Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Reasons to like LA's chances vs. ATL
By Mark Saxon
If healthy, Hanley Ramirez could give the Dodgers a significant boost against Atlanta.
ATLANTA -- The Dodgers are riding a rising blue tide into their first playoff series in four years and we’re not just talking about their fans. The experts are wholeheartedly on board, too, and remained so with full knowledge the Dodgers will be without Matt Kemp for the postseason and are not yet sure what they may get out of Andre Ethier against the Atlanta Braves.
ESPN asked its panel of experts to predict each of the playoff series and the Dodgers come out looking like heavy road favorites. You had to scroll down a few screens to get to the first voter who picked Atlanta, ESPN TV reporter Pedro Gomez. In all, 26 of ESPN’s crew took the Dodgers and six took the Braves.
Seems a bit strange at first glance, considering Atlanta went 5-2 against the Dodgers this year and pretty much dominated its division all season. The Dodgers were in last place going into July, took off like a bottle rocket in July and August and then settled into a blah September.
It’s pretty easy to see what makes them tick: feeling good. Before June 22, the Day the Season Changed, the Dodgers used the disabled list 20 times. After that, they used it five times. Toward the end of September, the injuries started cropping up again, like weeds you thought you’d pulled.
When they were unhealthy, they were bad. When they were healthy, they were great. When they were moderately healthy, they were mediocre.
By the way, the Braves -- who also had the luxury of a massive division lead -- didn’t exactly sail through September either, losing 13 of 24. So, momentum seems to be a wash.
We could get a good read on the Dodgers’ health in Game 2. If Hanley Ramirez, who has been on the on-again, off-again playing regime for weeks because of an irritated nerve in his back, plays Friday, that is good news for the Dodgers. It might mean they’ll have their frontline guys all series.
Ramirez had a strained hamstring when the Braves and Dodgers met in May.
“I feel good,” Ramirez said Sunday. “I think what we’ve been doing -- one game, one off -- it’s been helping me a lot. Now it’s about to get real.”
It’s about to get real because the Dodgers are facing the most powerful team in the National League and the second-best pitching staff in the National League after their own. But there are also reasons to like the matchup from the Dodgers’ perspective.
“They’re tough, but I feel like we’re tough too,” Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen said. “The team we have, we’ve got everything -- power, pitching, speed, veterans who have been in the playoffs before along with the guys who are hungry like me, wanting to get there.”
While the Braves led the league in home runs, they also were tied for the league lead in strikeouts. Dodgers pitchers allowed the fourth-fewest home runs and were second in strikeouts.
Anecdotally, the teams that have scratched and clawed for runs have seemed to fare better in the post-season than those that sit back waiting for walks and pitches to drive. Looking at it another way, are Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke really going to leave a bunch of meatballs in the middle of the plate?
Many people in baseball have viewed the Braves as a team built for the regular season rather than built for the post-season, because of their all-or nothing offensive style.
But forget all that for a moment. You really only need one reason to favor the Dodgers in this series: Clayton Kershaw. In addition to having had the best ERA in baseball for three straight seasons, he’s intent on proving he’s an October force, as the great ones all are (the last time he pitched in the playoffs, he was 21).
The Braves could have to face Kershaw twice in a five-game series.
So, consider this series in a different light: Kershaw never faced the Braves and Greinke was on the disabled list with a broken collarbone the first time the teams met and he picked up one of those two Dodger wins in June.
Kershaw has no decisions and a 2.45 ERA in four career starts against the Braves. In his only start at Turner Field, he struck out 10 batters and allowed two runs in seven innings. Greinke is 1-1 with a 3.50 ERA against Atlanta.
Oh, and by the way, Brandon League was still the closer and Yasiel Puig had just arrived from Chattanooga the last time the teams met. In the seven games the Dodgers played against Atlanta, three were started by either Matt Magill or Stephen Fife, neither of whom figures to be on the roster Thursday. So, we can probably wipe those games from the board, in terms of their predictive ability.
Not that the Dodgers don’t respect Atlanta or realize they could be shut down by Kris Medlen or frustrated by the lack of late scoring chances against Craig Kimbrel. It’s just that they feel pretty good about their chances.
“They’ve been the best team in the National League all year until today,” Kershaw said. “They are kind of balanced all the way around. They have guys having big years offensively and guys that are throwing the ball well right now. It should be a good challenge for us.”
The only other time the Dodgers faced the Braves in the postseason was 1996, when they were swept. The winning pitchers were John Smoltz. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.
Fair to say, this series doesn’t have the same air of intimidation for L.A. as that one did.