Clayton Kershaw strikes again. After beating the Braves twice in the 2013 postseason, the Los Angeles Dodgers ace took the mound and went the distance on Thursday night, shutting down the Atlanta Braves lineup for eight innings and holding on for a 2-1 win in the ninth.
The win completes the three-game sweep for the NL West leaders and sinks the Braves' second-half record to 6-8. Here are three observations from the game:
For the second straight night, a hyped pitching matchup lived up to its billing.
A night after Dodgers star Zack Greinke battled young Braves left-hander Alex Wood, it was Wood's teammate, Julio Teheran, who was handed the ball and asked to go pitch-for-pitch with the best pitcher on the planet. Dueling with Clayton Kershaw is difficult enough as it is, but asking Teheran to match Kershaw while he's in a career-best zone is nearly impossible, especially with the type of run support the Braves offense has given some of its top pitching performances this season.
Kershaw was not lights-out on Thursday night, but he was about as close as it gets to that while scattering nine hits. The three double plays he induced certainly helped. The reigning NL Cy Young winner held the Braves to just one run in yet another complete game effort (his fifth such outing, tying the highest mark of any major league team this season), striking out nine batters without allowing a single walk.
"He doesn't rattle," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "That's why he is what he is. He doesn't rattle, he keeps making his pitches."
Since the beginning of June, Kershaw is 10-0 with a 0.94 ERA. And as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, the 26-year-old has logged at least seven strikeouts and allowed three runs or fewer in each of his past 13 outings -- the second-longest streak over the past century.
That was the task at hand for Julio Teheran.
After allowing a hit to each of the Dodgers first three batters, including an RBI double from Adrian Gonzalez, the wheels could have fallen off for Teheran in the first inning. One run is a mountain to climb against Kershaw. And when All-Star outfielder Yasiel Puig took him deep in the third inning, things went from bad to worse. But Teheran responded.
He held the Dodgers scoreless over the next five innings, matching Kershaw goose egg for goose egg. He allowed just one hit after the Puig homer, striking out nine batters and walking three. He's posted nine or more strikeouts in four of his past eight outings.
"That's two nights in a row that our starters have given us terrific outings, and usually you only give up two runs you've got a pretty good chance to win the ballgame," Gonzalez said. "And we didn't these last couple (games)."
2. If this is a playoff preview, the Braves' offense is in big trouble
In many ways, the series in Los Angeles revealed very little. The offense scored seven runs in three games, Teheran and Wood turned in gems but did not receive proper run support and the bullpen showed some blemishes. Aside from the bullpen struggles, which have not been a major problem for this team, that's a rough draft for the 2014 season to date for the Braves.
But as top teams jockeyed for leverage at the MLB trade deadline on Thursday afternoon, it's difficult to not view the series sweep through the newly reconfigured league-wide lens.
In the American League, Detroit and Oakland are fighting for "Super Team of the Moment" distinction, loading up their rotations by adding Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel (Oakland) and former Cy Young winner David Price (Detroit). The Cardinals looked to shore up their rotation by adding Justin Masterson and John Lackey. Aside from those teams, the Dodgers and Nationals also feature excellent starting pitching -- meaning the road to the World Series is likely going to go through the backyards of teams that can match the Braves' pitching prowess.
There's little shame in getting shutdown by Kershaw -- every lineup suffers the same fate it seems -- but the Braves have come up short far too often against top pitching this season.
To read more on the Dodgers win over the Braves, visit FOXSportsSouth.com