Jon Heyman: Now comes the hard part for Dodgers

ATLANTA — The Dodgers got past the Braves. They did what they had to do. 

They took care of business. That's what they did. They didn't dominate them, didn't overwhelm them. 

And they probably didn't scare the next-up Brewers, who haven't lost in almost a month.

The Dodgers are very adept on winning the series they should win. This will be three NLCS appearances in a row for them, and that's something the Dodgers have never done. So good for them.

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But they have to know that if they expect to have a chance against the win-a-day Brewers in the NLCS, they better step up their game.

"They're a really good team," Dodgers baseball president Andrew Friedman allowed about the Brewers before continuing a rare breath to celebrate the win over the Braves.

Really, the Dodgers are pretty fortunate to get out of The Battery section of Atlanta with the split they needed after a tense two days, to win their NLDS, three games to one. They survived, and that isn't nothing. 

The 6-2 victory in Game 4 puts them into the final four and gives them a chance a chance to win that World Series championship that has eluded them since the miraculous team of 1988. They've had better teams on paper since '88, but haven't quite gotten it done. The way they went out in Game 7 of the World Series last year may make them just a little bit hungrier.


But the reality is, they're probably playing better, too. At the end of last season, things were looking pretty messy.

Their pitching staff is in much better shape this time than last year. The rotation and even the pen both look very good, and the positional team, if its playing up to potential, is a real threat.

"We feel we have a pretty talented group," Friedman said. "There's a chance to do something pretty special."

What they've done so far was pretty expected.

Even Braves people — in honest moments anyway — admit the Dodgers were the much superior team. That's pretty obvious. All it takes is a look at the rosters.
The Dodgers are a team with three great starters, perhaps the best closer in the game and a positional team so deep that multiple All-Stars are left hanging around on a bench of glitz and glamor.

The Dodgers weren’t great here, and very likely not good enough to beat a team of lunch-pail heroes like the Brewers, whose greatest strength — beyond the otherworldly Christian Yelich, that is — is in a bullpen of mostly minimum wage earners. They're going to need to step up their game. But they have it in them.

By all rights, the Dodgers have an excellent chance beat the Brewers, too — never mind that the Crew has won 11 straight in as impressive a fashion as is conceivable. Let’s face it, the Dodgers are a $197-million team (minus a few pennies to stay under the luxury tax threshold) for a reason.

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They showed that potential in the two games in L.A. when Hyun-Jin Ryu and Clayton Kershaw shut out the Braves in back-to-back games (with a tiny bit if help from relievers). But here in Atlanta, they did no better than survive.

After dropping Game 3 following a surprisingly ineffective inning by their star rookie Walker Buehler and some incompetent at-bats by a couple of their biggest stars (Manny Machado and sudden star Max Muncy), they just got past a game Braves team in Game 4, when again every at-bat, and frankly every pitch, counted.

David Freese, one of many great in-season pickups by the Dodgers, sneaked a ground hit past Braves fill-in shortstop Charlie Culberson to provide the go-ahead runs in a game the Dodgers would win 6-2 in a come-from-behind fashion. It was more escape job than anything else. 

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Truth be told, they played just well enough to beat the Braves, whose best years are ahead of them, maybe two years ahead. Though the Dodgers won only two more games than the Braves in the regular season (with one of those wins coming in the tie-0breaker against the Rockies), these two teams seem worlds apart.

The Braves have one big pitching star, Mike Foltynewicz, who came into his own this year. The Dodgers' rotation features the best pitcher of this generation, the hottest starter going, and the best rookie.

The Braves have no threats on the bench beyond their backup catcher (Kurt Suzuki). The Dodgers have the best bench in the game, guys who’ve hit 30 home runs, 40 home runs and nearly won an MVP, but the Brewers' bench isn't far behind. It's no accident that they swept the Rockies after finishing the season with a flourish, then finishing off their despised rival Cubs.

The Dodgers' match in the NLDS was not much of a contest in the end. But to beat the Brewers, the Dodgers are going to have to play a lot better than this. They certainly have it in them, so don't bet against them.

Jon Heyman is Fancred's baseball insider. He publishes his weekly Inside Baseball column each Thursday on the App and FancredSports.com. You can download the App here and interact with Jon by following him right here.

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