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NLDS Preview: Dodgers vs. Braves

Oct 3, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT

NLDS Dodgers Braves Baseball

You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Dodgers and Braves have in store for us in the National League Division Series.

The Teams

Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70) vs. Atlanta Braves (96-66)

The Matchups

Game 1 Today in Atlanta: Clayton Kershaw vs. Kris Medlen
Game 2 Friday in Atlanta: Zack Greinke vs. Mike Minor
Game 3 Sunday in Los Angeles: Julio Teheran vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu
Game 4 (if necessary) Monday in Los Angeles: Freddy Garcia vs. Ricky Nolasco
Game 5 (if necessary) Wednesday in Atlanta

Overview: 

The Dodgers had huge preseason expectations which looked to be dashed after stumbling out of the gate to a 31-42 record which had them 9.5 games back in the NL West as late as June 22. Don Mattingly was assumed to be on the hot seat and the season seemed lost. Then all they did was call up rookie Yasiel Puig and go on a tear and put the division in their rear-view mirror. Most of the headlines about the Dodgers in the second half were about Yasiel Puig’s exploits and the injuries to offensive stars like Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez. The real story of this team, however, is its stellar starting pitching, led by presumptive Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and a man who would be the ace on just about every other team, Zack Greinke. Indeed, the Dodgers led the NL in ERA.

Atlanta, on the other hand, was in first place every single day of the season except for one day in early April and were never challenged for the NL East crown. Its a team which, for much of the season, featured a feast-or-famine approach at the plate, with lots of homers and lots of strikeouts to go with them. Indeed, Atlanta led the NL in both categories.  As the second half progressed, however, a bit more dynamism entered the offense, with outfielder Jason Heyward moving to the leadoff position and B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla increasingly riding the pine. And while the Dodgers have the best pitching around, don’t sleep on the Braves’ staff. They were second in the NL in ERA and their bullpen was the best in the National League.

Storylines

  • The Dodgers and the Braves both stumbled in September, with L.A. posting a record of 12-15 and Atlanta going 13-14. September records can be misleading, however, especially when the teams involved had more or less sewn up their playoff positions before Labor Day. As such, “momentum” — a dubious idea when it comes to the playoffs anyway — is  not exactly on the table here.
  • While momentum may not always be meaningful, the stuff underlying the poor finishes can matter. In the Dodgers case, injuries loom large. Center fielder Matt Kemp will not appear in the playoffs. Andre Ethier may very well be on the playoff roster, but he has had one plate appearance since September 13. Hanley Ramirez has not played back-to-back games for some time and has nursed multiple injuries during his otherwise outstanding season. Puig fouled a ball off his foot last weekend and has suffered various bumps and bruises.
  • Head-to-head matchups are likewise of minimal use here. Yes, the Braves took five of seven in the season series against the Dodgers, but that season series was totally wrapped up by June 9, which was before the Dodgers turned their season around. And they haven’t faced Kershaw since 2011. For all practical purposes, these teams are strangers to one another.
  • The Dodgers rotation and the Braves bullpen will be much talked about, but it’s not as if the Braves rotation and Dodgers bullpen are chopped liver. Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran have been quite good this year, with Medlen being particularly hot in September. Meanwhile, the late season addition of Brian Wilson as the Dodgers setup man and the fact that Kenley Jansen strikes out 13 batters per nine innings makes the Dodgers bullpen formidable indeed.

Prediction

This would appear to be a very even matchup. The Dodgers fantastic starters against a Braves lineup which, while potent, can look lost against top hurlers. The Braves shutdown bullpen against a Dodgers lineup racked with injuries and, recently anyway, inconsistency. If the games are close, the Braves’ dominant bullpen could be the difference maker, but with Kershaw and Greinke taking three of the five possible starts, the Braves’ offense could find itself tied in knots, preventing them from ever getting close.

This is about as close to a coin-flip as I can see among the four Division Series matchups, but if I have to pick one team, I’ll pick The Dodgers in Five.

  1. atlsp - Oct 3, 2013 at 9:07 AM

    “Indeed, the Dodgers led the NL in ERA.”

    Actually, the Dodgers (3.25) finished second in the NL in ERA behind… wait for it… the Atlanta Braves (3.18).

    • moseskkim - Oct 3, 2013 at 12:32 PM

      he was obviously referring to the dodgers starting staff. the context was how well their starting pitching was with Kershaw and greinke. later he said braves were 2nd in era and then mentioned the bullpen as being the best in the league referring to their starters being 2nd, bullpen 1st. don’t have to correct someone when its obvious what theyre talking about.

  2. alexb1234 - Oct 3, 2013 at 9:15 AM

    I’m actually offended by this article…..I dodged a train today in Brooklyn and the Dodgers are originally from here and that’s how they got their name….therefore I am a real “Dodger” unlike these phonies in Los Angeles….I am completely offended by the name and I want it changed at once!!!!

    • Old Gator - Oct 3, 2013 at 9:45 AM

      They were originally called the Trolley Dodgers.

      http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=daddy+what's+a+train&qpvt=daddy+what%27s+a+train&FORM=VDRE#view=detail&mid=D4CDBCF7FC7FD301F89FD4CDBCF7FC7FD301F89F

      • 4d3fect - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:04 AM

        Superbas?

        Robins?

      • lew24 - Oct 3, 2013 at 3:32 PM

        They were called the Bridegrooms too!

      • redhatpoodle2013 - Oct 3, 2013 at 4:15 PM

        When I was a child my father would take me on the trolley to Ebbets Field. The Dodgers were named for the skill Brooklyn residents exhibited while dodging the trolleys. Jackie Robinson lived on the next block from us. He used to travel to and from the field on the trolley. I remember him as very tall and always wearing a suit and tie every day. I used to sit on the steps of our house patiently waiting for him to pass by each afternoon. Ahhh, what pleasant memories.

      • jimeejohnson - Oct 3, 2013 at 8:44 PM

        Thanks for the memories. THOSE were the days.

    • moogro - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:00 AM

      No, you didn’t.

      • alexb1234 - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:03 AM

        trolley or train IM STILL OFFENDED!!!!!!

        i didnt know what a train was before i clicked that….what the hell was that subway i went on this morning.

    • paperlions - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:12 AM

      I would love to resort to name calling, unfortunately, by doing so in this instance I fear I would insult all idiots, morons, dumb asses, asshats, fucksticks, and dip shits throughout the world.

      • alexb1234 - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:41 AM

        clearly SARCASM is not understood on hardball talk lol this whole thread just made my day….some funny stuff….life isn’t that serious…calm down paperlions, calm down everybody

    • myopinionisrighterthanyours - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:41 AM

      So are you REALLY going to use every single article Craig posts today as a platform for your, um, point? Craig, we’ve had our disagreements, but I feel for you, man.

      • alexb1234 - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:59 AM

        I don’t feel bad for Craig, I feel bad for the 3 Indian fans that have their faces plastered all over the internet adn are called racists because of idiots like Craig….they were just rooting for their team and I’m sure they were not the only 3 Indians fans dressed like that….do we get on the guy who beats on the drum in the outfield? probably not…

    • koufaxmitzvah - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:54 AM

      Is there a color I should paint my face on Halloween in order to make fun of sense of self? Green? Blue? Oh, wait a minute, how about I paint myself White and wear a Necktie and walk around with a Briefcase threatening to Stop Folks from Eating especially if they’re Government Workers? Except my White Man w/ Tie and Briefcase kind of Government Worker who will continue to get paid no matter what?

      I swear. Dumbasses with pathetic analogies really have made this country stupid.

    • MLBlogsbig3bosox - Oct 3, 2013 at 12:43 PM

      Roy Campanella is that you?

    • lnickdog - Oct 3, 2013 at 3:54 PM

      If you’re younger than 60 years of age, you’re a dumb ass and have no point.

  3. J.T. Dutch - Oct 3, 2013 at 9:39 AM

    The Dodgers had huge preseason expectations which looked to be dashed after stumbling out of the gate to a 31-42 record which had them 9.5 games back in the NL West as late as June 22 … Then all they did was call up rookie Yasiel Puig and go on a tear and put the division in their rear-view mirror.

    … The Dodgers called up Puig on June 3, not June 22, and indeed lost 10 of Puig’s first 17 games in the major leagues.

    • koufaxmitzvah - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:56 AM

      Yet another example of why it wasn’t really Puig making the difference as it was Hanley Ramirez.

      Puig is super athletic and a thrill to watch, but it’s Hanley’s swing that adds the Oomph to that lineup.

      • J.T. Dutch - Oct 3, 2013 at 12:01 PM

        … Hanley was certainly the MVP offensively. But I’ve felt the key to their incredible run has been their pitching staff. The Dodgers had a team ERA of 2.26 from July 1 to August 31.

    • bh192012 - Oct 3, 2013 at 1:05 PM

      Dude, don’t mess up the narrative!

  4. spudchukar - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    When Freddy Garcia is a play-off starter you have issues.

    • stubarron - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:32 AM

      1.65 ERA in September

      • dlf9 - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:34 AM

        SSS

      • spudchukar - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:35 AM

        Unfortunately it is October.

      • beavertonsteve - Oct 3, 2013 at 2:40 PM

        Teheran’s is 4.44. Maybe they should skip him in the rotation based on his September stats.

    • daveitsgood - Oct 3, 2013 at 12:35 PM

      Because October Playoff baseball has always been the epitome of statistics holding true and SSS have no relevance in the playoffs with the abbreviated time frame of the playoffs. It’s the playoffs. Stuff happens, Barry Zito beat the Cardinals and outduels Verlander while Verlander gives up 3 hrs in a game to 1 player. Weird stuff happens and SSS has relevance since the playoffs are a crapshoot anyways.

  5. spc7ray - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    I think this post is right–Both teams are evenly matched–The key to me is the Dodger offense—The Dodger pitchers will do there job -If the offense will come alive they will in it all if they dont the Dodgers will lose–A healthy Matt kemp would have made the difference and thats why I have been saying a trade for Giancarlo Stanton in 2014 would put us over the top–Eithier and 3 prospects along with money would do the Deal with the Marlins

  6. stubarron - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    The article starts off “You can’t predict baseball” and ends with “I’ll pick The Dodgers in Five”

  7. dlf9 - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:33 AM

    As a Braves fan, I’m glad they have home field advantage, as this team is excellent at home (.691 winning percentage) by thoroughly mediocre away from the Ted (.494). If LAD can win one of the first two, it’s over.

  8. nbjays - Oct 3, 2013 at 11:06 AM

    Should be an interesting and well-policed series, with 6 umpires on the field enforcing the baseball rulebook, and Brian McCann enforcing the unwritten rules.

  9. bravojawja - Oct 3, 2013 at 11:35 AM

    This looks like one of those rare postseason series that’s going to come down to the hitting, not pitching.

    • jlee999 - Oct 3, 2013 at 12:04 PM

      As a Braves follower, I am used to seeing (in recent years) the team go into a September slump or “funk” as I like to call it. They did not disappoint this year as their September performance was once again sub-par.

      They do have the capability to win this series even though the starting pitching lately hasn’t been as good as we have seen earlier in the year, (excluding Medlen). The real key in my mind is the presence of Jason Heyward. Before being sidelined by a pitch to the jaw, Jason was a hot hitter and actually sparked the team’s performance from the leadoff spot. When he was sidelined, the Braves didn’t have that spark and started losing. Now that he is back in the lineup, I hope that he will once again spur the Braves to victory.

      I like the Dodgers and think they are a worthy opponent. I am glad they made the playoffs. I just hope that they play poorly in this series.

  10. losanginsight - Oct 3, 2013 at 1:09 PM

    Home field advantage will be lost for atl. after today. The Dodgers pitchers are not your typical NL east staff. Dodgers in 4.

    • Jeff M. - Oct 3, 2013 at 9:12 PM

      What?! Bite your tongue. Dodgers in 3.

  11. scdocal - Oct 3, 2013 at 3:31 PM

    I wouldn’t say the NL east has weak pitching. Braves have faced Harvey, lee, wheeler, Hernandez,and a couple more young studs from Miami. The NL east has some of the best young pitching. Very evenly matched series. Both teams have small advantages in some areas. Can’t wait

  12. cubb1 - Oct 3, 2013 at 5:36 PM

    Fredi G. may have sabotaged his own team by leaving Uggla and Maholm of the roster. Those are 2 of the players that got Atlanta to the playoffs. It can’t be good for their confidence, or the other players trust in him as a manager. Batting average is one of the most overrated stats in baseball. Uggla is capable of taking ANY pitcher deep, and Maholm is a better pitcher than Garcia. How can Maholm get postseason experience if his manager doesn’t have enough confidence in him to even put him on the roster. LAME MOVES BY FREDI G.

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