Braves left with few options; Dodgers sitting pretty
Garcia is Atlanta's only real starting choice, while LA can try Kershaw
LOS ANGELES -- OK, so it wasn't a win-or-go-home moment in the National League Division Series between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday night.
It, however, is hard to underplay the significance of the 13-6 victory the Dodgers pounded out at Dodger Stadium, putting them up two games to one in the best-of-five series and leaving the Braves facing a mission improbable.
The Braves are set with Freddy Garcia, who was released by San Diego during the spring and spent the first three months of the regular season with Baltimore's Triple-A affiliate, to start in what is a win-or-go-home-for-the-winter Game 4 for them Monday (9:30 p.m. ET, TBS).
There aren't a lot of options for manager Fredi Gonzalez. His only starter in waiting on the postseason pitching staff is lefty Alex Wood, and to try to keep Sunday's game close enough for the Braves to rally, Gonzalez was forced to bring in Wood with two out in the third inning and then watched him charged with four unearned runs thanks to his own mishandling of Carl Crawford's leadoff bunt in a fourth inning that Juan Uribe capped off with a two-run home run.
And if that's not challenge enough for the Braves, the possibility looms that they might have to win back-to-back games started by Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, arguably the best 1-2 rotation combination in baseball right now, if they want to advance to the NL Championship Series next weekend against the winner of the Pittsburgh-St. Louis NLDS.
The Dodgers have listed Ricky Nolasco as the probable starter for Game 4 on Monday night at Dodger Stadium, but this isn't the Ricky Nolasco who went 8-1 in his first 12 starts after being acquired from Miami. This is the Ricky Nolasco who was 0-2 in his last three starts and allowed 17 earned runs in 12 innings.
Do the Dodgers want to take a shot and see if extended rest cures what has ailed Nolasco? Nolasco has pitched only a token inning in relief in Game 162 on Sept. 29 since his last start Sept. 25.
Or does manager Don Mattingly decide to go for the early end and bring Kershaw back on three days of rest for the first time in his professional career, knowing that if he wins Game 4 then he would be able to start Greinke and Kershaw in the first two games of the NLCS?
And he knows if the Dodgers did lose Monday night, he'd have a well-rested Greinke ready to go in a win-or-go-home Game 5 at Atlanta on Wednesday.
The odds are certainly in the Dodgers' favor. Twenty-six times during the course of the regular season, Greinke and Kershaw started back-to-back games. Only once did the Dodgers lose a set of those back-to-back games -- Sept. 7-8 at Cincinnati in the midst of the Reds sweeping three games.
The Braves, meanwhile, will be crossing their fingers for the 37-year-old Garcia, who went 3-5 with a 5.77 ERA in 11 games (10 starts) with the Orioles before being sold in late August to the Braves, for whom he was 1-2 with a 1.65 ERA in six September appearances (three starts).
Not a glowing resume, but it's what the Braves have. With Wood getting the call in relief of Julio Teheran in Sunday's game, the only alternative to Garcia would be to bring back Kris Medlen on three days of rest, and Medlen had trouble enough on ample rest in Game 1. The Dodgers scored five runs on nine hits in four-plus innings of a 6-1 victory.
"Yeah, it's Garcia," Gonzalez said when asked if he was sticking to his original rotation plans for Monday. "Yeah, it's Garcia."
And no, it's not a good place to be, but the Braves didn't show much urgency to try to find a way to slap down the Dodgers on Sunday night. Mattingly mixed and matched his way through six pitchers and called on closer Kenley Jansen to get the game's final out.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, did yank starter Teheran after only eight outs, but not before he blew a 2-0 lead by giving up four runs in the second and followed up the Braves' rally to tie the score at 4 in the top of the third by giving up two more runs in the bottom of the third before Gonzalez had seen enough.
"It's just one of those games and you forget about it," said Gonzalez. "If you look at the position, a nine-run game in the ninth inning, and they had to bring the closer in, we didn't roll over. We went out there and scored some runs and they had to bring in Jansen. We'll build on that."
That is, the Braves will build on it if they get a chance.
Mattingly isn't looking to do them any favors.
So does that mean Nolasco starts? He did face the Braves once this year, allowing two runs in seven innings, but he is 6-10 with a career 5.11 ERA against Atlanta, and he certainly wasn't a hot hand in the final two weeks of the regular season.
Or does that mean Mattingly rolls the dice with Kershaw, knowing that if Kershaw does win, he would be able to go with a well-rested Greinke in Game 1 of the NLCS and bring Kershaw back with five days of rest for Game 2? Kershaw did, after all, allow only three hits and one run, striking out 12, in the Dodgers' Game 1 victory at Atlanta.
And if Kershaw were to slip up in his first attempt ever to pitch on short rest, Mattingly knows he'd have a well-rested Greinke ready to take the mound in a winner-take-all showdown Wednesday at Turner Field, where Greinke allowed two runs on four hits in six innings of Game 2.
It's a decision Mattingly will be able to sleep on Sunday night, comforted by the fact he can react out of what he thinks is best, not because he is trying to find a way for his team to survive.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.