The top two teams in the National League the past two seasons will meet for the first time in 2022 as the Atlanta Braves visit the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday night to open a three-game series.
The biggest question heading into the opener is whether Clayton Kershaw can pick up where he left off last Wednesday in Minnesota. The veteran left-hander was pulled by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts after seven perfect innings, 13 strikeouts and 80 pitches in a 7-0 Dodgers win over the Twins.
Lefty reliever Alex Vesia surrendered a hit and a walk in the bottom of the eighth, and Justin Bruihl pitched a perfect ninth to seal the one-hit win.
Kershaw, 34, became only the second player in major-league history to be pulled after at least seven perfect innings, joining his former teammate, Rich Hill, after Hill threw 89 pitches against the Miami Marlins on Sept. 10, 2016. Roberts also pulled Hill in that game to protect against the pitcher’s blister problems.
“I understand the history of the game, I understand what it means to the game of baseball,” Kershaw said. “There have been only 20-something throughout history, so I get that. The individual stuff is not why I continue to play the game. I want to win. That supersedes anything individual for me.”
Roberts understands the fans’ desire to witness history but insists protecting his pitchers is still of the utmost importance.
“I’d like to think that we’re all fans of baseball,” Roberts told reporters. “I know I am. And so, fans want to see great moments. I absolutely understand that. Clayton wants to see a great moment for himself, personally. But I can’t manage a ballclub and players with my fan cap on.”
Kershaw (1-0, 0.00) will face the Braves for the 13th time in his career. He has a 5-1 record and a 2.20 ERA against them, with 91 strikeouts and 15 walks in 81 2/3 innings. Kershaw suffered his first career loss to the Braves last season, allowing five runs in six innings on June 5.
The Braves will counter Monday with Huascar Ynoa (0-1, 15.00). The right-hander was roughed up for five earned runs and seven hits in just three innings on April 11 in an 11-2 loss to the Nationals. Ynoa will make his first career start against the Dodgers.
The Dodgers beat the Braves in the 2020 National League Championship Series, coming from behind to win Game 7, 4-3, on their way to their first World Series title since 1988.
Last season, the Braves avenged the heartbreak of 2020 when they eliminated the Dodgers in six games in the NLCS, en route to their first World Series title since 1995.
Los Angeles’ Trea Turner heads into Monday after watching his career-best 27-game hitting streak, which began on Sept. 12 of last season, end in Sunday’s 9-1 win over Cincinnati. Turner was hitless in four at-bats with a walk as the third-longest hitting streak in Dodger history ended. Still, Turner batted .374 (43-for-115) with eight homers, five doubles, 25 RBI and 24 runs scored during the streak.
The Braves could be close to getting their biggest weapon back as manager Brian Snitker said Ronald Acuña Jr. will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett on April 19. Acuna tore his right ACL last July 10 in Miami while fielding a ball on the warning track.
“I’m sure he’s excited to play real games under lights,” Snitker said. “It’s winding down to where we can get him back. That will be a boost for this club.”
Snitker said Sunday that Acuna could return as soon as May 6 and be used as both a right fielder and designated hitter.
–Field Level Media