NLDS Game 1: Dodgers blank Braves behind Hyun-jin Ryu's strong start

Tim BrownMLB columnist

LOS ANGELES – Hyun-jin Ryu, pitching in Game 1 of the National League Division Series ahead of staff ace Clayton Kershaw, on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium threw seven shutout innings and the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Atlanta Braves, 6-0.

Joc Pederson, Max Muncy and Kiké Hernández homered in support of Ryu, who allowed four singles and struck out eight in his first postseason appearance in four years. He’d endured shoulder and elbow surgeries since, and in 2018 returned to post a 1.97 ERA in 15 starts. He has allowed one run in 26 innings over his past four starts, among the reasons the Dodgers opted for him over Kershaw. Kershaw is scheduled to start Friday’s Game 2 at Dodger Stadium against Braves right-hander Aníbal Sánchez.

Hyun-jin Ryu threw seven shutout innings and the Dodgers defeated the Atlanta Braves, 5-0. (Getty Images)
Hyun-jin Ryu threw seven shutout innings and the Dodgers defeated the Atlanta Braves, 5-0. (Getty Images)
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In his fifth big-league season, right-hander and former first-rounder Mike Foltynewicz developed into the ace of the Braves, among the reasons the club won its first NL East title in five years. He was, however, vulnerable in his first postseason start.

His fourth pitch was a two-strike fastball – frisky at 98 mph – that Dodgers leadoff hitter Joc Pederson hit into the bleachers. The Dodgers loaded the bases in the first, scored only the one run, then started in on Foltynewicz again in the second. After two were out, Foltynewicz again put Pederson into two-strike peril, only to hit Pederson with a slider. He walked Justin Turner and Max Muncy hit a middle-away fastball into the right-field bleachers. The Dodgers led, 4-0.

Muncy was released by the Oakland A’s two springs ago. Granted his first semi-regular, major league playing time in 2018, Muncy hit 35 home runs for the Dodgers, including four in September and another in Monday’s Game 163 win against the Colorado Rockies.

The oddity of NLDS Game 1 at Dodger Stadium was Kershaw’s whereabouts. He stood on the third-base foul line, between rookie Walker Buehler and David Freese, and they all faced the flag during the national anthem. Some 300 feet away, the left-handed Ryu warmed in the bullpen. In 2013, Ryu became the first South Korean pitcher to start a major league postseason game, and it was against the Braves. Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young Award winner who a season ago had fallen all the way to second in that vote, could have started against the Braves on regular rest. The Dodgers opted for Ryu, who out-pitched Kershaw down the stretch.

More than that, Dodgers president Andrew Friedman, general manager Farhan Zaidi and manager Dave Roberts, along with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, came to the conclusion Kershaw on five days’ rest (for Game 2) and Ryu on five days’ rest (for Game 1) was more beneficial than Kershaw (Game 1) on four and Ryu on six (Game 2). Also, there was the fact Kershaw had a 3.89 ERA in September, while Ryu’s ERA was 1.50. Five days before, Kershaw had his hands full with an undermanned San Francisco Giants lineup. Regardless, if this division series were to go five games, Kershaw and Ryu would be available for the final game, and then there’d be another decision to make.

The choice to remove Kershaw from his well-earned and ceremonial front position in a playoff series seemed potentially ominous, given Kershaw is weeks from choosing whether he’ll leave Los Angeles or not. He received the news in a conference call from Roberts and Honeycutt.

“I wouldn’t really consider it a gut punch,” Kershaw said. “I don’t really think of it like that. I think I get to pitch in another playoff series for the sixth year in a row. I’m looking forward to it.”

Asked if he agreed in the moment with the news, Kershaw grinned and said, “It wasn’t really an agree or disagree-type thing, I guess. They had their reasons and I accepted them.”

The Atlanta Braves had no answer for Max Muncy and the rest of the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS. (Getty Images)
The Atlanta Braves had no answer for Max Muncy and the rest of the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS. (Getty Images)

The idea that the Braves would be underdogs in their first postgame series since 2013, when the Dodgers knocked them out in four games, seemed a reasonable conclusion. The folks who scientifically project these things (with equations and stuff) in March had the Braves with 76 wins, so four more than the season before and eight more than the season before that. Six months later, the Braves had won 90 games, which was way more than 76, and still the fewest wins among postseason qualifiers for either league.

The Braves opened the playoffs on the road (they had a better record there than at SunTrust Park, as it turns out), and neither hit nor pitched with the Dodgers in the regular season, though the final difference was two wins, half of those coming for the Dodgers in Game 163.

It is amusing that folks will hunt for the favorite and the underdog in these series, and then that those actually participating in the series will endeavor to dispute or align with those findings, except this passes for constructive activity in the down hours between games.

Leaving poor Freddie Freeman to sort it out.

“We all hear it,” Freeman said gamely. “We kind of just treat it as noise. Everybody keeps saying we’re the underdogs now, even in this series. I feel like it’s the same people that picked us to be fourth in the division as well. So, obviously, they weren’t right about that. So we don’t believe anything they really say. You gotta play the game of baseball.”

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