LOS ANGELES -- The Atlanta Braves, a 96-win ballclub that had the best staff ERA in baseball, suddenly find themselves in the unlikely situation of having their entire season in the hands of Freddy Garcia. And he'll be facing possible Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.
Garcia, a September callup who nearly hung 'em up when his career seemingly flat-lined over the past calendar year, will be on the mound when the Braves try to salvage this National League Division Series and their season in Game 4 on Monday night at Dodger Stadium (9:30 p.m. ET, TBS).
He'll be facing a Dodgers team that is tantalizingly close to an NL Championship Series berth, in front of an enraptured Los Angeles audience that believes in the magic and the Magic and the "World Series or bust" mentality that has taken over here.
Kershaw will be pitching on three days' rest for the first time in his career after his dominating seven innings and 12 strikeouts in Thursday night's 6-1 win over the Braves in Atlanta. He threw 124 pitches in that game, then cut back slightly on his bullpen session Saturday to preserve his arm and give manager Don Mattingly the option to pitch him in a Game 4 that would be either a possible clinching game or a possible eliminator.
By using Kershaw on short rest in Game 4, Mattingly still has No. 2 starter Zack Greinke on regular rest for a Game 5, if necessary.
Ricky Nolasco, who was originally slated to start, allowed 17 runs in 12 innings over his last three starts. His last start was Sept. 25, so he would have been starting with 12 days between starts, with only one inning of relief on Sept. 29 in between.
Three and a half months ago, Garcia was designated for assignment by the Orioles. A little more than a month ago, he was getting roughed up in a start at Triple-A Gwinnett.
But because they shifted Alex Wood to the bullpen and had Paul Maholm go down with an elbow injury, the Braves found themselves with a starter shortage as they entered October. Their only alternative, in the immediate, would be to pitch Kris Medlen on three days' rest after his less-than-stellar performance in Game 1, and Fredi Gonzalez had no plans to do so.
"I don't think it would be a good decision to bring them back short on a day, our guys," Gonzalez said. "So that's one of the factors in the decision-making process."
The good news for the Braves? Plenty of positives came out of Garcia's three September starts for Atlanta, during which he went 1-1 with a 1.83 ERA, allowing four runs on 18 hits with 16 strikeouts and four walks.
Beyond that, Garcia is the only member of this starting staff, which lost Tim Hudson in July, with something resembling a postseason pedigree. This will be his 11th start on this stage, on which he's gone 6-3 with a 3.28 ERA in past performances for the Mariners, White Sox and Yankees.
"You start looking at the rotation and see how young they are and how inexperienced they are, then you look at Freddy Garcia's experience, you look at his postseason starts and postseason innings, so you give him an opportunity to do that," Gonzalez said. "I think he knows how to maneuver himself through a Major League lineup. He's shown that this year."
Braves: The defense rests
Gonzalez has taken a bit of a defensive risk in his October outfield, giving Evan Gattis the starts in left. But B.J. Upton's sagging bat left him with little choice. Gattis misplayed another ball Sunday night, and so there remain concerns about the trade-off.
Asked if it's difficult to decide between the best defensive outfield and the best offensive one, Gonzalez said he believes he has the best of both worlds.
"We could play the best offensive outfield early in the game, and then we have the capability of improving defensively with B.J. or [Jordan] Schafer, depending on which way we want to go," he said. "I think that Gattis, you know he's going to get four at-bats. You don't know if he's going to get the ball hit to him in the first seven innings. So that's the theory that we go with him in the outfield."
Dodgers: What to leave in, what to leave out
Advance scouting is an essential element of the postseason, when no bit of statistical minutia or player tendency is too small for a scout to pass along, just in case. Perhaps the most impactful piece of advance work came in 1988, when scout Mel Didier, who had scouted the A's in the weeks leading up to October, made a note of Dennis Eckersley's tendency to throw a backdoor slider to lefties in 3-2 counts.
One of the most famous home runs in World Series history was a direct result of that notation, because Kirk Gibson put it into practice in Game 1.
Of course, not all scouting tips prove to be that helpful, which is why Mattingly and his staff have to decide what's worth focusing on and what's best left unsaid.
"We have to be able to take that in and decide what we give to the players," Mattingly said. "You don't want them getting out of their norm, per se."
• In Game 3, the Dodgers tied a franchise record for most runs in a postseason game (13), set on Oct. 5, 1956, in Game 2 of the World Series against the Yankees.
• Hanley Ramirez has already tied Steve Garvey (1978 NLCS vs. the Phillies) and Duke Snider (1952 World Series vs. the Yankees) for most extra-base hits by a Dodger in a postseason series, with six.
• The Braves scored their first seven runs of this series with two out.
• Jason Heyward's two-run homer in the ninth in Game 3 was his first career postseason homer.