It was 2-0 after the second inning. It was 4-0 after the third, 5-0 after the fourth and really, after that, there wasn’t much reason to pay attention. It was like watching a punch-drunk boxer just standing in the corner, getting clubbed, waiting for the round to end.
Ding. Must be October.
It felt familiar, looked familiar and when the groans and boos escalated, certainly sounded familiar.
The Braves lost their division-series opener to the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-1 at Turner Field on Thursday night. This is a best-of-five series, even if it already has a one-and-done wild-card feel to it.
They could still win Game 2 on Friday night. They could make a series of it. But they will have to pitch better, hit better and defend better because they pretty much stunk in all three. They did not look like a 96-win team. They looked like another October migraine.
They will have to do something quickly to convince the masses that they’re capable of better because when a franchise goes 12 years without a postseason series win, it tends to lose the benefit of the doubt.
The Braves didn’t just lose to the Dodgers. They looked overmatched. They looked lost. They were mediocre on defense (despite the official lack of errors). Starter Kris Medlen wasn’t any better (following the great tease of a three-strikeout first). On offense, they were just north of bupkis against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (one run, three hits and 12 strikeouts in seven innings). They struck out 15 times overall.
Kershaw also struck out nine of the last 11 Braves he faced. So no, they weren’t just starting to get their timing down.
Need one more thing to lampoon? B.J. Upton appeared in the fifth inning as a pinch hitter. He struck out. Looking.
The first 2½ innings looked like a night of market corrections for the season. Jason Heyward threw home on a fly ball to center field instead of to the cutoff man, which allowed a Dodgers’ base runner to advance to advance to second (and later score). Second baseman Elliot Johnson, Dan Uggla’s replacement and not far removed from the waiver wire, misplayed a bad hop but catchable ground ball into a hit (favorable scorer’s ruling). That led to another run. Evan Gattis, the season’s great story, misplayed a line drive into a double in left and was doubled off first base when he zoned out on a flyball.
We’re talking little league stuff.
Welcome to self-immolation central. The Braves looked like a mass of dysfunction and confusion.
This is their third postseason appearance in the past four seasons. That sounds so much better than noting that the team has lost six consecutive playoff rounds and hasn’t won a series in 12 years — a three-game divisional sweep over Houston in 2001. (Rule of thumb: When you cite a Braves’ team with B.J. Surhoff or Keith Lockhart, it’s been a while)
The Braves need this series, and not just to cleanse themselves of that forgettable one-game wild-card flop to St. Louis last season. They need it because this franchise has been left with too many sick and empty feelings in October after so many division titles, even if the one this season came amid remarkable circumstances (waiver pickups, surprising stories, spectacular splats in the form of Uggla and Upton).
There’s no such thing as a good 5-0 deficit, but trailing 5-0 to Kershaw, the Dodgers’ starting pitcher, would have to rate as among the worst scenarios. Kershaw led the National League in ERA (1.83) for a third consecutive season, the first pitcher to do that since the Braves’ Greg Maddux (1993-95). He also led the league in strikeouts, was second in opponents’ batting average (.195) and pretty much made grown men cry.
Kershaw had been staked to at least a four-run lead 26 times in the past three seasons. His record in those games: 25-1.
It was an ugly night for Medlen. He left after allowing a single and a hit batter to open the fifth, trailing 5-0. Was it entirely his fault? No. But he also wasn’t the same pitcher after striking out three Dodgers in the first inning. In the next three-plus innings, he allowed five runs, nine hits, a homer, a walk and a hit batter.
Medlen seemed like the right choice to start this game. He pitched well in last year’s wild-card loss to St. Louis, victimized by, among other things, a Chipper Jones’ throwing error that led to three runs in a 6-3 loss. He also was the Braves’ best starter down the stretch, going 8-1 with a 1.69 ERA in his past 10 starts.
But after the first inning, Medlen didn’t fool anybody in blue. His fastball was catching too much of the plate and his change-up, his money pitch, was crushed by Gonzalez over the 400-foot marker in dead center.
The Braves needed better from him. They needed better from everybody. This looked too familiar.