LOS ANGELES — The first plot twist of the National League Division Series already arrived and the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers have not even played a game.
The Dodgers announced that Hyun-Jin Ryu and not Clayton Kershaw will start Game 1 of the series on Thursday at Dodger Stadium, even though Kershaw will be on regular rest after last pitching Saturday in San Francisco.
A Braves team that finished 18 games below .500 last year and burst upon the scene in 2018 is actually the one with more predictability surrounding it in a series against the defending National League champions. Right-hander Mike Foltynewicz will take the ball in Game 1 as expected for Atlanta.
At face value, the Dodgers’ move to Ryu in Game 1 makes sense because it keeps their rotation in order.
Ryu missed 3 1/2 months of the season with a groin strain, then returned Aug. 15 to post a 1.88 ERA in 52 2/3 innings. The left-hander has worked just 82 1/3 innings all season.
But his move to the series opener bumps a Dodgers pitching legend to Game 2. Kershaw might not be as overpowering as he once was, but he still finished the season with a 2.73 ERA. And Kershaw can still pitch in a deciding Game 5, if necessary, on regular rest.
Kershaw did have a 3.89 ERA in six September starts and gave up a combined eight earned runs in two key starts down the stretch, including five against the Giants on Saturday in a must-win game that the Dodgers ultimately won 10-6.
There is no parsing the numbers for Foltynewicz, who emerged this season with a 2.85 ERA and a 1.082 WHIP in 183 innings. His strong late-season run was interrupted when an aggressive St. Louis Cardinals lineup roughed him up for six runs in 4 2/3 innings, but Foltynewicz finished the regular season with two strong starts against the Philadelphia Phillies.
“We’ve wanted Folty to be ‘the guy’ for a couple years, and right now, I think he’s establishing himself as our legit first guy,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said, according to mlb.com. “It wasn’t a hard decision at all.”
Foltynewicz’s roughest stretch all season came in a four-start span when he gave up 18 earned runs in 23 1/3 innings. It concluded when he gave up four runs and six hits in five innings, including two home runs, in a 4-1 loss to the Dodgers.
Despite vastly different lineups in the second half depending on whether they are facing a right-handed pitcher or a lefty, the Dodgers still managed to hit an NL-leading 235 home runs. They were sixth in the NL with 1,436 strikeouts.
The Braves were 13th in the NL with 1,290 strikeouts and eighth with 175 home runs. But they cashed in their chances, finishing fifth in runs with 759. The Dodgers led the category with 804.
The Dodgers won the season series 5-2, scoring 5.0 runs per game to the Braves’ 2.6. The Dodgers’ starters also had a 2.20 ERA in the seven games and the Braves were at 4.69.
The Dodgers might have lost a Game 7 in the World Series last year and they got off to a slow start this year at 16-26 on May 16, but they are a confident bunch now.
“Dodgers, we are going for more,” Yasiel Puig said in the Dodgers’ celebratory clubhouse Monday on Spectrum SportsNet Los Angeles. “Hey, Atlanta, we’ll see you soon, baby. And the next one … no matter who’s going, we’re going to beat (them). And we’re going to the World Series again. And this time we’re going to win the World Series. In 2018, the big party is here in Los Angeles.”