Dodgers vs. Braves NLDS 2013: Clayton Kershaw is the Difference-Maker

Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles Dodgers

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It is that time of the year again. Playoff baseball is back, and only eight teams remain as the road to the 2013 World Series continues.

There are plenty of interesting matchups throughout the Divisional Series round, but the most intriguing to me is on the NL side, where the Atlanta Braves are taking on the Los Angeles Dodgers starting on Thursday night in Atlanta.

Both of these teams have a ton of star power on their rosters: Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig and the list goes on and on. With all the stars in this series, you would think that it would be difficult to only name one difference-maker. For me, it was not. This series will depend on the left arm of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

Kershaw helped lead the Dodgers to a 92-70 record and a NL West division championship this season. The 25-year-old lefty went 16-9 with an incredible 1.83 ERA and 0.915 WHIP, both of which were the best in all of baseball. His 232 strikeouts were third in MLB and tops in the NL. Kershaw has been incredible this season, and is the obvious favorite to take home his second Cy Young Award.

With all of his success in the regular season, it is easy to think that it will translate to the postseason. Well, so far in his career, Kershaw is 0-1 with a 5.87 ERA in the playoffs. He only has 15.1 innings pitched in the postseason, so it is obviously a small sample size. The Dodgers reached the playoffs in 2008 (Kershaw’s rookie season) and again in 2009, but have not been back since.

Obviously, all of his postseason appearances were from much earlier in his career. Regardless, Kershaw must perform better in this postseason if the Dodgers expect to make a World Series run.

Kershaw kicks things off for the Dodgers in Game 1 against Atlanta. This game will be huge because, if he can shut down the Braves and Los Angeles comes out with a win, they all of a sudden have home-field advantage in the series. Also, if needed, Kershaw could pitch again later in the series, making the other games big for the Braves because they surely do not want to go into a must-win situation against Kershaw.

Nothing against the Braves’ pitching staff, but they simply cannot matchup against Kershaw, and that is what makes him the ultimate difference-maker in this series.

Daniel Schmelzer is a baseball writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @D_Schmelzer, “Like” him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.

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