong lineup, the Braves could win the NLCS if their starters can last about six innings in each start. It won’t be easy for Atlanta, but by no means is LA a lock to win.
Personally, I am not betting on the series winner as I already have Braves World Series and pennant tickets from the beginning of the postseason and during the regular season. But if I didn’t have any outstanding futures, I would lay a small wager on them winning the NLCS.