Dodgers-Braves Preview

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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