Kershaw launches Dodgers into October

ATLANTA -- Nothing in life is guaranteed, but Clayton Kershaw with a big early lead is about as bankable as it gets.

The Los Angeles Dodgers' ace has had more efficient outings, but he got stronger as the game progressed in a 6-1 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Thursday night. The Dodgers scored four runs in the first three innings against Kris Medlen to put Kershaw on high ground, and he had little trouble holding it.

By the end, the strikeout-prone Braves were overmatched. Kershaw struck out nine of the last 11 batters he faced. All told, he had 12 strikeouts over seven innings, giving up only three hits and three walks.

The Dodgers could take a commanding lead in the series with a win here Friday and they'll send the right-handed portion of their two-ace tandem, Zack Greinke, to the mound. Since December, Dodgers fans have fantasized about a Kershaw-Greinke hammer in October.

Kershaw needed 124 pitches, which casts some doubt on his availability to pitch Game 4 on short rest if the Dodgers are considering that plan.

The Dodgers didn't get off to a promising start against Medlen, who had made some confident statements about the Braves' chances during his Wednesday afternoon news conference. Medlen looked as though he would back it up early. He struck out the first three batters he faced, Carl Crawford, Mark Ellis and Hanley Ramirez.

Many people thought Yasiel Puig could be a liability in the playoffs because of the chance he'd make one poor decision at a bad time -- and he still might -- but he sparked the offense Thursday. This time, Puig forced the opponent to make mistakes.

Puig eked a grounder into center field for a hit and, when Juan Uribe singled to center, Puig ran hard for third, apparently taking center fielder Jason Heyward by surprise. Heyward never even attempted a throw.

Puig scored two batters later on Skip Schumaker's sacrifice fly. Heyward made an ill-advised throw to the plate, the ball sailing over the cutoff man, and Uribe took second. He scored on A.J. Ellis' double off the glove of left fielder Evan Gattis, who played the ball like the catcher he is.

Medlen hit Puig with his final pitch of the night in the fifth inning. Puig took a step or two toward the mound, but took his base without incident. Puig seems to get out of his game at times when he gets angry. In his next at-bat, against hard-throwing Jordan Walden, Puig swung and missed at a slider six inches outside and then struck out on a nose-high fastball.

The Dodgers kept adding on, making life easy for Kershaw for once. He had the lowest run support among Dodgers starters. Oh, and the Braves kept making mistakes. In the second, Crawford lined a sharp grounder to second baseman Elliot Johnson, who misplayed it into an infield hit and, after Crawford advanced on Mark Ellis' groundout, Adrian Gonzalez jumped on a first-pitch changeup and sent it sailing over the center-field wall.

It was Gonzalez's first postseason home run, though he's competing in only his second playoff series.