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.