Gotta love LA: Dodgers' formula of pitching, punch and payroll too good
Clayton Kershaw and Co. dominate the Braves in Game 1 of the NLDS.
ATLANTA -- The Los Angeles Dodgers ' winning mix of Magic Johnson's 1,000-watt smile, Clayton Kershaw 's 95-mph fastball/knee-bucking curveball and the team's $220 million worth of talent is just too much on nights like this.
It's hard not to love L.A. when they play this way, which is to say up to their National League record payroll.
Oh, Team Tomahawk Chop gave it a shot. But with the weight of past playoff failure, it was all too much for a mistake-prone Atlanta Braves team that played without its two highest-paid players and wilted again in the glare of the postseason spotlight.
The Braves made a conscious decision to idle their two biggest earners Dan Uggla and Melvin Upton , while most of the Dodgers' main money men, the ones who remain healthy anyway, shined in a 6-1 victory before a not-quite-sellout crowd at Turner Field.
The Dodgers received some ridicule for running up the payroll, but express no regret and make no apologies.
It's a bold, brash style, and it works.
"We're happy to write the checks ... because we're here," a beaming Magic Johnson, the NBA superstar turned part Dodgers owner, said before the game.
If Magic was nervous, and he said he was since he isn't playing, the Dodgers' band of high-paid pieces came together, serving noticed that they are a team to be reckoned with this October. Following their season of tremendous highs and lows, it was hard to know what to expect, but you just knew they had it in them.
This team of great players and greater extremes might just run the playoff table. But it's no surprise they looked their best with certain Cy Young winner Kershaw on the mound in Game 1. Braves people kept mentioning how Kershaw is "the best," and he showed why, overwhelming them most of his seven strong innings.
Kershaw is tough under any condition, but staked to a 5-zip lead, it simply isn't fair. (Since 2011, the Dodgers are 36-0 in games they score four or more runs for their ace.)
The Dodgers didn't let up, and if any team knows how to keep a good thing going, it's them, winners of a historic 42 out of 50 in summer to turn their season around. Facing the Braves' de facto ace Kris Medlen , a Dodgers follower as a Southern California kid (who incidentally still looks 15), the Dodgers started pouring it on in the second inning, and they never let up.
The biggest blow was Adrian Gonzalez 's two-run home run to the deadest of dead center. Gonzalez, you'll recall, came in the unprecedented $263 million outlay of cash in late summer of 2012, when the Dodgers took three high-priced Boston Red Sox players plus lovable Nick Punto in what seemed at the time like a rather nutty buying spree. That megadeal set up both teams for the next year, though at the time, only Boston's side of things won praise.
Gonzalez's home run, on a first-pitch changeup, was just what he was looking for. "A very bad 0-and-0 changeup," Medlen called it.
"They're a great team, and when you have an opposing pitcher on the mound who is as good as Kershaw, I mean there's not a lot of toom for error, and I had a lot of error tonight," Medlen added.
Hanley Ramirez hit a rocket of a two-run double with a sound that could be heard in Marietta. A.J. Ellis , one of the Dodgers' few complementary players (that is to say, one not making $10M plus), chipped in two doubles. The hits just kept coming.
"There's a fair amount of pressure on the best-paid team in National League history, but the Braves, trying to shake their long-running October issue, played right into their hands. The home team looked uncharacteristically shaky, something you can't do when facing a team this loaded with talent.
The Braves purposely played without Uggla and Upton, who spent the season on the dreaded Interstate (averages below .200) and never got off it. But the guys they did choose to utilize didn't exactly reward their faith. Evan Gattis missed a liner in left field, Elliot Johnson booted a grounder, Jason Heyward missed two cutoff men and Gattis lost track of a flyball to short right field, getting himself doubled off first base.
Braves manager Fred Gonzalez described his team as maybe being a bit "amped up," which he defined as excited more than nervous. Anyway, it didn't sound like a good thing. "We've got a lot of guys out there maybe first game, second game in the postseason, myself included. I think it took us about two or three to settle down a little bit," Gonzalez said.
The Dodgers' $42 million wunderkind Yasiel Puig is the one who caught Gattis off first base, and he didn't make a single mistake of his own, defying critics who count the miscues of the player who sparked the Dodgers in the regular season after their 30-42 start. And guess what? He sparked them again in Game 1, lining an early hit, taking a base and scoring the game's first run. He was two for two when he was drilled by a pitch in his back, to the delight of a crowd whose chops were going unheeded. Puig looked peeved, understandably so.
Desperate late, the Braves tried B.J. Upton in a pinch-hitting role against the great Kershaw, and the results were predictably bad. Upton got no points from the crowd for taking Kershaw to four pitches before whiffing. Otherwise in a jolly mood, the crowd booed. When Kershaw fanned Heyward one batter later, he had struck out the side in the fifth.
Eventually, Kershaw struck out six consecutive Braves, not a shock considering both parties' predilection for the punchout. He finished with 12 K's in seven innings, which ran his pitch total to 124 on a night he allowed only three hits.
Kershaw wasn't at his best early, when his fastball command was off. He credited catcher A.J. Ellis with smartly calling for more breaking balls, a compliment that startled Ellis. "You got that on tape?" Ellis asked the questioner, explaining that Kershaw is somewhat sparing in his in-person praise.
Brian McCann 's drive to the wall with two on in the fourth, hauled in by Carl Crawford (who also came in the summer spending spree), represented Atlanta's best hope on a night they whiffed even more than usual (15 in all, counting three more by Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth). We knew the Braves had that in them, too.
Don't blame the Bravos, though. The Dodgers are just that good.
They shrugged off the injuries to star outfielders Matt Kemp , who was just getting hot (.412 in September), and Andre Ethier , to decimate Medlen, who also lost the Braves' only playoff game last year and is known as real tough guy.
He likely is. But talent trumps toughness, and the Dodgers just may have too much of the former.