NLDS Game 1 preview: Clayton Kershaw, Hanley Ramrez present, accounted for

Lisa Blumenfeld

The Dodgers' best pitcher and best hitter make their first starts against the Braves this season on Thursday night in Atlanta.

The Dodgers get their 2013 postseason underway on Thursday night, opening the National League Division Series against the Braves at Turner Field. Clayton Kershaw starts on the mound for the Dodgers against Kris Medlen as the Dodgers try to get a leg up in the series.

In their playoff history the Dodgers have played in 12 best-of-five series (seven division series and five league championship series, the latter which were best-of-five from 1969-84), and in their last eight the winner of Game 1 has gone on to capture the series.

When the Dodgers have won Game 1 in a best-of-five series (NLCS in 1974, 1978, 1981; NLDS in 2008, 2009) they are 5-0 in the series. They have lost seven Games 1, but have come back to win two of those series (1977 NLCS, 1981 NLDS).

The Dodgers have lost five of seven games to the Braves this season, including three losses in three games in Atlanta, but two factors could tip the scales in their favor on Thursday.

Kershaw did not pitch in any of those seven games against the Braves, and Hanley Ramirez didn't start a single one either.

Kershaw you may have heard is the best pitcher in baseball, and his existence along with Zack Greinke is the biggest advantage the Dodgers have in the series. It's why manager Don Mattingly said of his team last weekend, "We don't care who we play, and we don't care where it is."

But while having Kershaw on the mound should inspire confidence - his 1.83 ERA was the lowest in the National League since Greg Maddux put up a 1.63 ERA in 1995 - the Dodgers did lose 14 of his 33 starts this year, thanks in part to scoring two or fewer runs 16 times.

That's where Ramirez comes in. He hit .345/.402/.638 in abbreviated duty this season with 20 home runs and 25 doubles in just 86 games. His 190 OPS+ is the highest for a single season (minimum 230 plate appearances) in the 130-year history of the franchise. Even if we lower the bar to 100 PA, the only seasons better than Ramirez were Manny Ramirez (221 OPS+ in 229 PA in 2008) and Rick Monday (194 OPS+ in 156 PA in 1981).

Ramirez was limited to pinch hitting duty when the Braves were in Los Angeles in June, and he was 1-for-2 with a walk in his three plate appearances.

The Dodgers were 51-26 when Ramirez started in 2013, and 41-44 when he did not. In September Ramirez was even better, hitting .370/.462/.704 with five home runs. But in dealing with an irritated nerve in his back in the season's final month Ramirez was rested much more often and hasn't started on consecutive days in three weeks, since Sept. 11-12.

As Mattingly said of Ramirez on the regular season's final day, "He'll accept all of this [resting in September] knowing this gives him the best chance to play every day [in October.]"

The Dodgers will have to contend with Kris Medlen, who was fantastic down the stretch for Atlanta for a second straight year. The Gahr High School alumnus was 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA and allowed nine total runs in his last nine games, with a 1.37 ERA, 49 strikeouts and 11 walks in 59 innings during that span. He ended his season with nine consecutive quality starts and allowed just four runs in his last six outings.

Medlen is not lacking in confidence either, responding to a question from reporters on Wednesday on the Braves missing Kershaw during the regular season with, "The way our team feels, he missed us."

The matchup in Atlanta pits the team with the best home record in baseball against the team tied for the best road mark. The Braves were 56-25 at home, matching their 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2010 teams for the most home wins in franchise history. The Dodgers were tied with the Rangers at 45-36 on the road this season, and at one point had a 15-game road winning streak.

But all that is rest starting Thursday. Both teams are 0-0 and racing to three. Let the games begin.

Game info

Time: 5:37 p.m.

TV: TBS

MLB Gameday

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