And despite injuries and struggles on the offensive end from highly paid players such as BJ Upton and Dan Uggla the Braves still manged to dominant the Eastern Division. By “dominate” I mean they were in 1st place every single day of the season except for April 4th and they held at least an 8 game lead every single day for the final 60 of the season. If that’s not dominance I don’t know what is.
But despite the incredible season and all that was achieved the Braves did fail to secure the number one seed in the National League for the post season which would have secured them home field throughout the playoffs and allowed them to play the winner of the Wild Card “play in game” rather then having to face the Dodgers in the N.L.D.S.
However what’s done is done and as fans we must continue to move forward and be excited about the fact that we do have an opportunity to play a 5 game series this year rather then having to take part in that wild and unpredictable one game playoff. Matching up with the Dodgers in a playoff series is not an easy task by any means because you’ll be forced to beat some combination of Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu in 3 of the 5 games you will play. And if you’re successful in that feat you will have taken down a rotation that boasts 3 of the top 8 ERA’s in the National League.
So how do the Braves go about accomplishing this? And what are some positives that the fan base and team itself can hang its hat on before Game 1 on Thursday.
Kris Medlen: A lot of people will tell you that the Braves don’t have a true ace and that they won’t be able to match up in a series with a team that arguably has 3 of them. While Clayton Kershaw will almost certainly be the National League Cy Young award winner and has terrorized line ups all year long there is reason for hope that the Braves can match up with him in Game 1.
Kris Medlen may not have been the Braves “ace” all season but he’s the Braves “ace” right now. Another strong Sept similar to the one he closed the season with last year has landed him in a position to take the ball in Game 1 and as baseball folks will tell you momentum and confidence can spear head a team straight through the post season.
Medlen has strong numbers against the Dodgers as well. This year he’s thrown a total of 13 2/3’s innings while allowing 0 earned runs and striking out 11 batters in 2 appearances against the Dodgers.
Home Field; Every team wants home field but for certain teams it may be much essential then to others. The Atlanta Braves are the only team in this years post season that have a losing road record ( 40 – 41) This is clearly a far cry from how the club plays at home as they boast a 56-25 record at home which is the best in the major leagues this season.
Something about playing under the lights at Turner Field in front of the Braves faithful energizes this ball club. I’ve spent all year trying to figure out what made the Braves such a poor road team and why they couldn’t figure out how to win games away from Turner Field. Well after 162 games I still have no answer for you but what I do know is the Braves will not have to win a single game in this series against the Dodgers on the road to advance. Winning all 3 games at Turner Field will be enough to send the Dodgers packing.
Injuries: While the Braves have their big outfield bat back in the line up in Jason Heyward, the Dodgers suffered bad news just before the post season that Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will not play in the N.L.D.S This is quite a blow for the Dodgers who now have a slightly thinner line up for the Braves pitching staff to rifle through.
Kemp hasn’t been a huge part of the Dodger’s success this year and yes he has been injured a lot of the season. However Matt Kemp is the Dodgers. He’s their most talented player and any line up is better with him in it. With both him and Ethier on the shelf the Dodgers will have to come up with some way to create a balanced outfield come Game 1 on Thurs.
Paul Maholm: To my knowledge the Braves playoff rotation hasn’t been set in stone yet and anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I’ve actually been campaigning for Freddy Garcia to get the 4th spot in the Dodgers rotation but there is an argument that appears to be shaping up for Maholm to take the mound in this series.
Maholm has made 2 starts against the Dodgers this season and has matched up with Hyun-Jin Ryu on both of those occasions and each time resulted in a Braves victory. The 2nd outing was especially strong when Maholm faced the Dodgers in Los Angeles and threw 7 1/3’s inning while allowing just 4 hits and 1 run.
Bullpen: The post season is all about pitching right? And we’ve addressed a lot in terms of the starters but you can’t forget the other element which is the bullpen. I like Atlanta’s bullpen quite a bit more then I like LA’s and I’ll tell you why.
The Braves are 1st in the majors in bullpen in ERA with a 2.46 which is actually a club record. The Dodgers are 13th a full run higher with 3.49
Atlanta has held opponents to a .222avg over the 2013 season while the Dodgers posted a .240avg against this year.
The Braves relievers have allowed only 126 earned runs to the Dodgers bullpen that’s allowed 183 earned runs.
Braves relievers only walked 155 batters all season long which was good for 2nd in the Major Leagues, the Dodgers gave away 186 free passes.
The Home Run: The biggest weapon the Braves have in their arsenal is that the long ball. As a team they hit 181 home runs this year which was good for 5th in the Major Leagues.
If you’re looking for a possible difference maker offensively this would be it. The Dodgers are not nearly as long ball happy as they’ve hit only 138 home runs as a ball club which was good for only 24th in the league.
Some would argue that the Braves are TOO dependent on the home run and that if it doesn’t come they’re almost surely to lose but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the entire course of a game changed by one swing of the bat. That instant offense where you can go from being down 1 run to being up by 2 runs. The bottom of the 9th trailing by a run, would you rather have to string 3 hits together off a tough closer like Kimbrel? Or would you like to be able to tie up the ball game on one swing of the bat?
When the autumn winds blow in October the games become lower and lower scoring. Each run is so critical and the entire game can turn on you in the blink of an eye. And in games where runs are hard to come by and it’s difficult to string multiple hits together, the home run can be your best friend.
By: Bob McVinua