Braves now prepare for Dodgers in NLDS

Braves now prepare for Dodgers in NLDS

September 30th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Professional

Atlanta Braves catcher Gerald Laird, left, and pitcher Craig Kimbrel (46) celebrate after a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 12-5.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

ATLANTA - Some 555 miles away, the St. Louis Cardinals had beaten the Chicago Cubs to make sure the Atlanta Braves would be denied their immediate wish - home field advantage throughout the National League playoffs.

But after watching his team crush Philadelphia 12-5 at Turner Field on Sunday afternoon, Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez wasn't about to put a negative spin on a 96-66 regular season. Especially with the Los Angeles Dodgers pulling into town on Thursday for the opening game of the best-of-five division series between the two at Turner Field.

"Thirty games over .500, the East Division title, home field advantage for the first round," said Gonzalez, reeling off the achievements. "That's a (heckuva) season for this ball club. Now the fun begins, it really does."

No Brave has had more fun of late than 27-year-old rookie Evan Gattis, who clubbed his 21st homer of the season, a two-run blast that gave him a major league-leading 65 RBI for rookies. Though the Phillies briefly pulled within 5-4 in the fourth, they never tied or led as Atlanta pounded out 17 hits to make a winner of Julio Teheran (14-8).

"I'm happy with my year," said Gattis, who's batting a torrid .417 in his last six games (10 of 24) with two doubles, one home run and six RBI. "But I also know I can do better."

What the Braves most want to do better is win a playoff series for the first time since 2001. Atlanta has not reached the World Series since 1999, after playing in the Fall Classic five times between 1991 and 1999.

"You just gotta play the same game," said backup catcher Gerald Laird, who collected four hits on Sunday in relief of starting catcher Brian McCann. "Do what got you here."

The Braves got here, to their first division title since 2005, by swatting an NL-best 181 homers and compiling a major league-best 3.18 team ERA. Those numbers helped the franchise to the best home record in the majors (56-25), despite posting the 13th highest average attendance (31,465).

"It's great to get the home field advantage for this first round, but you're probably going to have to win one on the road at some point," said Laird, who played in the last two World Series, winning a ring with St. Louis in 2011 before losing to San Francisco a year ago as a member of the Detroit Tigers.

"People are talking so much about the Dodgers. We might as well play them early."

The NLDS schedule calls for the Braves to face the Dodgers in Atlanta on Thursday and Friday with the first game in LA on Sunday. A fourth game, if necessary, would be played in LA next Monday with a fifth game, if needed, back in Atlanta on Oct. 9.

As the NL team with the best overall record (97-65), St. Louis will host the winner of Tuesday night's wildcard game between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati on Thursday, following the same schedule as Atlanta-LA the rest of the way.

The eventual National League winner will be the road team in the World Series due to the American League winning the All-Star game.

"We'll give them [Monday] off, then get them back in here on Tuesday and Wednesday for batting practice and fielding a few ground balls," Gonzalez said. "Then we'll show up and play the Dodgers on Thursday."

Exactly who'll start on Thursday remains up in the air, though it might be hard to deny Kris Medlen a chance to atone for last year's wildcard loss to St. Louis after his masterful 1-0 win over the Phillies this past weekend.

Said Medlen, who's now 15-12 with a team-best 3.11 ERA among current starters: "I don't expect anything different this time around...(long pause)...except a win."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com