The first three games of the Los Angeles Dodgers playoff run against the Atlanta Braves have an L.A. squad that went from buried to resurrected — a $239 million payroll disaster to a gleaming investment — on the brink of the National League Championship Series.
The Dodgers, one win away from their first visit to the NLCS since 2009, will send left-handed ace Clayton Kershaw to the mound tonight looking to finish off the series.
Kershaw, though he struggled in the early innings, dominated Atlanta in game one — making a volume strikeout team do what they do best.
The veteran* lefty gave up just 1 run on 3 hits while striking out 12 over 7 innings (123 pitches).
Despite his outstanding effort in game one, his quick turnaround makes me uncomfortable.
I actually thought the series was set up perfectly:
Let midseason acquisition Ricky Nolasco (8-3, 3.52 ERA with the Dodgers) throw against an aging Freddy García (4-7, 4.37 ERA this season) who hasn't been relevant since the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 and hasn't been dominant since his second year in the league (2001).
If Nolasco and the Dodgers pull out a win then you have your two-headed monster of Kershaw-Greinke in line for the first two games of the NLCS. Nolasco loses? Your fallback plan is Kershaw on normal rest — pitching where he won easily less than a week ago.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has been on the hot seat all season despite the team's historic run from July through August. Most recently, he was questioned for a number of decisions he made during game 2 in Atlanta. Mattingly chose to walk Reed Johnson (who hit just .244 with 1 HR and 11 RBIs this season) in order to face the far more dangerous Jason Heyward (who has been on fire hitting leadoff).
The thinking, of course, is that a lefty-lefty matchup of Paco Rodriguez and Heyward with the bases loaded gives you a chance for a double-play to get out of it — the result was a 2 RBI game-winning base hit.
Despite my hesitation, I do believe Kershaw will win tonight — regardless of the Braves decision stick with García or throw Game 1 starter Kris Medlen into the fire. A win would set up Greinke in Game 1 of the NLCS with either the Pittsburgh Pirates or St. Louis Cardinals.
There is something special about this team and the buzz in Dodgers Stadium tonight will be reminiscent of the elation in 1988 when Kirk Gibson hit a homerun you may have heard of.
How far do you think the Dodgers will go this postseason? Let me know in the comments below.
*Although Clayton Kershaw is in his sixth season in the Big Leagues — I hesitate to call a 25-year-old a "veteran."