Braves left fielder Evan Gattis watches from the dugout during the seventh inning of Thursday’s opening game of the National League Division Series.
ATLANTA — Clayton Kershaw, who hadn’t faced Atlanta since 2011, showed the Braves exactly why he led the National League in ERA for three consecutive seasons and is potentially headed to his second Cy Young Award.
Kershaw struck out 12 over seven innings and the Los Angeles Dodgers jumped on Braves starter Kris Medlen early en route to a 6-1 win in the opener of the National League Division Series before a less-than-capacity crowd of 43,021 at Turner Field on Thursday night.
Kershaw, who allowed three singles, struck out nine of the last 11 batters he faced, including a streak of six in a row during one stretch. He walked three and departed after 124 pitches, allowing just a walk in his final three innings.
Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run homer as part of the Dodgers’ early assault on Medlen and was joined by Mark Ellis, Yasiel Puig and A.J. Ellis with two hits.
It was the first postseason victory for Kershaw, who came in 0-1 with a 5.87 ERA over five appearances — two starts — in 2008 and 2009. That was when his career was just starting, though.
Kershaw’s ERA of 1.87 this year was the lowest for a major league starter since Pedro Martinez posted a 1.74 mark with the Boston Red Sox in 2000 and the left-hander is 51-23 over the past three regular seasons.
Medlen didn’t look anything like the pitcher who didn’t allow an earned run over 13 2/3 innings in two starts against the Dodgers during the regular season or the one who was 5-0 with a 0.84 ERA in his past six starts, winning National League Pitcher of the Month for September.
After Medlen struck out the side in the first inning, the Dodgers broke through for two runs in the second, two more in the third and one in the fourth, staking Kershaw to an early cushion.
Medlen was pulled after giving up a leadoff single to Gonzalez and then hitting Puig in the fifth inning. Luis Ayala worked out of a bases-loaded jam to keep the Atlanta starter’s line from looking worse.
In four-plus innings, Medlen allowed five runs on nine hits, leaving after just 74 pitches.
Puig and Juan Uribe singled with one out in the second inning, the aggressive Puig taking third base, and Skip Schumaker delivered a sacrifice fly for the first run. Ellis drove in the second run with a double that just eluded the diving Evan Gattis in left field.
Gonzalez made it 4-0 in the third, picking on a first-pitch changeup from Medlen and homering over the center field wall with two outs and Carl Crawford on base after a leadoff single.
In the fourth, the Dodgers again struck with two outs. Mark Ellis’ single drove in A.J. Ellis, who doubled for the second time.
The Braves’ run in the bottom of fourth, making it 5-1, also came with two outs. Chris Johnson delivered a single to score Freddie Freeman, who singled and moved up on a walk to Gattis.
NOTES: RHP Zack Greinke (15-4, 2.63 ERA) will start Game 2 for the Dodgers on Friday against Braves LHP Mike Minor (13-9, 3.21 ERA). … With Matt Kemp out for the postseason and Andre Ethier hobbled, Shumaker takes over center field for the Dodgers. Scott Van Slyke will be his backup. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Ethier: “He’s here to pinch-hit. You’re not going to see him in the outfield.” … The Braves won the regular-season series 5-2 over the Dodgers, sweeping a three-game set in Atlanta during mid-May. … Former Braves 3B Chipper Jones, who retired after the 2012 season, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Bobby Cox, who managed the Braves to 14 consecutive division titles, will do the honors for Game 2. … The start time for Sunday’s Game 3 in Los Angeles will be 5:07 p.m. PT, Major League Baseball announced Thursday.