MLB Coverage: NL Division Series Both Split Opening Sets

The MLB playoffs are two days in and the National League has completed the first two games of each series. In both cases, the road teams–the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates–found ways to get one win and take homefield advantage as the teams now shift venues for the middle games on Sunday and Monday.

There hasn’t been a lot of drama in these games thus far, with three of the four being blowouts, but Game 2 of the Braves-Dodgers series started to make up for it, a tight 4-3 win for Atlanta. Let’s briefly summarize what’s transpired in each series and look ahead to Sunday.

LA Dodgers-Atlanta: Game 1 was no contest, an easy 6-1 win for the Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw was brilliant, pitching seven innings of three-hit ball. Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run shot of Kris Medlen in the third that opened the game up and the outcome was never in doubt. Atlanta simply did not look sharp, the second straight year they’ve opened the postseason with a home game by playing some sloppy baseball. At least this year it wasn’t the one-game wild-card knockout.

All the pressure shifted to Mike Minor for Game 2 and he delivered, battling Zack Greinke in a good pitcher’s duel and leaving with a 2-1 lead in the seventh. The Dodgers had a couple chances to tie the game, but in one case couldn’t get the two-out hit and in another hit into a double play with runners on first and third and one out.

It still had the feel of a game where Los Angeles would rip Atlanta’s heart out late, but the Braves grabbed two huge runs in the bottom of the seventh to stretch the lead to 4-1. Those runs proved necessary when Hanley Ramirez–who had three hits on the night–hit a two-run homer off David Carpenter in the eighth.

The Dodger ninth provided more drama. Craig Kimbrel came in and looked unsettled with his control. Mark Ellis drew a walk and Dee Gordon pinch-ran. Gordon took off for second and appeared to make it, but was called out. Replays showed that the call was closer than it appeared, as shortstop Andrelton Simmons skillfully kept his glove on Gordon’s rear end as the ball arrived. Even with replay, I can’t tell you for sure if Gordon was safe or out.

Kimbrel walked one more batter, and finally struck out Carl Crawford to end the inning.

The Dodgers have taken homefield advantage, but Kershaw is not scheduled to pitch either game back in Los Angeles. Maybe it’s the Braves who need to take advantage of this and win Games 3 & 4, because I think you’d rather have the ace in Game 5 as opposed to homefield.

Pittsburgh-St. Louis: Carlos Beltran hit a three-run homer in the third inning of Game 1 and St. Louis scored seven times off a floundering A.J. Burnett to win 9-1. I had to question why Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle left Burnett out there to give up seven runs. In the postseason, you can’t let a game get away that early and you can’t lose in routs, lest there to be too much pressure to get all the breaks in every close game.

Pittsburgh addressed that latter problem–the law of averages in close games–in a way I was not expecting in Game 2. They came out and peppered Lance Lynn, scoring in three different innings early and taking a 5-0 lead by the fifth. Pedro Alvarez homered for the second straight game. The first one was no big deal because it came swinging from his heels when his team was getting blown out. The second one was huge and staked rookie Gerrit Cole to a 3-zip lead.

St. Louis manager Mike Matheny was quicker on the hook with Lynn than Hurdle had been with Burnett, but Cole was pitching too well for it to matter. Here, I have a different bone to pick with the Cardinal manager–Lynn is notoriously inconsistent, while Shelby Miller has had a solid year. Even if he’s a rookie, Miller was a better choice than Lynn to get a start in this series.

Pittsburgh now has some real opportunity in front of them. Francisco Liriano pitches Game 3, after winning the wild-card game and Liriano is demonstrably better at home. Then St. Louis throws rookie Michael Wacha. Even allowing that Wacha nearly pitched a no-hitter in the last week of the season, I’m not sure he’s who Matheny wants pitching if the season is on the line.

This is now a real battle to see if St. Louis can get the scenario of Adam Wainwright–dominant in Game 1–to be on the mound at home for a Game 5.


TBS will carry a National League doubleheader on Sunday with Cards-Pirates at 4:30 PM ET, followed by Braves-Dodgers at 8  PM ET. The pitching matchups are Liriano-Joe Kelly and Hyun-Jin Ru against Julio Teheran.

I’m not changing my picks of St. Louis and Los Angeles to advance, but I will pick Pittsburgh to win on Sunday. The Dodgers can’t get the sweep I predicted, but Ru should at least ensure they get their chance with Kershaw in a fifth game.

TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage will have a look at the American League playoffs on Sunday. Boston-Tampa and Oakland-Detroit each play Game 2 on Saturday and then travel the following day.