Dodgers look to Ryu, not Kershaw, to set tone in opener
LOS ANGELES (AP) — These aren't the same Dodgers that won 104 games, ran away in the NL West, and fell one victory short of a World Series title last year.
Example A: After a slow start, they won 92 games and needed Game 163 to earn their sixth straight division title.
Example B: Clayton Kershaw won't be opening the postseason as the Game 1 starter for the first time in six consecutive playoff appearances.
Example C: Kershaw told Hyun-Jin Ryu that the South Korean left-hander was going to take the mound on Thursday night against Mike Foltynewicz and the Atlanta Braves to begin the best-of-five Division Series.
"I'm obviously kind of nervous, but I think it's a good thing," Ryu said through a translator Wednesday.
The Dodgers obviously think flip-flopping Kershaw and Ryu is the right move, with manager Dave Roberts saying it allows both pitchers to have five days' rest between starts. If Kershaw started Game 1, he would be on four days' rest, while Ryu would be on six days' rest.
Kershaw starting the opener has always been the surest sign that it's October. The face of the franchise has started eight of the past 10 postseason Game 1s. He can opt out of his contract after the World Series.
"He obviously wanted to pitch Game 1 and expected to," Roberts said. "But after talking to him and explaining our thoughts, he accepted it and he just said he'll be ready to go for the second game."
Kershaw often has started on short rest in recent postseasons, but the Dodgers don't plan on that this time. Rookie Walker Buehler is set to go in Game 3, having impressed enough to be the heir apparent to Kershaw.
"It doesn't have to all fall on his shoulders like it has in the past," starter-turned-reliever Alex Wood said of Kershaw.
Slugger Matt Kemp added, "We got a lot of guys who can get the job done."
Ryu is eager to make a mark after not pitching in the postseason since 2014, having been injured for most of the 2015 and '16 seasons. He was left off last year's playoff rosters after going 5-9 with a 3.77 ERA.
Still, Ryu has posted a better ERA (2.81) in his three career postseason games than Kershaw (4.35) in his 24 playoff games.
"Finding out that I made the postseason roster, especially not making it last year, was definitely huge for me," he said. "I'm going to go full throttle from the very first pitch in the very first inning."
Ryu was 7-3 with a 1.97 ERA in the regular season. Fellow lefty Kershaw was 9-5 with a 2.73 ERA and team-high 155 strikeouts.
Ryu had an edge over the final month of the season, posting a 1.88 ERA after overcoming a groin injury. Kershaw, also injured this season, had a 3.89 ERA in September.
"I think it's pick your poison between the two of them," Wood said.
If needed, Kershaw could still start Game 5 in Los Angeles on normal rest, so the move allows him to be available twice in the best-of-5 series.
"If we get to that point, then we'll have a discussion," Roberts said.
Like the Dodgers, the Braves aren't the same team they were a year ago.
Atlanta is back in the postseason for the first time since 2013, when they were beaten by the Dodgers in four games.
Under manager Brian Snitker, the Braves went from 72 wins in 2017 to 90 and the NL East title this year, surprising many with the quick turnaround.
"No one really followed us until the end of the season," Foltynewicz said. "Just because we started off hot, no one thought we would continue being that good and we did the whole season."
Led by so-called "Baby Braves" — 20-year-old left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and 21-year-old second baseman Ozzie Albies — Atlanta has gotten production from veterans Nick Markakis and Freddie Freeman as well.
What the Braves lack is playoff experience, especially compared to the battle-tested Dodgers.
"We got a bunch of young guys that they had never experienced September either, having to win and chasing a division," Snitker said, "and then it didn't faze them a bit."