With a dominant 13-6 route of the Atlanta Braves in Game 3, the Los Angeles Dodgers have retaken the lead in the best-of-five NLDS. The men in blue put on an offensive display for their home fans in Chavez Ravine, featuring home runs from Carl Crawford and Juan Uribe, and three-hit performances from both Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez.
The Braves now find themselves with their backs against the ropes, facing a must-win Game 4 on Monday night. The NL East champions will need to find a way to put runs on the board as they face 30-year-old right-hander Ricky Nolasco, while leaving their defensive fate in the hands of veteran Freddy Garcia.
If Atlanta wants to extend their postseason run they'll need to get some big performances out of some of their young stars. Meanwhile, the Dodgers could send the Braves packing and move on to the NLCS for the first time since 2009. Let's take a look at some players who could be the core performer for Monday's potentially decisive Game 4.
The young outfielder showcased his power in Game 3 with a ninth-inning two-run home run. Unfortunately, that was his only hit in the game, as he went 1-5 at the plate. If the Braves stand a chance at winning in L.A., they'll need a big game from Heyward. While his 2013 numbers were pretty pedestrian, the 24-year-old has shown his talent in seasons past. It'll take an inspired effort, but Heyward has the ability.
Statistically, Freeman enjoyed the best year of his young career in 2013. Hitting .319 with 23 home runs and 109 RBI, Freeman proved he can be the offensive anchor for the Braves. He's hit the ball well so far in the series, but he's yet to drive in a run. He'll need to take ownership of the game if Atlanta stands a chance.
Getting the nod as the starting pitcher in Game 4 is 15-year veteran Freddy Garcia. The 37-year-old will need to find a way to extinguish the red-hot Dodgers offense. Unfortunately, in 13 games started this year, Garcia has posted a 4.37 ERA, which does not bode well against a stacked Dodgers lineup. We'll find out if he can turn the clock back a few years and deliver a winning performance when it counts the most.
Arguably the MVP of the Dodgers' resurgent climb to first place in the NL West, Ramirez has continued to shine in his first postseason experience. With seven hits in his first 13 at-bats, Ramirez is proving that he can carry his team even against some of the better pitching in baseball. If he can continue his hot-hitting ways, the Dodgers have a great chance to travel deep into October.
Who Will Be the Core Peformer?
The Dodgers leadoff hitter put on a show for the hometown crowd in Game 3, both with his bat and his glove. Crawford is playing with drive and determination, and if he continues getting on base early and often, L.A. will continue putting up runs on the scoreboard. As the leadoff man, Crawford can set the tone of the game and might just be the core performer in a Game 4 victory.
In 15 starts with the Dodgers this season, Nolasco posted an 8-5 win-loss record, flipping the script from his 5-8 record with Miami in the first half of the year. With a potent lineup supporting him, Nolasco just needs to keep the Braves at bay to give his team a chance at advancing to the NLCS. Will he be able to rise to the occasion, or will Atlanta get to their former division rival?