The Braves beat the Brewers in walk-off fashion 3-2 last night, and they cling to a slim lead in the NL home field race with 93 wins. It might take 97 or 98 at this rate with the Cardinals playing lights out baseball, so the Braves will need to stay sharp for the rubber game of the Brewers series tonight, and Maholm is going to be pitching this game for his potential shot at the playoff roster. Maholm at home is a different guy than road Maholm, so I think that would be taken into account when Fredi G pencils in his 4th starter.
To continue the series on possible playoff team matchups, I'm looking today at the Dodgers. The Dodgers are one of the few playoff teams that went through a horrible start at the beginning of the season before turning on the afterburners about mid-way through. It helped that Arizona absolutely fell apart down the stretch too. The Dodgers home and road splits are basically even. They really don't care where they play, because they can win anywhere with their pitching staff. Make no mistake, this Dodgers team is pitching first, hitting second.
If you looked at pitching after the all star break, nobody is better than the Dodgers. Not even the Braves who are a distant 2nd in ERA. The Dodgers have 3 of the best starters in baseball with Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Zach Grienke. If you look at their games after the break, Grienke and Kershaw have ERAs under 2.00, and Ryu is under 3.00. That's unmatched on any staff. In a 5 game series, they can be absolutely devestating, which is one of the main reasons you'd rather face them in a longer series where you have home field advantage. Otherwise, they could just sweep you out of the building in 3 games and call it a day with their shutdown starters. Even more terrifying for a Braves team that has contact problems at times, those three pitchers have struck out a combined 515 batters this season. Yikes.
However, despite the great pitching, the Dodgers aren't exactly studs at the plate. In fact, they are middle of the pack in runs scored in the NL, and the 4th lowest scoring playoff team ahead of Pittsburgh. So why are they able to pull out games? Because they have timely hitting. Their RISP hitting is 5th in the NL, and they have the 3rd highest OBP in the NL. They put guys on and they get them over and in. It's the basic philosophy of the old Braves teams. Throw your best starters out there and manufacture runs with small ball. They do that in spades, and are tied for the league lead in sacrifice flies. If they can get a runner to third with one out, he's coming home. That's how the Dodgers have been winning games.
The key to stopping them? Don't let runners get in scoring position. The Dodgers are good singles hitters, but they are average in doubles, and below average in homers. They can get hits, but they don't really punish you with a deep ball. That gives pitchers an advantage because they can fire pitches is in the zone without much fear of a moon shot. That means you can be aggressive with these guys, especially early in the inning. As a result, the Braves have pitched them that way, and they have a 5-2 record against the Dodgers with a 1.88 ERA, best in the NL. The matchup favors our pitchers against their hitting.
But the downside is that the Braves haven't faced Kershaw, and the one time they faced Grienke, they got blown apart with a 7 inning, four hit shutout. That doesn't bode well for the possible pitcher's duel you might face against these guys, because if it comes down to grinding out the one RISP hit, the Braves aren't high in that category. What they'd need is that one long bomb to take down these LA starters, and put the fear of God into them with our power bats. We'd need a guy like Gattis staring them down late in the game grinding sawdust out of the bat ready to tomahawk a fastball at the neck into left field.
And that's what I'm waiting for. 5 more days to go before the season's over. Stay healthy and keep winning.