Atlanta Braves starter Julio Teheran (49) delivers a pitch against the Miami Marlins Sept. 10 in Miami. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)
There was no question who had the edge in starting pitching for the first two games of the National League Division Series between the Braves and Dodgers. However, that’s not the case for Game 3 in Los Angeles tonight.
Julio Teheran of the Braves and Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers may have been the top rookie pitchers in baseball this season not named Jose Fernandez and their stats are about as even as you can get.
Teheran was 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA during the regular season while Ryu was 14-8 with a 3.00 ERA.
Ryu is a left-hander and Teheran a right-hander, though, and that isn’t the only difference between the two.
Ryu is 26 — four years older than Teheran — and made a name for himself pitching for his native South Korea in the World Baseball Classic before signing with the Dodgers.
“I think he’s pitched a lot of games in his mind that have been big games,” said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, referring to international competition. “His best outings have come against the best teams, so we feel like he’ll step up.”
The Braves, though, are just as confident in Teheran, a native of Colombia who signed with Atlanta at age 16.
“He just keeps getting better and maturing with experience,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I think we’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg with him.”
Teheran was 7-3 with a 2.97 ERA in his final 12 starts of the regular season and finished with 170 strikeouts to 45 walks in 185 2/3 innings.
“Strikeouts are huge in the postseason,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “When you can overpower somebody, that’s the name of the game.”
Clayton Kershaw, headed to his second National League Cy Young Award, overpowered the Braves in the NLDS opener on Thursday, striking out 12 over seven innings in the Dodgers’ 6-1 victory.
The Braves, however, beat Zack Greinke and the Dodgers 4-3 to even the best-of-5 series on Friday, scoring all their runs with two outs to make the most of their 10 hits.
Despite a .183 average for the two games, the Braves can close the Dodgers out in Los Angeles with two victories or force the series back to Atlanta for Game 5 on Wednesday by getting a split.
While Teheran finished the regular season strong, Ryu was 2-5 in his last seven starts. The lefty had a 2.32 ERA at Dodger Stadium, though, compared to 3.69 on the road.
Ryu was also effective against the Braves, posting a 2.12 ERA in a pair of no-decisions. Teheran didn’t pitch against the Dodgers.
The Braves split a four-game series in Los Angeles in June after sweeping a three-game set in Atlanta during May. Both series were before the Dodgers got hot and turned their season around with a 42-8 surge.
The Braves haven’t won a postseason series since 2001, when they swept Houston in the NLDS before losing to Arizona in the NL Championship Series.
The Braves have lost seven straight playoff openers, including this year, and bounced back to win the second game each time. Now they need to break out of the trend and finish off an opponent.
Atlanta was just 40-41 on the road during the regular season compared to a majors-best 56-25 at home. But they need a sweep in Los Angeles to avoid another meeting with Kershaw, who had a 1.87 ERA this year, in Game 5.
“Nobody wanted to go out to L.A. down two games,” said Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who got a four-out save Friday despite two walks. “We’re going out to L.A., and hopefully we can keep that momentum going.”