Dodgers can set themselves up for NLCS by beating Freddy Garcia

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The Dodgers emerged victorious in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Braves by a 13-6 margin tonight, taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. Dodgers starter Ricky Nolasco is scheduled to face off against Braves starter Freddy Garcia on Monday night.

Garcia is 37 years old and has exactly one good season dating back to 2006. He finished the 2013 regular season with an aggregate 4.37 ERA compiled with the Orioles and Braves. While Garcia has been stingy with the walks, he has struck hitters out at a clip below 14 percent, nearly matching a career-low set in 2010. As always, Garcia has allowed a ton of home runs — 18 of them this season in just 80.1 innings. The Dodgers, who ranked third in batting average and on-base percentage and fourth in OPS, should be able to overcome the right-hander.

If the Dodgers do manage to beat Garcia and clinch an appearance in the NLCS at home, they won’t have to use ace Clayton Kershaw until Game 1 of the NLCS, and they would follow up in Game 2 with Zack Greinke. The Dodgers could also set up their rotation in the NLCS so they can use Kershaw in Game 4, as well as in Game 7 if necessary as a contingency plan. Of course, the hope would be, just as it is now, that the Dodgers would finish the series before needing to use Kershaw in a clinching game.

There is one problem, though: Nolasco looked completely spent towards the end of the season. Between his Dodgers debut on July 9 and September 9, he posted a 2.07 ERA in 12 starts spanning 74 innings. In his next three starts and one relief appearance, he posted an 11.77 ERA over 13 innings, averaging nearly two hits allowed per inning. If Nolasco can’t get the job done against the Braves, then the Dodgers will be forced to burn Kershaw in Game 5 of the NLDS. Then, if they win, they would have to open the NLCS with Greinke. Kershaw could pitch Game 3 and then manager Don Mattingly would have to decide if he wants Kershaw to pitch Game 6 on short rest, or Game 7 if necessary in a clinching game.

The Dodgers can avoid that giant headache by bringing the lumber against Garcia the way they did against Julio Teheran in Game 3.

2017 Preview: The American League Central

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the American League Central

Do the Indians have a weakness? Do the Tigers and Royals have one more playoff push in them or do they have to start contemplating rebuilds? The White Sox and Twins are rebuilding, but do either of them have a chance to be remotely competitive?

As we sit here in March, the answers are “not really,” “possibly,” and “not a chance.” There are no games that count this March, however, so they’re just guesses. But educated ones! Here are the links to our guesses and our education for all of the clubs of the AL Central:

Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins

2017 Preview: The National League East

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the National League East

The Washington Nationals crave a playoff run that doesn’t end at the division series. The Mets crave a season in which they don’t have a press conference about an injured pitcher. The Marlins are trying to put the nightmare of the end of the 2016 behind them. The Phillies and Braves are hoping to move on from the “lose tons of games” phase of their rebuilds and move on to the “hey, these kids can play!” phase.

There is a ton of star power in the NL East — Harper, Scherzer, Cespedes, Syndergaard, Stanton, Freeman — some great young talent on ever roster and, in Ichiro and Bartolo, the two oldest players in the game. Maybe the division can’t lay claim to the best team in baseball, but there will certainly be some interesting baseball in the division.

Here’s how each team breaks down:

Washington Nationals
New York Mets
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves