National League Division Series Game 1: Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta Braves - 8:37 p.m. (TBS)
ATLANTA - History is favorable to the Braves against the Dodgers in the NLDS. But history doesn't apply when facing a Cy Young winner.
The Braves will face off against Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw in Game 1. It's a tough task to do battle with a pitcher who has a 1.83 ERA, a 2.39 FIP and a 25.6 strikeout percentage in 236 innings. He has been downright filthy for five consecutive seasons and has emerged as arguably the best in the game at 25 years old.
The Braves have history on their side, for whatever that's worth. The two teams last met in the playoffs in the 1996 NLDS when Atlanta swept the series 3-0. The Braves won the 2013 season series over the Dodgers 5-2. They own the all-time record between the two at Turner Field 37-25.
But, again, that means little when stepping into the box against Kershaw. The key to beating him? It could be getting to his fastball.
Kershaw is throwing the fastball less and less each season, down to a career-low 60 percent this year. In turn, he's throwing more breaking balls, including one of the best sliders you'll see at 24 percent of the time. He throws a curveball 12 percent of the time, and you might see a few changeups before the end of the night.
Kershaw's fastball might be the pitch to look for. He's allowing the most line drives per balls in play on the pitch in his career at 25 percent. To compare, the slider's line drive rate is 18 percent. Also, despite the pitch's velocity holding strong at an average of 93 this season, Kershaw's fastball is getting the fewest swinging strikes per swing in his career at 15 percent. To compare, the slider's is 41 percent.
The best place to look for his fastball and drive it? Up and away to right-handed batters, inside to lefties. Kershaw likes to pound the zone on his glove side, and he does so with regularity. When he misses to his arm side, his fastball has been hit harder.
Perhaps the biggest thing is the ability to lay off the slider. He'll throw it away from lefties, on the shoe tops of righties, and it has excellent two-plane movement and bite. The Braves will probably rack up their share of swinging strikes on the pitch, especially the left-handed batters, but laying off and taking advantage of the few mistakes is necessary.
For Braves starter Kris Medlen, he needs to avoid falling victim to the aggressive approaches of Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig and Juan Uribe. All three swing early and often, and Medlen can't afford to throw get-me-over pitches early in the count. Medlen will have to utilize his changeup with tons of confidence and command.
For Puig and Ramirez, they have the ability to go the other way with authority. The rest of the Dodgers lineup tends to stay pull side for its power. Pitching away from both is important.
Jason Heyward, CF
Justin Upton, RF
Freddie Freeman, 1B
Evan Gattis, LF
Brian McCann, C
Chris Johnson, 3B
Andrelton Simmons, SS
Elliot Johnson, 2B
Kris Medlen, P
Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Skip Schumaker, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P
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