COMMENTARY | Behind 45,000 strong tomahawk-chopping, war-chanting fanatics, the Atlanta Braves won the first inning after Kris Medlen struck out the side in order to start the game. Unfortunately, from that point on, Game 1 belonged solely to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In a disappointing outing for the Braves' right-hander, Medlen lasted only four innings and gave up five earned runs, including a two-run home run to Adrian Gonzalez in the third inning. Medlen came into Game 1 having gone 5-0 with a 0.84 ERA in his final six starts of the season, but he was unable to roll over his regular-season success into the postseason for the second straight year. Medlen took the loss in the Braves' wild-card meeting with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012.
Conversely, Clayton Kershaw was every ounce the Cy Young candidate the Dodgers hoped for as he struck out 12, allowing only three hits and one run in seven innings of work.
With this loss, the Braves have given away home-field advantage in the best-of-five format. If they have any chance of making this a competitive series, there are five things they must do in Game 2:
Do the Little Things Right
With runners on the corners and no outs in the second inning, Skip Schumaker hit a text-book sacrifice fly to center field. Jason Heyward elected to bust on the manhood ruler and try to gun down the speedy Yasiel Puig at the plate rather than making the smart throw to second to hold the runner at first. A.J. Ellis came up next and hit a fly ball to right field that squirted away from Gattis, and the runner on second was able to walk home.
Had Heyward kept the runner at first, he would have been stranded at third and only one run would have scored. In the end, the one run did not factor into the lopsided affair, but those little add-on gift runs can become the difference between winning and losing a game later in the series.
Elliot Johnson also got into the act in the third inning when he allowed Carl Crawford to reach on a bouncing ball to second base. The play didn't go down as an error, but it easily could have. With Crawford's undeserved spot on base, Gonzalez's would-be solo home run turned into a gift two-run jack.
Two Outs … Get Off the Field!
While the 6-1 outcome will make this game look like a runaway for the Dodgers, the Braves should have made it a much closer contest.
The Dodgers scored four of their six runs after Atlanta had already recorded the second out of the inning. The Braves' inability to limit the damage and end innings strong is what inevitably cost them. Mike Minor will take the rawhide in Game 2, but he will have to reverse an alarming regular-season trend if the Braves are going to change their fate with two outs.
With runners in scoring position and two outs in the inning, Minor allowed a .333 average to opposing hitters.
Hitting With Runners in Scoring Position
Kershaw didn't give Atlanta many opportunities to score, but the Braves did have some. Andrelton Simmons made it to second base after a walk and a wild pitch to lead off the third inning. Simmons was then left helpless as a man on a very small island thanks to a groundout by Elliot Johnson, followed by back-to-back strikeouts from Medlen and Heyward to end the inning.
In the fourth frame, Brian McCann failed to bring Freeman home but Chris Johnson did deliver a two-out RBI single to plate Atlanta's only run of the game. Overall, the Braves ended Game 1 going 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Strikeouts, Strikeouts and More Strikeouts
Although some of the Ks Kershaw accumulated can be attributed to very favorable calls the Dodgers' ace got on check swings, he rung up 12 Atlanta hitters in total, including shutting the door on a string of six straight batters between the fourth and six innings. Atlanta hitters struck out 15 times in total on the game.
Atlanta led the National League in strikeouts this season after getting 1,384 sayonara-signals from the men in blue. This season marks the third consecutive year in which the Braves broke their own franchise's record for punchouts in a season (1,384).
The Braves got away with all of the swings and misses because they also led the National League in home runs (181). But when the balls are not leaving the yard, the strikeouts become that much more glaring.
Get the Bats Going Against Greinke
The Braves must find a way to tie up the series against Zack Greinke in Game 2. The Dodgers' No. 2 starter was 15-4 with a 2.63 ERA in 28 regular-season starts.
In his one appearance against the Braves in 2013, Greinke gave up zero runs and only four hits in seven innings of work. However, the Braves have gotten the better of Greinke over his career. In his first two career appearances against Atlanta, Greinke gave up seven earned runs in 11 innings.
The Atlanta hitters currently on the playoff roster are a combined 4-for-16 against Greinke lifetime.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Braves for over 20 years. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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