COMMENTARY | The Atlanta Braves square off against the Los Angeles Dodgers for a best-of-five National League Division Series matchup, starting Thursday, October 3 in Atlanta.
Here's a look at 10 stories to keep an eye on:
Can Braves crack Dodgers' aces?
The potent Atlanta offense will get an immediate trial by fire in facing two of the toughest pitchers in the National League. If they can't break through against either Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke, it will be a short-lived postseason.
The Braves were the best team in baseball playing at Turner Field, going 56-25 at home. They need to keep up the good vibes starting Thursday.
Feast or famine offense
The 2013 Braves' offense was defined by a huge number of strikeouts and a huge number of home runs. Fans have to hope either for a huge power display or a more balanced attack.
The importance of Justin Upton
The 2013 season began with expectations that Upton would be the centerpiece of an explosive offense. And as Upton cooled off, so too did the Braves' overall production. If he can emerge again as a centerpiece rather than a supporting piece to Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann, the Braves have a chance.
A healthy Jason HeywardHeyward is back at full health, and the Braves need him. If he can come back as the leadoff man and perform how he did before his broken jaw, that's going to be big for the Braves.
Bench roles for B.J. and Schafer
B.J. Upton and Jordan Schafer are going to be coming off of the bench for the postseason if everything goes according to plan. Both are still speed and defensive assets, so they're ability to stay fresh is important.
Evan Gattis the starting outfielderGattis has been getting regular starts in left field as a way to get his bat in the lineup. At times it has looked like, well, a bear trying to play outfield. Gattis' ability to survive defensively in left field could be a big story.
Fatigue in the starting rotationThe outstanding performance of Atlanta's young starting pitchers might have to confront their lack of experience. Without continued performance by starting pitchers, the Braves have no shot at winning this series.
Atlanta's closer has put up another dominant season, and at times seems untouchable. Any stumble by Kimbrel would greatly reduce one of the Braves' primary weapons.
The rest of the 'pen
Besides Kimbrel, the rest of the Atlanta relievers have shown some recent shakiness. The shift to the postseason allows for some movement, and I think Alex Wood and Paul Maholm could play a big role in shortening games.
Patrick Richardson is a longtime follower of the Atlanta Braves who started playing t-ball right as Atlanta's record-setting run of division titles began. He is an amateur but enthusiastic sabermetrician.
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