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Why Giants fans have easy NLCS rooting interest with Braves

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If the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros make it to the World Series, there might be some Giants fans who find it a bit more difficult than usual to just go with the old "I'm rooting for the team facing the Dodgers" playoff plan.

The Dodgers are the Dodgers, but the Astros cheated the game and remain unapologetic about it. Watching them celebrate again would be a very 2020 ending to this 2020 season. 

That might be an issue for later this month (although let's be honest, you'll still probably root against the Dodgers). The matchup next week is a much easier choice, perhaps the easiest in this Dodgers run that has lasted nearly a decade now. 

After easily dispatching the really fun San Diego Padres in the NLDS, the Dodgers now face a good Atlanta Braves club that's essentially Giants East. The Braves have five former Giants on their roster, including one of the all-time fan favorites, a Willie Mac Award winner and a former first-rounder who was partially responsible for the 2012 title. 

Charlie Culberson

We'll start with the man who once was traded for Marco Scutaro, helping bring a second championship to San Francisco. Eight years later, Culberson is still in the big leagues, and he's a fan favorite in Atlanta in that way you only see with popular bench guys. His hair even has a Twitter account.

Culberson is quietly playing his eighth big league season, although he got just seven at-bats for the Braves this year. They DFA'd him in early September but brought him back for the playoffs. Culberson has had some big postseason hits but made just one appearance in the first two rounds. If you're looking for him in the NLCS, make sure you don't confuse him with Dansby Swanson or Ian Anderson:

 

Mark Melancon

It seemed like the Braves were doing Farhan Zaidi a huge favor when they took on the final year of Melancon's deal at the 2019 trade deadline, but he actually has turned into a great addition. Melancon has a 3.30 ERA and 22 saves in 46 appearances for the Braves, and he has retired all 12 baserunners he has faced this offseason. 

Melancon looks like the guy the Giants thought they were getting. His cutter is back up to 93-to-94 mph, and his curveball was just about unhittable this season. If he had thrown like that in his first couple of years in San Francisco, a new regime might have never been brought in. 

That trade was still a good one for the Giants, as they got out from under a lot of money and picked up Tristan Beck, who has a chance to be in their rotation soon. But when you watch this version of Melancon, it's hard not to think that he's exactly what the 2020 Giants needed. 

Will Smith

For the second time, we might get a Will Smith-Will Smith matchup, and this time it would come on a much brighter stage. The 2019 Giants closer had a rough first year in Atlanta, testing positive for the coronavirus during the summer and then allowing seven homers once he returned. But he has been a weapon in the postseason, throwing 4 1/3 hitless innings, and will be a key player against a Dodgers team he knows very well. 

Adam Duvall

Ahh, the one that got away. Duvall was infamously sent to the Reds, where he turned into the 30-homer outfielder the Giants have been looking for. Duvall ended up back in Triple-A last year, but he has once again become a valuable big league piece. 

Duvall hit 16 homers and drove in 33 runs during the shortened season. He's Atlanta's starting left fielder and hits sixth or seventh in a very deep lineup.

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Pablo Sandoval

Designated for assignment when the Giants wanted to test out Justin Smoak, Sandoval went to the alternate site for the Braves and was called up for their final game of the season. He hasn't seen the field in October yet, but he has been right in the middle of the celebrations, and seems to be having a good time.

It's unclear if Sandoval will be on the NLCS roster, but no matter what, he's in line for his fourth ring if the Braves win it all. If he does make the next roster, he'll try to add to a postseason résumé that includes a .344 batting average and six homers.