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Braves match up extremely well against Dodgers

Atlanta is strong in several areas where many might give the Dodgers an advantage, making for a National League division series that likely will be hard-fought starting Friday.

October 02, 2013|By Bill Shaikin
  • If the Dodgers are getting a look at Braves closer Craig Kimbrel taking signs, Atlanta not only has the lead but is unlikely to give it up. Kimbrel converted 50 of 54 save opportunities and has a 1.21 earned-run average this season.
If the Dodgers are getting a look at Braves closer Craig Kimbrel taking signs,… (Erik S. Lesser / EPA )

Greg Maddux most likely will be elected to the Hall of Fame this fall, with the chance to become the first player selected by unanimous vote. If that's the case, his plaque will show him wearing the cap of the Atlanta Braves.

This bit of trivia will not be on that plaque: Maddux ended his career with the Dodgers, as a middle reliever that helped clean up Chad Billingsley's mess in Game 5 of the 2008 National League Championship Series.

This year's Dodgers open the playoffs Thursday in Atlanta, where Maddux is revered as one of three aces that led the Braves in an era of dominance. With Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz leading the way, the Braves won 14 consecutive division titles, five league championships and the 1995 World Series.

QUIZ: Postseason Dodgers -- what do you know?

The fans are fidgety in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers have not advanced to the World Series since 1988. But the fans are antsy in Atlanta too, where the Braves have not won a postseason series since 2001.

Some questions and answers about the Braves:

Question: Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz are retired. The Dodgers have the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw. Advantage Dodgers, right?

Answer: Not so fast. The Braves have the hottest pitcher in baseball, Kris Medlen, who was 4-0 with a 1.00 earned-run average in September. Medlen has given up one run in his last 22 innings and has not given up a home run in his last 43.

Q: The Dodgers' bullpen has been terrific since Kenley Jansen replaced Brandon League as closer. Advantage Dodgers, right?

A: Not so fast there, either. The Braves have baseball's best closer, Craig Kimbrel, who posted a 1.21 ERA, the lowest in the league for any pitcher with at least 60 innings. Kimbrel converted 50 of 54 save opportunities, holding opponents to a .166 batting average and striking out 98 batters in 67 innings.

The Braves also have two setup men with an ERA under 2.00, left-hander Luis Avilan and right-hander David Carpenter. The Braves' bullpen ERA is a league-leading 2.46, the lowest for a major league relief corps since Eric Gagne's 2003 Dodgers.

Q: The Braves are batting .249. They don't run much. They strike out more than any team in the league. So how did they score more runs than the Dodgers?

A: They led the league in home runs, and they ranked second in walks. No one on the Braves hit 30 home runs, but five — first baseman Freddie Freeman, catcher-outfielder Evan Gattis, catcher Brian McCann, outfielder Justin Upton and second baseman Dan Uggla — each hit at least 20. The Braves will hit home runs, but the Dodgers need to minimize the walks to make sure the home runs are solo shots.

Q: If Uggla hit 22 home runs and Elliot Johnson hit none, why are the Braves planning to start Johnson at second base instead of Uggla?

A: Uggla was batting .186 through Aug. 12, when he left the team to undergo Lasik eye surgery. Upon his return, he batted .133.

The Braves did not just put him on the bench. They left him off their playoff roster.

Q: How did the Upton brothers reunion work out?

A: The Braves filled two-thirds of their outfield with family last off-season, trading for Justin from the Arizona Diamondbacks and signing free-agent B.J. to the richest contract in team history, five years for $75 million.

Justin, the first pick in a 2005 draft that included Andrew McCutchen, Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Braun, hit .263 with 27 home runs. B.J., the second pick in a 2002 draft that included Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder and Cole Hamels, hit .184 with nine home runs and a .557 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), the lowest of any major league outfielder with at least 400 plate appearances.

Q: Uggla and B.J. Upton are the two highest-paid Braves players, each at about $13 million this season. Is it embarrassing for the Braves to leave Uggla off the roster and put Upton on the bench?

A: Not if they win. In 2010, when pitcher Barry Zito and outfielder Aaron Rowand were the San Francisco Giants' highest-paid players, the Giants left Zito off the playoff roster and put Rowand on the bench. The Giants won the World Series.

Q: Who throws the hardest among the Braves?

A: It might be shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who hit 98 mph as a college reliever. The Braves drafted him as a shortstop, though many teams preferred him as a pitcher, and he has emerged as perhaps the best defensive player in baseball.

Q: Freeman beat out Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig in the fan vote that determined the final spot on the NL All-Star team. How have the players fared since the All-Star break?

Freeman hit .335 with 14 home runs and a .952 OPS. Puig hit .273 with 11 home runs and an .855 OPS. In September, Freeman hit .380 and Puig hit .214.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillShaikin

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