Dodgers, Braves look to regain their edge in NLDS

It’s been a while since either team played a truly meaningful
game.

The Los Angeles Dodgers took control of the NL West with an
amazing 2 1-2-month stretch and could let off the gas over the
final weeks.

The Atlanta Braves won the East going away, their commanding
lead not at all threatened by a losing record over the final
month.

Now, it’s time to get serious again.

They meet Thursday night in Game 1 of the NL division
series.

”I don’t think we necessarily let up,” Dodgers infielder
Michael Young said after a workout at Turner Field. ”In our
situation, we had to get some guys healthy. A couple of guys needed
a couple of days off, so we gave it to them. Now we’re ready to
roll.”

Despite having some room for error, the Dodgers are far from
healthy going into the playoffs.

Slugger Matt Kemp is out for the postseason with an ankle
injury, while outfielder Andre Ethier will likely be limited to
pinch-hitting duties because of his own ankle issues. He hasn’t
played in the field since Sept. 13.

While Ethier took part in the workout, he ruled out any chance
of playing in the field.

”The ankle is getting better every day,” he said. ”It’s not
as fast as we want, but it’s definitely on the timetable that we
knew going in. Every day that it doesn’t get more sore and set me
back is a good day.”

The Dodgers certainly won’t get any sympathy from the Braves,
who lost seven players to season-ending injuries.

Atlanta was bolstered by unlikely contributors such as Evan
Gattis, who made the team as a non-roster player in the spring, hit
21 homers and paced all NL rookies with 65 RBIs. He’s expected to
bat cleanup against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (16-9, 1.83 ERA) in
the series opener.

Gattis is not alone. The Braves playoff roster is filled with
guys who no one would’ve expected just a few months ago. Journeyman
Elliot Johnson, acquired off waivers in August, will start at
second base. Veteran pitcher Freddy Garcia, purchased from
Baltimore late in the season, is set to start Game 4 if the
best-of-five series goes that far. Rookie David Hale, who made two
September starts after the rosters expanded, made the bullpen as a
long reliever.

”We got a lot of contributions from a lot of guys who, coming
into the season, a lot of people didn’t expect,” catcher Brian
McCann said.

There also were some huge disappointments. Three-time All-Star
second baseman Dan Uggla hit just .179 and didn’t even make the
25-man squad, despite 22 homers. B.J. Upton was demoted to a backup
role in the outfield after batting .184 with nine homers and 26
RBIs.

With Kemp out and Ethier hurting, the Dodgers are counting on
veterans such as Young, Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston to step
up. Plus, they have one of the most exciting – and sometimes
exasperating – rookies in the game, 22-year-old Yasiel Puig, who
batted .319 with 19 homers and 42 RBIs.

”Matt is a great player,” first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said.
”But we have a bunch of great players behind him.”

Kris Medlen (15-12, 3.11) will start Game 1 for the Braves. He
was the loser in last year’s wild-card playoff against the St.
Louis Cardinals and struggled a bit early this season, but the
Braves are confident he can go pitch-for-pitch with Kershaw.

”Some guys thrive in these situations. Some guys don’t,”
McCann said. ”He’s definitely one of those guys that the bigger
the moment, the more he thrives.”

The Braves also discount their shaky performance down the
stretch, which cost them home-field advantage throughout the NL
playoffs. Atlanta won just 13 of 27 games in September and lost the
top seed to St. Louis by a game, which certainly raised the
question of whether the team is destined for its eight straight
playoff series loss. The Braves haven’t won a postseason series
since 2001.

”We clinched the division with a week and a half to go, but we
still had home-field advantage we were fighting for,” first
baseman Freddie Freeman insisted. ”We fought all the way to the
end of the season. There was no edge taken away. We were competing
every day, every game. That’s going to help us going in.”

Atlanta shrugged off its history of playoff failures, which
dates to an unprecedented run of 14 straight division titles from
1991-2005 that resulted in only one World Series championship.

McCann is the only active holdover from the Braves’ last
division crown. He said this team isn’t dwelling on the ones that
got away.

”No one here was even part of it for those 14 years. I just
caught the tail end of it that last year,” McCann said. ”I don’t
think anybody thinks about that. Once the game starts, it’s just us
vs. them.”

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