Braves welcome Dodgers to site of May sweep for NLDS
NL East winners took three from LA before Mattingly's club launched summer surge
ATLANTA -- When the Dodgers were swept out of Atlanta on May 19, there was speculation they could be just a few days away from firing manager Don Mattingly. A little more than four months later, Mattingly and his club will return to Turner Field with legitimate World Series aspirations.
Once they concluded the regular season with a convincing win against the Phillies on Sunday, the Braves began looking forward to their matchup against the Dodgers in the National League Division Series. Kris Medlen will likely oppose Clayton Kershaw in Game 1, which will be played Thursday at Turner Field.
"I haven't necessarily gone over [their lineup] in depth yet," Medlen said. "All I know is I've faced them twice and I've had some pretty good success. They're a good team obviously. They're in the playoffs. Regular season is out the window and you just focus on that one day."
Over the past few weeks, the Braves were striving to maintain the National League's top record with the hope of gaining home-field advantage leading up to the World Series. Along with creating the opportunity to play a majority of their games at home, this would have also allowed them to face the winner of the Wild Card Game in the NLDS.
But the Cardinals gained the NL's top record on Saturday, then preserved it when they swept the Cubs on Sunday.
So instead of playing either the Reds or Pirates, who will use their top starters Tuesday night, the Braves will now enter this best-of-five series knowing that their offense will be greatly challenged by Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who will likely serve as Los Angeles' starting pitchers in the first three games.
"You've got to compete with them," Braves backup catcher Gerald Laird said. "Why not get it done in the short series? We'll try to win two here and then try to win just one more. We know it's going to be a tough task, but we've got some young guys who like to compete."
The Braves, who will host the first two games of this series and Game 5 if necessary, are expected to send Mike Minor to the mound for Game 2 on Friday, then start Julio Teheran in Game 3. If a fourth game is needed, Atlanta could send either Paul Maholm or Freddy Garcia to the mound to oppose Ricky Nolasco.
As he bids to compete in the World Series for a third consecutive season, Laird has gained a good understanding that it is never wise to make assumptions in the postseason. On the way to winning a World Series title in 2011, he and his Cardinals teammates were not supposed to escape the NLDS against Philadelphia's imposing pitching staff.
"At the end of the day, you've got to win ballgames," Braves outfielder Justin Upton said. "That is what the playoffs are all about. Everybody is 0-0. They have to win as many games as you do. That's just the way it is. No matter who it is, we have to beat the team that is in front of us."
After beating up on the Dodgers bullpen in three comeback wins that completed the three-game sweep in May, the Braves traveled to Los Angeles two weeks later and split a four-game series that was played the same week that Yasiel Puig made his memorable Major League debut.
The Dodgers became widely recognized as the NL's most dangerous team as they battled from the bottom to the top of the NL West by winning 60 of the first 83 games they played after Puig arrived. But they did not look nearly as imposing while dropping 15 of their final 24 regular season games.
Likewise, the Braves gained a comfortable lead in the NL East race by winning 20 of 24 games played from July 26 to Aug. 21, the day Jason Heyward fractured his jaw. But they stumbled down the stretch, losing 13 of their final 24 games.
With Heyward back in Atlanta's lineup and the Dodgers no longer cruising toward a division title, these two teams will enter October without any concern about what transpired in September.
"We've got a game to play and we're going to look to win it," Braves infielder Elliot Johnson said. "It doesn't matter who is in the other dugout. It doesn't matter where it is. You've still got to win. It's the playoffs."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.