ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman isn’t afraid to admit he was rooting for a rematch with the Dodgers in the NLCS.
Part of it was personal for the Braves’ All-Star first baseman. If the Dodgers beat the Giants to advance from the last round, Game 1 of the NLCS would be played at Truist Park, allowing Freeman to stay home and watch his young son, Charlie, play baseball this weekend. If the Dodgers lost, the Braves were headed to San Francisco.
But then there was the revenge factor of wanting another crack at the team that ended the Braves’ season last October before winning the World Series. The Braves were ahead 3-1 in the series — played in Arlington, Texas to minimize travel during the pandemic — but never delivered the knockout punch and lost a tight Game 7 of the NLCS to the Dodgers.
“You always want a rematch of last year,” Freeman said Friday. “Now you want to beat the best and they are obviously the defending champs, and they have got a great team, so it’s going to be a good test for us.”
The Dodgers got to Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday night, with a dramatic 2-1 victory in Game 5 of the NLDS in San Francisco. The Giants left the tying run on base in the ninth inning as Wilmer Flores struck out against Max Scherzer on a flubbed strike three call on a checked swing. It’s expected Scherzer will return as the Game 1 starter.
The Braves, who are scheduled to send left-hander Max Fried to the mound, received two extra days of rest after finishing off the Brewers in Game 4 of the NLDS on Tuesday.
“We’re very familiar with [the Dodgers] and understand how deep they are, how strong they are — they’re relentless,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Offensively these guys just, the at-bats they put up are something else. They just keep coming after you. Their pitching is so deep and it’s a really good club, obviously. So are we.”
It’s a Braves team that overcame the loss of Ronald Acuña Jr. to a torn anterior cruciate ligament and rallied in the second half of the season after a sluggish start. The Braves went 44-28 after the All-Star break to easily overtake the wilting Mets and to win a fourth straight NL East title.
In the NLDS, the Braves used strong starting pitching to overtake the NL Central champions. The Brewers were shut out in consecutive games in the series, including Game 2 — in which Fried fired six scoreless innings.
“[The Dodgers] just played a really good series against a really good team and they have been playing some really good intense baseball, so they’re going to be ready for the atmosphere,” Fried said. “And obviously the team’s been to the playoffs for however many straight years, multiple World Series, so the stage isn’t going to faze them.
“They know what they need to do to be able to win these types of games and obviously we’ve been in the playoffs for a couple years now and we understand what it takes too, so I think it’s going to be a really good hard-fought series.”
Freeman might have wanted to face Los Angeles, but Fried — who like Freeman grew up in Southern California rooting for the Dodgers — said the opponent for this NLCS was inconsequential for him.
“I think we would have been just as motivated if it was the Giants or the Dodgers,” Fried said. “I think when you get to this point of the year every team has one goal and that’s to get to the World Series and win it.
“You’re not going to be able to get there unless you get through this round. So we don’t want to look too far ahead, just focus on Game 1, and then obviously each game after that.”