The Braves face their stiffest competition to date in this their first meeting with the Los Angeles
Puigs Dodgers out west. A sweep of the division rival Giants put LA atop the NL West as Atlanta will look to exact some revenge for their loss in the Division Series last year.
The idea of facing Clayton Kershaw is enough to make an opposing fan excited and nervous at the same time. Kershaw is arguably the best pitcher in either league right now: he has four complete games, one no-hitter (it should have been a perfect game...HANLEY), and leads the Majors with a 1.76 ERA. He's a big reason the Dodgers starting rotation has the lowest ERA in the NL at 3.15. Kershaw opposes Julio Teheran in the series finale on Thursday, and we saw how Julio struggled pitching in San Francisco. That may not be the case this time because with both Kershaw and Teheran throwing their A+ stuff, it could turn out to be a real treat.
Greinke and Beckett are no pushovers, either. Greinke, like Kershaw, was an All-Star this year, but the Dodgers have won just four of his last 10 starts despite a 3.31 ERA in that stretch. Josh Beckett has been bothered by a sore hip lately, and served up three home runs in 3.2 innings in his most recent start. Beckett had an outstanding June with a 1.09 ERA in five starts, but has allowed nine runs in 13.2 innings in July.
The Dodgers relief corps doesn't exactly instill fear into opposing hitters, as it possesses the third highest relief ERA in the NL; much of that has to do with Brian Wilson and Chris Perez. Neither has pitched well while J.P. Howell has proved to be a reliable bridge to Kenley Jansen. Howell last walked a hitter on June 25, 10 appearances ago covering a span of 7.2 innings while allowing only two hits.
Much of LA's success on offense can be attributed to a rejuvenated Dee Gordon. He didn't do much of anything in 38 games last year, but has sparked an offense that is (a distant) second in the NL with 46 steals. Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez have done the bulk of the RBI-ing, with Gonzalez leading the team in both RBI and home runs.
One guy not doing so much is Matt Kemp. He famously proclaimed he could be a 50/50 guy, but his career has taken a left turn since 2011 with numerous injuries and is the subject of possible trades here just days before the non-waiver deadline. He's been hitting well recently, but it may be too little, too late for Kemp in LA.
Strangely, for a team in first place, the Dodgers are only a game over .500 at home. This will be their first home series since the Break.
Tuesday, July 29, 10:10 p.m. ET
Aaron Harang (ATL)
Last 3 starts, 1-0, 20 IP, 16 hits, 3 ER, 9 BB, 11 K
Josh Beckett (LAD)
Last 3 starts: 1-1, 13.2 IP, 15 hits, 9 ER, 4 HR, 11 K
Wednesday, July 30, 10:10 p.m. ET
Alex Wood (ATL)
Last 3 starts: 1-1, 16.1 IP, 20 hits, 9 ER, 4 BB, 18 K
Zack Greinke (LAD)
Last 3 starts: 1-2, 19.2 IP, 17 hits, 7 ER, 6 BB, 21 K
Thursday, July 31, 10:10 p.m. ET
Julio Teheran (ATL)
Last 3 starts: 2-0, 20 IP, 20 hits, 8 ER, 3 BB, 22 K
Clayton Kershaw (LAD)
Last 3 starts: 2-0, 25 IP, 12 hits, 4 ER, 3 BB, 26 K
This preview wouldn't be complete without Dee Gordon's shocked o-face.