ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves flopped and staggered their way to another October debacle.
With Dan Uggla watching from the dugout, this one was downright ugly.
Clayton Kershaw struck out 12 during seven dominant innings, Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run homer and the Los Angeles Dodgers blew out the bumbling Braves 6-1 in Game 1 of the NL division series Thursday night.
The Braves haven’t won a postseason series since 2001, losing seven in a row, and this is going to be another short stay if they don’t turn it around quickly in the best-of-five series.
Kris Medlen fired up the less-than-capacity crowd of 43,021 by striking out the side in the first inning, but it was all downhill from there for the Atlanta starter.
The Dodgers had a 5-0 lead by the fourth inning and put it on cruise control with Kershaw on the mound.
“I think it took us about two or three innings to settle down a little bit,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
By then, it was over.
The Braves struck out 15 times in all — not all that surprising, really, for a team that tied for the third-highest total during the regular season.
Game 2 is Friday night at Turner Field, with Zack Greinke (15-4) starting for the Dodgers against Mike Minor (13-9).
Kershaw, who had a 1.83 ERA this year, limited the Braves to Chris Johnson’s run-scoring single with two outs in the fourth. That just seemed to make the pitcher mad — he struck out Andrelton Simmons to end Atlanta’s only serious threat, and the next five Braves hitters for good measure.
Appropriately, Kershaw finished up by striking out the side in the seventh, matching his season high for Ks. He allowed just three hits.
“He’s the best pitcher in baseball,” Adrian Gonzalez said, “and he showed it tonight.”
Uggla watched it all from the dugout. The three-time All-Star was left off the Braves’ playoff roster after a dismal season in which he batted just .179 with a franchise-record 171 strikeouts.
He wasn’t the only big-money flop for the Braves, who had to juggle their outfield because of B.J. Upton’s season-long slump. After signing a five-year, $75.25 million deal during the offseason, he batted just .184 and was finally benched late in the year. Merely a backup in the playoffs, he took a called third strike as a pinch-hitter in the fifth and walked slowly toward the dugout to a chorus of boos.
Even though slugger Matt Kemp is out for the playoffs and Andre Ethier is hobbling with an injured ankle, the Dodgers had no trouble piling up runs against Medlen and the Braves.
The Atlanta starter, who came into the playoffs riding a five-game winning streak, gave up nine hits and five runs in four-plus innings. Medlen finally got the hook when he plunked Yasiel Puig with a pitch right between the shoulder blades.
“When you have an opposing pitcher on the mound who is as good as Kershaw, there’s not a lot of room for error,” Medlen said. “I had a lot of error tonight.”
Of course, Medlen would’ve fared better if he’d gotten any help from the guys behind him.
The Braves played some truly atrocious defense, though they were not charged with an error.
In the second, rookie left fielder Evan Gattis flopped to the ground in an attempt to catch a sinking liner, only to look very much like the converted catcher he is. The ball hit by A.J. Ellis rolled all the way to the wall for an RBI double, putting the Dodgers ahead 2-0 on a play that an outfielder with even a modest amount of experience probably would’ve grabbed fairly easily.
Adrian Gonzalez began to put it out of reach in the third, driving a pitch over the center-field wall for his first postseason homer, a two-run shot that made it 4-0 as a sense of doom fell over a Turner Field crowd that had been so raucous in the beginning.
Not that Atlanta fans haven’t seen this all before.
The Braves are perhaps best known for winning only one World Series championship during a historic run of 14 straight division titles. Now, more October misery.
At least they’re not done yet.
After losing to St. Louis in a one-and-done wild-card game last season, which was marred by a disputed infield-fly call, the Braves have a chance to bounce back. But they can’t afford another loss before they head to Los Angeles for the next two games, if the series lasts that long.
In addition to Gattis’ stumbling attempt at a catch, second baseman Elliot Johnson — taking Uggla’s old spot — bobbled Carl Crawford’s grounder leading off the third, a play that was generously ruled a hit by the official scorer. Medlen retired the next two hitters, but Gonzalez drove the next pitch over the wall, with Jason Heyward making a futile leap that left him hanging from the top.
Heyward, who was moved from right field to center as part of the outfield reshuffling, had his own problems. Twice, he overthrew the cutoff man on throws to the plate, allowing runners to advance. Just to add to Atlanta’s outfield woes, Justin Upton wasn’t even close on a sliding attempt when Ellis doubled down the right-field line in the fourth.
He wound up scoring on Mark Ellis’ two-out single, stretching the lead to 5-0.
Gattis, who was one of Atlanta’s most pleasant surprises during the regular season, had a miserable night in his postseason debut. He ended the second by somehow getting doubled off first on a lazy fly to short right field.
NOTES: The Dodgers put Ethier on their 25-man roster even though he can likely only be used as a pinch-hitter because of an ankle injury. He came up in that role in the eighth, batting for Kershaw and grounding out to first base. ... After Medlen struck out the first three hitters of the game, Los Angeles didn’t have another 1-2-3 inning until the seventh against Braves rookie Alex Wood. ... Skip Schumaker started in center field for the Dodgers and drove in the first run with a sacrifice fly in the second. ... Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen finished up with one scoreless inning apiece. Jansen struck out three.
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