Thursday, October 3, 2013

NLDS Preview: Dodgers ready to ride Kershaw against Braves

The Atlanta Braves went wire to wire in the National League East in 2013, while the Los AngelesDodgers arose from the ashes of what looked like a lost season. Two different paths taken by two very good baseball teams who are set to fight it out for a chance to play in the National League Championship Series.

Pitching

Clayton Kershaw dominated opponents all season.
Will it continue through the playoffs?
Photo courtesy of SD Dirk
The best pitcher in the game is Clayton Kershaw and he’ll be on the mound for the Dodgers in Game 1 of this National League Division Series. He’ll face red-hot Kris Medlen who gets the ball for Atlanta.

Kershaw was beyond dominant in 2013 notching a 16-9 record with a measly 1.83 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 232 strikeouts in 236 innings. He held opposing batters to a .195 average. These are arcade game numbers folks. There will be immense pressure on Medlen to keep the Braves in the game.

Medlen is no slouch and he is on fire. He finished the regular season with a 15-12 record, 3.11 ERAand 1.22 WHIP. But, he went 5-0 over his last six starts giving up just four runs in 43 innings. So, the Braves have exactly who they want on the mound Thursday night.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has Zack Greinke (15-4, 2.63 ERAand 1.11 WHIP) on the mound for Game 2 to face Atlanta’s Mike Minor (13-9, 3.21 ERAand 1.09 WHIP). Game 3 will feature Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-8, 3.00 ERAand 1.20 WHIP) for Los Angelesagainst Braves’ hurler Julio Teheran (14-8, 3.20 ERAand 1.17 WHIP). If there is a Game 4 Dodgers’ righty Ricky Nolasco (13-11, 3.70 ERA) will take on Braves veteran Freddy Garcia (4-7, 4.37 ERA). The Game 1 starters would meet again in a Game 5.

The bullpens are strong for both teams at the back end. The Braves have one of the top closers in the game in Craig Kimbrel (50 saves in 54 chances, 1.21 ERAwith 98 Ks in 67 IP). The Dodgers have seen Kenley Jansen notch 28 saves in 32 opportunities. He compiled a 1.88 ERAand racked up 111 strikeouts in just 76.2 innings.

Offense

The Dodgers will be without Matt Kemp, but the team went on a 42-8 run without him in the middle of this season which brought the teams out of the bottom of the NL West pack to the top of the division. The club will rely on rookie and breakout star Yasiel Puig (.319/.391/.534 with 19 HR in 418 plate appearances), veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (.293/.342/.461 with 22 HR and 100 RBI) and shortstop Hanley Ramirez (.345/.402/.638 with 20 HR in 331 PAs). Juan Uribe, Michael Young, Andre Ethier, Mark Ellis and Carl Crawford provide more veteran leadership.

The Braves offense scored the fourth most runs in the National League in 2013 with first baseman Freddie Freeman leading the way. Freeman posted a .319/.396/.501 line with 23 HR and 109 RBI. Chris Johnson broke out with a .321/.358/.457 line and solidified himself as the Braves third baseman. Atlanta received a great start from Justin Upton, who settled with 27 HR and an .818 OPS. Longtime catcher Brian McCann missed 60 games this season but is apparently ready for the series. Outfielder Jayson Heyward and shortstop Andrelton Simmons will also play prominent roles.

Managers

Fredi Gonzalez has been at the helm of the Braves for three seasons, reaching the postseason for the second straight year. The team led the NL East from the beginning of the season and Gonzalez held the team together despite some injuries on offense.

While Gonzalez as on solid footing with his organization, Mattingly was just about ready to be fired before the team when on an incredible 42-8 run. This came right around the time Puig was called up from Double-A and took Los Angelesby storm. Mattingly never wavered despite everyone calling for his head and kept the Dodgers atop the division once they reached first place.

Prediction

This, like the other NLDS matchup (read my Cardinals/Pirates preview here), is fairly even and it should come down to the pitching staffs. I think the Dodgers are just a bit stronger overall. I see Los Angelestaking the series in five behind a masterful Kershaw at both ends of the series.

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