The Major League Baseball playoffs kick off for real on Thursday with the Division Series. Up first is the National League and the first two teams to take the field are the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves. Both teams won their Divisions (respectively the NL West and NL East) in the regular season and are now matching up for what could very well be a spectacular series.
Does money buy championships?
For years the New York Yankees were known as the league’s biggest spenders. In recent years, ever since the Dodgers were taken over by a new group of owners among which basketball legend Magic Johnson, the Dodgers have taken over this image. But does money buy you championships? That’s a question the Dodgers will try to answer in a positive way this October. Their first hurdle will be an Atlanta Braves team that returns to the Division Series, after failing to reach it last year due to a painful Wild Card Game loss.
LA had been the hottest team in baseball for over two months before they cooled off a bit in September. In the season series, the Braves actually beat up on the Dodgers though (5-2). However, both series between the two division winners took place before the Dodgers got hot. So if you’re betting on this series, forget how they played each other in the regular season.
Both teams will be missing one of their most important players. Atlanta has been without their most experienced starting pitcher ever since he broke his ankle on a freak play covering first base, while the Dodgers have played the largest part of the season without their superstar center fielder Matt Kemp. Neither player will be available for the rest of the season. A serious blow, especially for the Braves, who could have used him as an anchor for the starting rotation.
Rookie phenom Yasiel Puig, shortstop Hanley Ramirez and outfielder Andre Ethier have all been dealing with injuries on the Dodgers’ side, but they seem to be ready to play. This means both teams have very potent lineups. In fact these are two of the best offensive teams in the league. The pitching is what gives the Dodgers the edge in this series. This winter they added former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke and Korean star Hyun-Jin Ryu to a rotation already boasting reigning Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw is key
The Dodgers are listed as favorites for this series (-155) and a lot of that has to do with their ace Clayton Kershaw. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner and main candidate for this year’s award will start Game 1 and has been as dominant as ever this season. The southpaw went 16-9 and led the league in ERA (1.83) and strikeouts (232). He did not face the Braves, underdog in this series to the line of +135, this season.
If the Braves want to win the series they will have to beat Kershaw at least once, since he will be back to pitch Game 5, if necessary.
The pitching matchups for the series look like this:
Game 1, Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles:
Clayton Kershaw (16-9, 1.89) vs. Kris Medlen (15-12, 3.11)
Even though Medlen is a very good pitcher, you can’t really bet against Kershaw and the bookies agree. The Dodgers are listed at -149 for this game compared to the Braves’ +135.
Game 2, Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles:
Zack Greinke (15-3, 2.67) vs. Mike Minor (13-9, 3.21)
This matchup is a little closer and might offer the Braves a better chance for a win, but Greinke will be tough to beat. Again, the Dodgers are favorites to win this one.
Game 3, Turner Field, Atlanta:
Julio Teheran (14-8, 3.20) vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-8, 3.00)
Expect this one to be a real close battle. Ryu and Teheran have almost identical stats and by now the lineups should be happy to not be facing the aces of the staff. If both starters are knocked out early, both teams have very deep and capable bullpens. This might be Atlanta’s biggest chance at a win.
Game 4, Turner Field, Atlanta: (if necessary)
Paul Maholm (10-11, 4.41 ERA) vs. Ricky Nolasco (13-11, 3.60 ERA)
This matchup shows you just how deep the Dodger starting rotation is. Nolasco has had a good season and gives LA the edge in this game against below average starter Paul Maholm. Sidenote: the Braves could also choose to start Freddy Garcia, but that would have almost no impact on the betting line as the Dodgers remain heavy favorites.
Game 5, Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles: (if necessary)
Clayton Kershaw (16-9, 1.89) vs. Kris Medlen (15-12, 3.11)
If it comes to this the Braves will have to face Kershaw again. I don’t want to keep repeating myself, but I really don’t think you should bet against this guy. He has been the best pitcher in the league for years now and even though in sports anything can happen, this would be a near impossible task for the Braves.
I expect the Dodgers to ease through these series and win 3-1 or maybe even sweep the Braves. The Braves are a good team, but the Dodgers might be a great team. Now is the time for them to prove they are. Right now we have to view them as the best candidate in the National League to win the pennant and reach the World Series.
Seb Visser is a former Dutch Major League Baseball player turned baseball writer. He tries to use the insights he gained in his playing days to increase the quality of his articles and help bettors better understand the game of baseball and increase their chance to win their bets.
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