Playing the underdog vs. Kershaw in Game 1, righty ready for challenge
ATLANTA -- As Kris Medlen and his Braves teammates have prepared for their National League Division Series matchup against the much-hyped Dodgers, Medlen has not seemed to be the least bit concerned about the fact that Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez and the other members of Los Angeles' star-studded cast are getting more attention.
"We had to play against them during the regular season, and we played pretty well," Medlen said. "All the attention, I mean we're not running for prom king. We're ready to play this series and this team, which is a quality team. It's really not that big of a deal that they may be getting more attention than us. At the end of the day, I hope we're getting all the attention with the World Series."
Medlen will have a chance to get the postseason started in auspicious fashion when he opposes Kershaw in Game 1 of the NLDS, starting Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET on TBS. This will be the second career postseason start for the Atlanta right-hander, who opposed the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card Game last year.
"I'm fired up for the start, and I'm definitely not as nervous as I was last year," Medlen said. "With the kind of team we have and the kind of players we have on our squad, we're pretty fired up."
Overall: 32 G (31 GS), 15-12, 3.11 ERA, 47 BB, 157 K
Key stat: 0.92 WHIP led the Major Leagues
Key stat: 1.00 ERA in five September starts for Atlanta
At Turner Field
2013: Did not pitch Career: 1 GS, 0-0, 2.57 ERA
2013: 17 G (16 GS), 9-6, 2.26 ERA Career: 79 G (30 GS), 16-11, 2.42 ERA
Against this opponent
2013: Did not face Career: 4 GS, 0-0, 2.45 ERA
2013: 2 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA Career: 8 G (3 GS), 3-0, 1.23 ERA
Loves to face: Justin Upton, 3-for-29, 9 K Hates to face: Freddie Freeman, 1-for-2, 1 HR
Loves to face: Michael Young, 1-for-10 Hates to face: Hanley Ramirez, 5-for-9
Why he'll win: Has not allowed a run in past 13 innings
Why he'll win: Did not allow a run in 13 2/3 innings against Dodgers this year
Pitcher beware: Has not faced the Braves in two years
Pitcher beware: Lost his only other postseason start
Bottom line: Set the tone on the road
Bottom line: Maintain momentum from unbeaten September
While winning five of the seven games played against the Dodgers during the regular season, the Braves did not face Kershaw, who is all but guaranteed to win a second NL Cy Young Award after posting a 1.83 ERA in 33 starts.
Still, as good as Kershaw was over the course of the season, Medlen enters the matchup strengthened by the confidence he produced while notching a 0.84 ERA in his final six starts and a 1.29 ERA in his final eight.
"Obviously Kershaw is one of the best in the game," Braves backup catcher Gerald Laird said. "But the past two months, Medlen has been right there with him. He's coming off two tremendous starts, and the last month, he has been great. You've got to beat the good pitchers if you want to move on. You've got to compete with them."
Regardless of the challenge, Medlen has displayed an intense desire to compete dating back to the days when he was roaming the halls of suburban Los Angeles' Gahr High School as a 93-pound freshman who dreamed of growing up to play shortstop for the Dodgers.
"The first thing that I noticed was this guy is competitive, and he was just that guy," said Kurt Ruth, Medlen's former high school coach. "You could tell it with anything we did. Whether we were stretching, playing catch or whatever we did, he was hanging on your every word, and he was going to do it to the very, very best that he can do it.
"Yeah, he's gotten a lot bigger, and he throws the ball a lot harder. But the one thing that hasn't changed is his mentality. It has not changed since the day I met him, and it will be the same one we will all see when he steps on the mound on Thursday to face the Dodgers."
As he jogged around the bases June 8 at Dodger Stadium after hitting his first career home run, Medlen had no choice but to allow himself to reminisce. He had created this memorable moment while playing at the historic stadium that he loved to visit during his youth, and against the team he religiously followed before beginning his professional career with the Braves organization in 2006.
Now, Medlen prepares to make the most important start of his young career with the hope that he will create yet another memorable moment at the expense of his once-beloved Dodgers.
"I've had a couple years in the big leagues to get over that love for the Dodgers," Medlen said. "You know it's cool to face them, but they're just another team."
When Medlen won just one of his first seven decisions and possessed a 3.85 ERA after making his 23rd start Aug. 7, it did not look like the day would arrive when he would be given the honor of making a Game 1 start this year. In fact, the Braves went into the All-Star break with serious thoughts about moving Medlen to the bullpen. Motivated by this speculation, Medlen stopped overanalyzing pitch selection, mechanics and all else that was preventing him from building on the incredible promise he had showed while posting a 0.97 ERA in the 12 starts he made after being moved from the bullpen to the rotation for the final two months of the 2012 season. During Medlen's incredible run last year, he drew comparisons to Greg Maddux because of the way Medlen efficiently went about his business.
When asked about this matchup against Kershaw, Medlen also provided a response that sounded much like Maddux back in his days in Atlanta.
"I try not to get too involved in all of that, because for the most part, I'm not going to be the one who's going to be coming up in the clutch really having to drive in runs," Medlen said. "I'll be the ninth-hole hitter. But I'll be relying on my guys to hit him well."