NLCS Recap: The Slipper Still Fits in Atlanta

NLCS Recap: The Slipper Still Fits in Atlanta

by October 24, 2021 0 comments

Things looked bleak for the eventual NLCS champion Atlanta Braves when All-Star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. tore his ACL on July 10. At the time, they were just 43-44 and couldn’t seem to get out of their own way. Fast forward three months, and Atlanta has a date in the Big Dance with the Houston Astros. Houston is not quite baseball’s Prince Charming, but many doubted whether the Cinderella Braves even deserved an invitation.

Brian Snitker‘s club calmly wiped the brow with three straight wins over the vaunted Milwaukee Brewers rotation, winning the series in four games. Knocking off the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers “superteam” in the NLCS would be no easy feat.

As for those Dodgers, the only stress they had this season regarding performance was whether they could catch the Giants and avoid the Wild Card Game. While they ultimately had to go through the Cardinals to make a playoff series, they dispatched both St. Louis and the Giants in a combined six games.

This series in particular? It was a lot closer than your typical six-game series.

Game 1: Braves 3, Dodgers 2

Both teams showcased their resiliency by overcoming a one-run deficit in the first four innings of the NLCS. After that, it was nothing but zeroes until Austin Riley hit a ninth-inning walk-off single from the hand of Blake Treinen.

Max Fried started for Atlanta, tossing six innings of two-run ball. He allowed eight hits, walked no one and struck out five but got tagged with a no decision. The Braves bullpen scratched and clawed through three scoreless innings between Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson and Will Smith before Riley’s heroics in the ninth.

Riley was the primary offensive star, collecting two hits––one of which was a game-tying homer in the fourth––and two runs batted in.

It was a bullpen game for the Dodgers. Corey Knebel, once a closer for the Milwaukee Brewers, got just his fifth major league start. He went 1.1 innings, allowing a run on one hit and striking out two. The Dodgers also got outs from Phil Bickford, Justin Bruihl, Tony Gonsolin, Alex Vesia, Joe Kelly and Kenley Jansen before Treinen gave up the walk-off after one third of an inning.

Their stars on offense were Will Smith (1-for-4 with a home run) and Chris Taylor (2-for-3 with a double, a walk and an RBI) in the losing effort.

Game 2: Braves 5, Dodgers 4

Similar to Game 1, both teams overcame deficits––this time, they both overcame two runs.

The Dodgers struck first with a two-run homer by Corey Seager in the first inning, then Atlanta retaliated with two runs of their own on a Joc Pederson homer in the bottom of the fourth.

Los Angeles scored two more in the top of the seventh on a bizarre bloop double.

Atlanta came roaring back on a couple of aggressive sends by third-base coach Ron Washington.

Then, in almost anti-climactic fashion, the winning run came across on a botched ground ball by Corey Seager off the bat of Eddie Rosario.

The Braves only got three innings out of Ian Anderson, who wasn’t sharp. Three hits, two earned runs, three walks and just two strikeouts. The rest of the Braves pitching staff combined for two earned runs on one hit through the next six innings. Even with six walks, the Braves bullpen kept the Dodgers at bay for much of the night.

Los Angeles sent Max Scherzer to the mound, who was on-point, outside of one pitch. The veteran went 4.1 innings, allowing two earned runs on four hits, walking one while striking out seven.

Their bullpen was fine until the eighth, where they allowed three runs over the next 1.2 innings, eventually losing in walk-off fashion for the second consecutive night.

Game 3: Dodgers 6, Braves 5

This game can be summed up in one phrase: blown by Atlanta.

Five outs away from a commanding three games to none lead, the Atlanta sports curse struck again. Cody Bellinger, who posted just a 48 wRC+ in 2021, tomahawked a high fastball into the right-center field bleachers for a game-tying three-run home run.

Walker Buehler got bailed out of having to take a loss that wasn’t all his fault. Gavin Lux dropped a fly ball. Umpire Jerry Meals missed a call that would have struck out Joc Pederson, only for him to get an RBI single.

Buehler went 3.1 innings, allowing four runs (two earned) on six hits, walking three and striking out three. From there, the bullpen was rock-solid, allowing just one run over the next 5.1 innings.

On the topic of starters getting bailed out for poor performances, Charlie Morton walked four in the first inning and somehow escaped five innings with only two earned runs allowed. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he kept the Dodgers off the board outside of another first-inning homer by Seager.

The bullpen coughed it up for Atlanta, however. Luke Jackson got tagged for four earned runs, and Jesse Chavez was responsible for allowing that fourth one to cross. This game had “beginning of the end” vibes for Atlanta, who had looked unbeatable to that point.

Game 4: Braves 9, Dodgers 2

The legend of Eddie Rosario came to light in this game. At the trade deadline, Rosario came over from Cleveland for Pablo Sandoval. In Game 4 of the NLCS, he went 4-for-5 with two homers and was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

On the flip side, the Dodgers looked done for. Julio Urias (3.13 FIP in over 185 innings) got lit up for five earned runs in five innings. He even allowed three home runs. On the other hand, Atlanta got great work in a bullpen game opened by Jesse Chavez. They only struck out four batters but allowed just four hits and two runs in the winning effort.

Game 5: Dodgers 11, Braves 2

The Braves got a two-run homer from Freddie Freeman in the top of the first, then completely lost it. After that home run, the Dodgers scored 11 unanswered runs. Five were off Max Fried, who allowed homers to A.J. Pollock and Taylor in the second inning. Then, six more off three Braves relievers, including four off of Jacob Webb in the eighth.

It was the Taylor show. He slugged three home runs and drove in six of Los Angeles’ 11 on the night, saving their NLCS hopes.

Game 6: Braves 4, Dodgers 2

Rosario put a stamp on his NLCS MVP run by going 2-for-4 with a homer and three runs batted in. However, Tyler Matzek is the real hero of the ballgame. Coming in after Jackson had surrendered a run, and with runners on second and third with nobody out, Matzek dispatched Albert Pujols, Steven Souza Jr. and Mookie Betts with an overwhelming fastball supply.

Matzek went on to get three more outs in the eighth inning and paved the way for Will Smith to lock down the pennant-clinching save in the ninth.

On the other side, the Dodgers didn’t end Friday with good news. Max Scherzer (slated to pitch Game 6 of the NLCS), had to back away due to general arm fatigue. This issue was lingering since he closed out Game 5 of the NLDS against the Giants. Buehler had to start on short rest and was competitive for the bulk of his outing. Unfortunately, he was left in too long and allowed a two-out single followed by the Rosario blast.

Anderson was great for four innings, allowing just one run before being lifted for the pinch-hitter than set up the Rosario home run. The right-hander threw 50 percent of his pitches as changeups, getting a whiff on eight of the 33.

NLCS Statistics

Stars:

Eddie Rosario (ATL): .560/.607/1.040, three home runs, nine runs batted in and a record-tying 14 hits. He also took home NLCS MVP honors.

Freddie Freeman (ATL): .286/.444/.619, two home runs, four runs batted in and six walks––four coming in Game 6.

Tyler Matzek (ATL): six innings, two earned runs, 11 strikeouts and just three baserunners allowed.

Will Smith (ATL): Two wins and one save, no earned runs allowed in four innings of work with four strikeouts and one walk.

Chris Taylor (LAD): .476/.542/1.048, three home runs, nine runs batted in, three stolen bases and 10 hits.

AJ Pollock (LAD): .381/.381/.810, two home runs, seven runs batted in and three doubles.

Cody Bellinger (LAD): .412/.500/.588, one home run, four runs batted in, two stolen bases and seven hits.

Brusdar Graterol (LAD): One earned run in 4.1 innings, four strikeouts and no walks.

Kenley Jansen (LAD): No earned runs in four innings, six strikeouts and one walk.

Duds:

Luke Jackson (ATL): As many runs allowed as outs, which was five. That’s good for a 27.00 ERA. For someone who made appearances in four of the six games, you’d expect a little more productivity.

Julio Urias (LAD): After an elite season, Urias became the Dodgers’ “super pitcher” like he was in the 2020 postseason. However, he allowed seven runs on 11 hits in just six innings between a start and a relief appearance.

Trea Turner (LAD): .536 OPS, zero extra-base hits.

What’s Next?

The Braves have a date with the Houston Astros in the World Series, with Game 1 on the docket for Tuesday night.

As for the Dodgers, they have a long winter ahead. What do they do with Scherzer and Jansen? Is Bellinger worth keeping around after a great postseason, despite his borderline unplayable regular season? On top of that, how did they manage to lose to a team without Ronald Acuña Jr.? Moreover, they also had the largest payroll in the National League.

It’ll be interesting to see how both things fare, moving forward. For now, Atlanta will be playing for their first World Series title since 1995.

Series: World Series

Teams: Atlanta Braves versus Houston Astros

Game 1: Tuesday, October 26, at 8:09 p.m. EDT

TV: FOX


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