When Joc Pederson blasted Mike Foltynewicz’s third pitch of the game for a leadoff home run, a reminder shot through the visitors’ dugout and on to Milwaukee, where the NL's other two squads are playing. The message? The National League still runs through L.A.
The Dodgers outplayed and flat-out overwhelmed the Braves in their postseason opener, posting a 6-0 win to take the series lead. Here are three thoughts on NLDS Game 1:
1. Hyun-Jin Ryu rewards Dave Roberts's faith with a gem
Hyun-Jin Ryu was locked in from the get-go in his fourth postseason start and his first time starting a series opener. With manager Dave Roberts electing to save Clayton Kershaw for Game 2, Ryu carried his regular-season brilliance into the playoffs with ease. Mixing all five of his pitches to perfection with spotless command, Ryu baffled the Braves for seven shutout frames.
Braves catcher Tyler Flowers suffered the worst of Ryu’s dominance. He struck out swinging on a looping 72 mph curveball in the second, struck out looking on an 89 mph cutter in the fourth, and whiffed on an unhittable, low-and-away 83 mph changeup in the seventh. Ryu had eight strikeouts and got at least one with all five of his pitches. On his season-high 104th pitch of the game, he blew a fastball past Ender Inciarte to earn a chorus of cheers as he walked off the mound. He had allowed just four hits–all singles. Kershaw who?
2. This Dodgers lineup is terrifying
The Dodgers managed to win comfortably despite getting no production from several of their big bats. That’s the scariest part about this lineup: It can beat you with just a few big swings. Atlanta out-hit the Dodgers 6-5, but not all hits are created equal. Pederson and Muncy took advantage of poor fastballs from Foltynewicz for homers, and Kiké Hernandez added a third long ball in the sixth. So the fact that the Nos. 4-7 hitters (Manny Machado, Yasmani Grandal, Cody Bellinger, and Yasiel Puig) went a combined 0-for-14 is merely an afterthought following a painless victory.
The Dodgers finished second in home runs behind only the Yankees (who hit the most homers of any team in any season) because of the incomparable amount of players they have who can leave the yard. It was a disappointing playoff debut for the Braves’ ace, whose season-long struggles with command haunted him; he walked two in the first and then issued a hit-by-pitch and walk with two outs to set up Muncy’s dagger.
3. This isn’t going to get any easier for the Braves, is it?
Have fun with Hyun-Jin Ryu, Atlanta? Now you've got less than 24 hours to get ready for the greatest pitcher of this century. It feels odd to think the Braves might actually be relieved to see Kershaw tomorrow. In an injury-marred year that saw him miss the All-Star game for the first time in eight years, Kershaw’s ERA, FIP, and strikeouts per nine innings were all the worst they’ve been since 2010 or earlier. His September was especially mortal, as Kershaw allowed two or more earned runs in five of six starts last month. He also gave up six home runs and struck out just 31 in those 37 innings.
Still, let’s not forget who we’re talking about here. Kershaw had an extra day of rest to prepare for this start and will surely be fired up to silence the critics who doubt his ability in October.
If Kershaw continues to resemble his September self, the Braves need to be ready to make him pay for mistakes. If they don’t find some offense quickly, their season will end this weekend. The top four hitters in Brian Snitker’s lineup had just two hits in sixteen at-bats on Thursday night. That won’t cut it against the Dodgers’ fearsome mashers. Perhaps Anibal Sanchez, the Braves’ Game 2 starter and a postseason veteran, can handle the pressure of Dodger Stadium better than Foltynewicz did. If not, the Braves will head home needing to beat red-hot rookie Walker Buehler to stay alive.