ATLANTA The Atlanta Braves' positive momentum in the National League Division Series came to a screeching halt in Los Angeles following the franchise's most lopsided postseason loss in nine years. The Dodgers' offense stole the show in a rookie pitching matchup, winning 13-4, and now own the pivotal 2-1 series lead.
All of a sudden, a Braves team that challenged for the league's No. 1 overall seed finds its back against the wall, needing a Game 4 win to bring the series back to Atlanta in order to keep their World Series hopes alive. Here are three observations from the lopsided loss:
1. The Braves are now officially in a must-win situation
Following the team's timely Game 2 win, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez expressed that he approached that game with a must-win mindset. Well, now he has no choice, as for the seventh-consecutive postseason the Braves face elimination in their opening series.
In the past six attempts, as has been covered non-stop with this team the premier "prove it in October" example in baseball they fell short. Over that span, they've faced eight win-or-go-home games, going 2-6 in those games. Those two wins, of course, came in Game 4s during the 2003 and 2004 playoffs. History is not on their side, but Gonzalez was grasping for the positives following the team's ugly loss at Dodgers Stadium.
"It's one of those games where you forget about it," Gonzalez said. "I think if you look at the positive: In a nine-run game in the ninth inning they had to bring the closer in. And so you always think that's a good thing. We didn't roll over we'll build on that for tomorrow."
They'll need to. The Dodgers have outplayed them through three games thus far, limiting mistakes and outscoring the Braves 22-9. The Dodgers still hold the ultimate trump card with Clayton Kershaw potentially waiting in a Game 5 situation and their offense Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig are each performing up to their potential at the best-possible time is clicking on all cylinders.
Every single Dodgers position player reached base Sunday night.
"It's a club where you can't make mistakes and you can't have baserunners, because they've got some guys in the middle of the lineup that can really, really hurt you," Gonzalez said. "I think that what's hurting us right now, you walk a guy, you make a fielding error, give 'em extra outs actually is what I'm trying to say, you get put in a tough position. And they'll put a big number up, which they did in those two you take those two innings away and it's a decent ballgame."
On the flip side, the Braves offense is performing rather well, but it will need more from the likes of Brian McCann (0-for-9 with two walks in the series) or Elliot Johnson (0-for-10, one walk). Consider: While the highly-compensated Dodgers roster pays off, the three highest-paid Braves hitters are either hitless (McCann), absent (Dan Uggla) or detrimental (B.J. Upton).
McCann, who is due to become a free agent at the end of the season and could be playing his final game in a Braves uniform on Monday, was adamant that the team is comfortable with Game 4 starter Freddy Garcia ensuring a fifth game. Garcia came to Atlanta in an August trade with Baltimore and has pitched well (1.65 ERA in 27 13 innings).
The 15-year veteran has made 10 previous postseason starts with the Mariners, White Sox and Yankees, boasting a 3.28 ERA.
"We've got a lot of faith in him," said McCann, who is 0-for-9 with two walks during the postseason. "Like you said, he's been there, he's done that. He's pitched in every situation you could possibly pitch in. We know what we have to do."
2. It was not a night made for rookie pitchers
The Dodgers and Braves were two of the most rookie-reliant teams in baseball this season, featuring the likes of Ryu, Teheran, Yasiel Puig, Evan Gattis, Luis Avilan and Paco Rodriguez. One way or another, first-year MLB players were going to have a substantial effect on the outcome of this NLDS, and on Sunday night the negatives were on display from both teams' young pitchers.
The Braves jumped all over Ryu the 27-year-old Korean product who catcher A.J. Ellis called the Clayton Kershaw of Korean baseball in the first inning, grabbing an early 2-0 lead before handing the ball to 22-year-old standout Teheran. After a rocky but scoreless first frame, the Dodgers eventually hung six runs in the second and third innings and chasing Teheran from the game quicker than any other team this season. The Braves' replacement for Teheran was another 22-year-old standout, Wood, who promptly allowed four more runs in the fourth inning. By the time the offensive melee slowed to a halt as the bullpen's finally found a rhythm, the Dodgers held a sizable lead they would never relinquish.
Video: Upton: 'We've got to win a ballgame'
For Ryu, Wood and Teheran three rookies that combined to win 31 games with a 3.10 ERA and a 7.1 WAR this season totaled just eight innings allowing 14 runs on 17 hits. That's a 15.75 ERA, for those counting at home. It's certainly not the type of performance either manager expected entering the night.
"I think (Teheran) just left some balls out over the plate and made some mistakes," Gonzalez said. "And with this (Dogders) club, when you do that, you're gonna look down at the gas tank with a lighted match."
Added Dodgers manager Don Mattingly on his starting pitcher: "It seemed like he had trouble getting settled in, and tonight was just one of those nights usually with him, there's more swing and miss and there was really no swing and miss tonight. He just didn't seem to have that same finish and be able to locate. It just seemed he that was a little out of sorts tonight."
Following the trend, Avilan entered in the eighth inning to allow two more runs (officially charged to Jordan Walden) while Rodriguez continued his struggles against Jason Heyward by allowing a two-run homer in garbage time. Final rookie tally: 9 13 innings pitched, 21 hits allowed, 16 earned runs. Just an ugly night all around for the young arms.
It's a one-game sample size and not every rookie pitcher can come out like Madison Bumgarner in 2010, but it's clear that after compiling stellar rookie campaigns, Ryu, Teheran, Wood, Avilan and Rodriguez were expected to perform a little better in October.
As Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said during the game about Teheran, "It's going to be a great learning point for him going forward." Both coaching staffs will probably apply that philosophy to all five young players.
3. Hanley Ramirez tops the charts
If the Braves can somehow post back-to-back wins to make it out of this NLDS, they'll have to overcome not only baseball's premier pitcher (Kershaw) but also the most dynamic hitter of the postseason.
Plenty of stock was put into the health concerns of Detroit's Miguel Cabrera the reigning AL MVP coming off a ridiculous 2013 regular season despite battling nagging injures coming into the postseason, but it's Ramirez's good bill of health that turned the Dodgers season around and has sparked the team's 2-1 series lead. (Not to mention that the Dodgers shortstop nearly single-handedly beat the Braves in Game 2.) With a banged-up Cabrera merely playing well, as opposed to extraordinaryotherwordly, it's clear by now that that distinction should be passed to Ramirez, who is in a league all by himself through his first three postseason games.
"He's in one of those zones," Braves outfielder Justin Upton said. "You can't make a mistake, every time you make a mistake he hits it."
Overall, Ramirez is hitting .538.5711.231 with seven RBI and a Dodgers record-tying six extra-base hits. This coming off a season where, in an 86-game sample, he matched Cabrera widely recognized as the game's best hitter stride for stride, finishing with 20 home runs and a .442 weighted on-base average for a 5.1 WAR. When the entire Dodgers lineup is hitting well, they're good enough to overcome the absence of Matt Kemp. When Hanley Ramirez is providing top-of-the-line production in the No. 3 hole, Los Angeles looks like a bona fide World Series contender.
The Braves are guaranteed just one more opportunity to shut him down, which they've been unable to do thus far.
"He's locked in. He's covering both sides of the plate," McCann said. "I've played against him for a long, long time now and, you know, when he's hot he's as good as it gets."