Braves-Dodgers: Managers key in Game 3

Of the past 15 Division Series that were tied 1-1, the Game 3 winner won the series 14 times, so you can understand the importance of Sunday night's Braves-Dodgers game in Los Angeles. Interestingly, the matchup between Julio Teheran and Hyun-jin Ryu is just the 11th between rookie starters in postseason history.

Even more interesting may be the strategies that managers Fredi Gonzalez and Don Mattingly employ in what should be another tense, close game. Both skippers made several questionable moves in Game 2, topped by Mattingly intentionally walking Reed Johnson with two outs to load the bases for Jason Heyward, who singled in two critical runs.

Here are some strategic elements to potentially watch for in this game:

  • Carl Crawford versus Braves left-handed relievers. Crawford was pretty useless against left-handers this year, hitting .206/.261/.290. Mattingly let him hit against Luis Avilan in the seventh inning of Game 2 with the tying run on third base and Crawford hit into an inning-ending double play. Michael Young had already hit in that inning and once you get past Young, the Dodgers bench thins out in a hurry -- Scott Van Slyke, backup infielder Nick Punto, backup catcher Tim Federowicz, the hobbled Andre Ethier (who can't hit lefties anyway) and pinch-running specialist Dee Gordon. Van Slyke hit .234/.342/.422 against lefties so would have been a better option. While you need to be careful about burning through your bench in the seventh inning, if you're ever going to hit for Crawford that was about as big a situation as you can run into. And if you're not going to hit for him, it gives Gonzalez an easy matchup advantage.

  • How long can Craig Kimbrel go? Kimbrel recorded a four-out save in Game 2, and it's a sign of closer usage that people were more surprised that Kimbrel was brought in for more than three outs than outraged that Gonzalez let David Carpenter (who did have a good year) face Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig in the eighth, after Carpenter had given up a two-run homer to Hanley Ramirez. In other words, Carpenter, a guy the Astros and Blue Jays traded away in the past year, faced the big guns in the lineup while Kimbrel got the bottom of the order. Let's see how Gonzalez handles Kimbrel in this game.

  • One-run strategies. Both managers showed in Game 2 that they'll play for one run if the situation arises. Gonzalez elected to have Andrelton Simmons bunt in front of No. 8 hitter Elliot Johnson, for example. Expect more bunts that will drive statheads crazy.

  • Ryu versus Braves lefties. Ryu is actually a reverse-platoon left-hander, as lefties hit .270 off him while righties hit .245. So don't be surprised if Mattingly lifts Ryu for a lefty reliever (Paco Rodriguez or J.P. Howell) to face Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman or Brian McCann in a key situation.

  • Ethier coming off the bench. Teheran's slider made him much more effective against right-handers (.204 versus .289). Ethier still isn't ready to play the field, but provides an interesting pinch-hitting option if Mattingly sees an opportunity in the middle innings -- although it's unlikely he'd hit for, say, catcher A.J. Ellis or third baseman Juan Uribe, leaving Ethier for Ryu as the only probably situation that arises where Ethier would face Teheran.

  • Mattingly and the bullpen. He probably overthought things a bit in Game 2, not thinking Gonzalez would hit Johnson for Jose Constanza when Mattingly replaced Chris Withrow with Rodriguez. Brian Wilson has looked good as the setup guy, so Mattingly is unlikely to deviate from a Wilson-Kenley Jansen combo in the eighth and ninth. But that does give him the option of a pretty quick hook on Ryu if needed and use Withrow and Rodriguez in the sixth and/or seventh innings if he has the lead.