NLDS 2013: Step-by-Step Guide for Atlanta Braves to Win the Series
Just check out ESPN's expert predictions for the postseason if you need any proof; the overwhelming consensus is that Atlanta will get bounced in the first round by Los Angeles.
And with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke starting Games 1 and 2, it's certainly easy to see why. However, the Braves can pull out three wins against the Dodgers in a short series.
1. Win Game 1
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Boasting baseball's best one-two punch in the starting rotation, the Dodgers are designed to get their postseason opponents in a two-zip hole to start the series.
Kris Medlen can't let that happen.
Out-dueling Clayton Kershaw is no small order, but after being named the National League Pitcher of the Month in September, Medlen certainly has the momentum and the confidence to make a Game 1 win a possibility. Via Baseball-Reference, Medlen has gone into the seventh inning in each of his last six starts, giving up just four earned runs in 43.0 innings pitched.
On top of that, Medlen has faced the Dodgers twice this season. His line? 13.2 innings, 7 hits, 11 strikeouts, and 0 earned runs, again via Baseball-Reference.
If Atlanta can win Game 1, they can set the all-important tone in the short series and take the pressure off Mike Minor (and the rest of the Braves) to come through in Game 2.
Medlen's fearless bulldog demeanor may be just what the doctor ordered when Game 1 comes around, and if the Braves can beat Kershaw to get the ball rolling, the odds could shift dramatically for Atlanta.
2. Heyward Rises to the Occasion
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Since July 27, the day Jason Heyward was moved to the top spot in the Braves order, Atlanta has gone a sparkling 23-6 in games Heyward has hit leadoff, via Baseball-Reference.
In case you were wondering, Heyward has also posted a triple-slash line of .325/.406/.556 in his 133 plate appearances spanning from July 27 to September 29, still via Baseball-Reference. Heyward has thrived in the leadoff spot, and the Braves have thrived consequentially.
At 6'5" and 240 pounds, Heyward isn't your typical leadoff hitter. However, with his unique blend of power, patience, speed, and physical intimidation, Heyward possesses the ability to set the tone for the Braves every night in the postseason. If he can get the Dodgers starters rattled early, Atlanta could surprise Los Angeles and pull off the upset.
3. Go into the 9th with a Lead
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When it comes to the Dodgers and the Braves, the ninth inning might as well just be a formality.
You don't need the stats, but I'll give them to you anyway. In 2013, Kenley Jansen has posted a 1.88 ERA over 76.2 innings, striking out 111 hitters and walking just 18. Craig Kimbrel's line is similar—1.21 ERA, 67.0 innings, 98 strikeouts and 20 walks.
As I wrote, the ninth inning might as well just be a formality.
Atlanta has to strike early. If the Braves can't get to the Dodgers' excellent starting rotation, they'll have to hit the bullpen hard in the seventh and eighth innings.
There's not much room for error when it comes to the Dodgers pitching staff, but if Jansen gets handed the ball with a lead, don't expect a comeback.
4. Hurt the Dodgers in Los Angeles
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Assuming the Dodgers go with a four-man rotation, the Braves will likely see Hyun-Jin Ryu and Ricky Nolasco in Games 3 and 4 when they head to Los Angeles.
Facing these pitchers won't exactly be a picnic, but after facing the pitching titans Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in Games 1 and 2, the Atlanta offense will have a chance to explode.
With the first two games of this series likely being pitching duels, Game 3 (Ryu versus the inexperienced Julio Teheran) and especially Game 4 (Nolasco versus a mystery Atlanta starter) will require Atlanta to bring the offensive firepower. Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton, Brian McCann and Chris Johnson need to get into a rhythm and send Ryu and Nolasco into the showers early.
Los Angeles is where Atlanta can win the series. If the Braves can beat either Kershaw or Greinke in Atlanta and then pummel Ryu and Nolasco, that's three wins and a ticket back home to prepare for either the Pirates or the Cardinals.
5. Hope Kershaw Only Pitches Once
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Ideally, the Braves win one game in Atlanta and finish the Dodgers off in Los Angeles, only seeing Clayton Kershaw once.
However, assuming Atlanta does put Los Angeles up against the wall in Game 4, there's also the chance that Kershaw pitches on very short rest. And if Medlen beat him in Game 1, the best pitcher in baseball will not only be fuming, but will be pitching for his season at home in front of a packed Chavez Ravine.
And then the Braves would get Zack Greinke in Game 5.
If Ricky Nolasco goes in Game 4 and the series comes back to Atlanta in Game 5, Kershaw would still be waiting to pick the Braves apart in the series' deciding game.
Atlanta can't see Kershaw twice. It seems impossible, but Atlanta's best chance to win this series is to win two of the first three games (against Kershaw, Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, no less) and hope that Ricky Nolasco pitches in Game 4.
Otherwise, well...I don't want to talk about it.