ATLANTA -- The Dodgers took their first step toward a second straight World Series trip on Monday night at SunTrust Park. Now it gets tougher.The 6-2 victory against the Braves in Game 4 to close out the National League Division Series means the reigning National League champs will be back
ATLANTA -- The Dodgers took their first step toward a second straight World Series trip on Monday night at SunTrust Park. Now it gets tougher.
The 6-2 victory against the Braves in Game 4 to close out the National League Division Series means the reigning National League champs will be back in the NL Championship Series for the third year in a row, this time against the Brewers.
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Their success shocks no one. The six-time defending NL West champions were built for October. Their midseason acquisitions of David Freese and Manny Machado -- who both played big roles in Monday's win -- only cemented their place as one of the top teams in baseball and a force in October.
Add the star power and playoff experience, and it's no surprise Dodgers were the favorites against a talented young Braves team.
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But how far the Dodgers will advance in the playoffs is to be determined. The four games against the Braves did answer a few questions. It also raised a few others.
Here are three things we learned about the Dodgers as they advance to the NLCS and two things we still may not know after one round.
We all knew coming into the NLDS that the Dodgers' depth had the potential to create matchup problems for the Braves. And it did. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had the luxury of basically putting together two separate lineups depending on Atlanta's starting pitcher and he was never short a player on the bench.
On Monday, it was Freese who came off the bench with the game-winning hit. We were also reminded that despite struggling with runners in scoring position, the Dodgers' ability to hit the long ball -- they hit eight homers in the four games -- always keeps them within striking distance.
"Within a month, we can win the World Series and that's our mindset," Freese said. "We will do whatever it takes. We understand the talent on this roster. We all want to be out there playing and we know our time will come up at some point in game and some point in the series."
Jansen is fine
It appears the reports of the closer's demise have been extremely exaggerated.
Kenley Jansen allowed one hit and struck out one batter in one inning to earn the save in the 3-0 victory in Game 2 in Los Angeles. On Monday, he struck out two batters in the ninth inning to close out the victory in Game 4 in Atlanta.
Nine of his 12 pitches in Monday's outing were cut-fastballs that hovered in the 93-mph range. His four-seam fastball topped out at 96 mph.
"This is who I am," Jansen said. "Obviously, everybody is going to have their ups and downs. This season I had some downs and I was still great. I'll take that. We are going to the NLCS again and that's all that matters."
The starting pitching is coming together
The Dodgers have never entered the postseason during the last six seasons with their entire starting rotation clicking on all cylinders until this year. Hyun-Jin Ryu was dominant in his seven innings of work in Game 1 and Clayton Kershaw allowed two hits in eight innings in Game 2. Walker Buehler allowed only two hits in five innings in Game 3 -- though he endured one very ugly inning -- and Rich Hill gave up two runs on four hits in 4 1/3 innings Monday.
"Hyun-Jin did unbelievable and after Walker took his lump in that one inning, he came back and threw really well, which was huge for him moving forward," Kershaw said. "Rich kept us in the game. We got some depth there, which is great."
As for two things we are still waiting to learn…
How will the Dodgers' offense respond against a formidable pitching staff with a lockdown bullpen?
Atlanta's starting pitching averaged only 3 1/3 innings per start in the four games of the NLDS. It will be interesting to see how the Dodgers' offense fares against a Milwaukee staff that limited the Rockies to two runs in Game 1 and shut out Colorado in Game 2 and Game 3.
Pay close attention to how Cody Bellinger responds to the challenge. The center fielder walked four times, stole two bases and scored a run in the series, but he is hitless in 11 at-bats with four strikeouts so far in the postseason.
"Obviously, you want to hit, but at the end of the day, it's about the team winning," Bellinger said. "For me, if I'm not hitting, I know I can help defensively, and I know I can help stealing bases. I want to hit better than I am, but I am not really worried about it because I know I'm going to start hitting."
How will Buehler respond in the next round?
Much has been made about Buehler's confidence. His electric fastball is worthy of all of the accolades. But Buehler proved to be fallible in the 6-5 loss in Game 3. He gave up only two hits, but he was erratic at times, and was charged with five runs, including a second-inning grand slam to Ronald Acuna Jr.
He'll get another chance to shine soon.
Kershaw is expected to pitch Game 1 in Milwaukee on Friday and Buehler could follow him in Game 2 on Saturday. That leaves Ryu for Game 3 in Los Angeles and Hill for Game 4.
"Anytime you can get more familiar with the situation, you are going to be better off," Buehler said. "I'll just take it as a learning experience and trust the talent in this room to back me up. We are just very happy to go to the next round."
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.