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October 3, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game One Preview: Dodgers vs. Braves

by Mike Gianella

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The Braves and Dodgers both cruised to division titles in the NL East and NL West, respectively, and will square off in this year’s National League Division Series. Here is a look at the PECOTA odds and projected lineups for Game One.

Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw) at Braves (Kris Medlen) 8:37 p.m. ET
PECOTA odds of winning: Dodgers 59.1%, Braves 40.9%

Projected Starting Lineups:

Dodgers vs. Medlen (R)

Braves vs. Kershaw (L)

Yasiel Puig (R) RF

Jason Heyward (L) CF

Carl Crawford (L) LF

Justin Upton (R) RF

Hanley Ramirez (R) SS

Freddie Freeman (L) 1B

Adrian Gonzalez (L) 1B

Evan Gattis (R) LF

Juan Uribe (R) 3B

Brian McCann (L) C

A.J. Ellis (R) C

Chris Johnson (R) 3B

Mark Ellis (R) 2B

Andrelton Simmons (R) SS

Skip Schumaker (L) CF

Elliot Johnson (S) 2B

Clayton Kershaw (L) P

Kris Medlen (S) P

The Dodgers have been battling injuries all season long, so it should come as no surprise that they’re shorthanded coming into the playoffs. Matt Kemp has been ruled out for the entire postseason and Andre Ethier’s best-case scenario for the NLDS is as a pinch-hitter. What the Dodgers might lack in balance they make up for in firepower at the top of the order. Puig and Ramirez both excelled when they were on the field and look to carry their success forward.

While the Braves didn’t have any superstar caliber performances, their lineup provides balance from top to bottom. The first six hitters in the line-up slugged .427 or higher during the regular season and with the possible exception of Johnson there isn’t an easy out in the lineup. The Braves’ decision to go with Gattis in left field over B.J. Upton sacrifices some defense but is a definitive offensive upgrade.

With all due respect to Kris Medlen, the Dodgers have an extreme pitching advantage in Game One. Some mainstream media wags might lazily point to Kershaw’s 5.87 postseason career ERA or talk about how he has “never done it in a big game”, but no serious analyst would posit this theory. Kershaw is the best pitcher in the postseason, and quite possibly the best pitcher in baseball right now.

The Braves best hope is against Kershaw is trying to work him deep into the count and make it a bullpen game. The Dodgers were 12-2 in games where Kershaw went 7 1/3 innings or longer and only 7-12 in games where he went seven innings or less. As a team, the Braves do walk a lot; their walk rate was sixth in the Majors in 2013. Kershaw doesn’t walk many batters, but the idea isn’t so much to draw the walks but to work up the pitch count and get him out of there after six innings.

One flaw behind this concept is that it’s unlikely that the Dodgers will be trotting out Carlos Marmol and Brandon League in the postseason. The Dodgers bullpen posted a 4.03 ERA in the first half of the year and a 2.76 ERA in the second half. Brian Wilson was a key part of this turnaround, but internal options like Paco Rodriguez, Chris Withrow, and J.P. Howell have contributed as well.

On the other side, Medlen draws the unenviable assignment against the Dodgers ace. If you believe in this sort of thing, Medlen is riding a hot hand, with a 1.37 ERA in his last nine games (eight starts) of the regular season. The caveat here is that Medlen did this against a soft schedule down the stretch; with the exception of a tough start in St. Louis and a home start against the Indians, Medlen faced the Phillies (twice), Mets, Marlins, Padres, and Cubs.

Medlen did dominate the Dodgers in both of his appearances against them this year, not allowing an earned run in 13 2/3 innings in two starts. Only one of these games featured Puig, while Ramirez only pinch-hit in Medlen’s second start against the Dodgers. Los Angeles should have both hitters in the line-up tonight.

It seems that the vast majority of prognosticators see the Dodgers as an overwhelming series favorite over the Braves. A significant amount of this advantage is Kershaw, and this is also why PECOTA is so bullish on the Dodgers chances in Game One. Anything can happen in one game, and this is particularly true in the postseason, but PECOTA’s long odds for the Braves are a fairly realistic barometer of the mountain they will have to climb in the opener.

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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