Commentary

Five Dodgers-Braves NLDS questions

Originally Published: September 30, 2013
By Tim Kurkjian | ESPN.com

This is the hardest series to call.

It is hard to figure the Dodgers, who were so bad early, then were unstoppable for the middle part of the season, and then went 9-15 to the finish line.

It is hard to figure the Braves, who won 96 games but have no ace, and can be pitched to so easily at times. Both teams have the potential to be really good, yet each has the potential to implode right before our eyes.

Here are five questions.

How good is the Dodgers' rotation?

It is the best in the league. Clayton Kershaw, who can pitch twice in the series if it goes five games, is the best pitcher in baseball.

Clayton Kershaw
Kershaw

His 1.83 ERA this year was the lowest by any ERA qualifier since Pedro Martinez in 2000 (1.74), and the lowest by an NL pitcher since Greg Maddux (1.63) in 1995. Only Sandy Koufax had an ERA as low among Dodger pitchers (1.74 in 1964 and 1.73 in 1966) in the live ball era (1920-on). Maddux, Kershaw and Koufax are the only pitchers in NL history to win three straight ERA titles.

Kershaw will be followed by Zack Greinke, who went 7-1 over his last 12 starts and had a 1.85 ERA in the second half of the season. Kershaw and Greinke represent the best 1-2 pitching combination in the game. You also can't do much better than Hyun-Jin Ryu (3.00 ERA) and Ricky Nolasco as the third and fourth starters.

Who is the Braves' ace?

They might not have one, but Game 1 starter Kris Medlen has pitched like an ace lately. In his last six starts, he is 5-0 and has allowed four earned runs -- no home runs -- during that stretch (43 innings).

Kris Medlen
Medlen

"This is as well as I've seen him pitch since his great stretch last year," one scout said. "He has his confidence back."

The rest of the four-man rotation -- Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Paul Maholm -- each won at least 10 games, and only the Cardinals had more wins from starting pitchers in the NL than the Braves.

What will the Dodgers do with their outfield?

Matt Kemp is done for the season with an ankle injury.

"We went 42-8 without Matt," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. "We're not just going to fold it up."

Skip Schumaker
Schumaker

Andre Ethier has also not played since Sept. 22 because of an ankle injury. He is taking at-bats in simulated games in Arizona in hopes of being ready, but it's unlikely he will be able to play in the NLDS.

With Kemp and Ethier out, Skip Schumaker looks to play a lot more in center field. Or, less likely, they could move Yasiel Puig to center.

What will the Braves do with their outfield?

They have no choice: They have to move Jason Heyward to center field, play Evan Gattis in left field, and bench B.J. Upton.

B.J. Upton
Upton

Upton is hitting .184; only teammate Dan Uggla (.179) has a lower batting average this year among players with at least 400 plate appearances. Upton hit .157 against left-handers, and the Braves will see Kershaw twice and Ryu once if the series goes five games.

Upton hit .108 with runners in scoring position. Gattis is a subpar defensive player, but he is a very dangerous hitter. And against the Dodgers' pitching, the Braves might need all the offense they can get.

How good is the Braves' bullpen?

It is the best in the game.

Craig Kimbrel
Kimbrel

The Braves' 2.46 bullpen ERA was the best in the NL; next best was Pittsburgh at 2.89. And only the Tigers had fewer bullpen innings this year than the Braves, which means they haven't been overworked.

Closer Craig Kimbrel (50 saves, 1.21 ERA) is virtually unhittable. Luis Avilan, David Carpenter and the rest of the pen are really good, too.

The pick: Dodgers in five.

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