Saturday, August 13 2022
Los Angeles, CA - October 20: The Los Angeles Dodgers bench watches from the dugout during the ninth inning.
A somber Dodgers dugout during the ninth inning of Wednesday’s game against Atlanta. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

By the time the Atlanta Braves recorded the final out, Dodger Stadium was already half empty.

Delirious the night before, the venue on Wednesday witnessed mostly despair.

The Dodgers lost to the Atlanta Braves 9-2 in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, putting them into a 3-1 hole and on the verge of elimination.

They came back from such a hole last year but still don’t have history on their side. Of the 89 MLB teams who have ever faced a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series, only 14 — including last year’s Dodgers in the NLCS — have come back to win.

And based on their performance Wednesday, they certainly look like a team that could have trouble staying alive.

“It’s going to be a big day tomorrow,” outfielder AJ Pollock said of Thursday’s Game 5. “We’ve got to regroup.”

Here are five takeaways with the Dodgers facing elimination.

Bullpen game ahead

Corey Knebel pitches the ball.Corey Knebel pitches the ball.
In Game 1, the Dodgers opened with right-hander Corey Knebel. (Wally Skalij / Associated Press)

The Dodgers know who they’ll have on the mound if they get back to Atlanta, with Max Scherzer slated to pitch Game 6 and Walker Buehler lined up for Game 7.

It’s Game 5 that presents the biggest challenge: The Dodgers will have to throw a bullpen game, while the Braves will turn to ace Max Fried.

In the wake of Game 4’s loss, it wasn’t exactly clear how the Dodgers might navigate their pitching plan for Thursday night.

Facing a similar situation in Game 1 of this series, they used right-hander Corey Knebel as an opener; Phil Bickford, Justin Bruihl and Tony Gonsolin for the next four innings; then Alex Vesia, Joe Kelly, Kenley Jansen and Blake Treinen for an inning apiece after that.

The Dodgers lost on a walk-off, but the overall pitching results were good: three runs, six hits, 14 strikeouts, no walks.

While they could attempt something similar on Thursday, the circumstances will be trickier because three of the eight pitchers (Bickford, Gonsolin and Bruihl) will have each pitched the previous two days.

One possibility for the Dodgers is using the other two relievers who didn’t pitch in Game 1: Brusdar Graterol, who, along with Treinen, would be the only relievers coming off two days of rest; and Evan Phillips, who has long-relief capabilities and is coming off an impressive scoreless 1⅔ inning outing in Game 3.

And while there probably aren’t any regular starters who can help Thursday, the rotation would be set up well if the bullpen can get through Game 5.

“I expect our guys to think about tomorrow and tomorrow only, looking at how we’re going to be able to prevent runs tomorrow,” Roberts said. “It’s going to be a bullpen game. I feel very confident … I feel very good about our chances to win a game at home tomorrow night.

Braves bullpen gem

Jesse Chavez pitches for the Braves.Jesse Chavez pitches for the Braves.

Atlanta turned to pitcher Jesse Chavez in the first inning Wednesday, and he delivered. (Associated Press)

The Dodgers won’t have to look far to find an example of what they need.

On Wednesday night, the Braves not only won using a bullpen game, they dominated even after their original opener was scratched hours before the game.

Huascar Ynoa was supposed to be the first Braves pitcher to take the ball. But after he experienced shoulder discomfort pregame, the team turned to veteran Jesse Chavez for the opening inning.

Chavez retired the side in order, then gave way to Drew Smyly. The left-hander kept the Dodgers quiet for the next three innings, burying curveball after curveball near the bottom of the zone while allowing just one baserunner (courtesy of a Corey Seager walk in the fourth) before the fifth inning.

The Dodgers finally chased Smyly from the game in the bottom of the fifth, putting two aboard before AJ Pollock singled them both home against reliever Chris Martin.

But the back end of the Braves’ bullpen picked it up from there. AJ Minter faced the minimum number of batters in the sixth and seventh innings, workhorse set-up man Tyler Matzek posted a zero in the eighth, and closer Will Smith breezed through a non-save situation by retiring the side in order in the ninth.

“Our bullpen guys, all they do is answer the phone and get ready,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, whose bullpen leads all teams in the postseason with a 2.60 ERA. “I ride them. I told them all they got saddle cinches on their sides because I have tightened that thing so hard riding them. They have done a great job.”

Hitting Urías’ fastball

Julio Urías looks up and raises his hatJulio Urías looks up and raises his hat

The middle of the Braves lineup posed trouble for Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías on Wednesday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

When it came to hitting fastballs this year, the Braves were feast or famine.

They had the second-lowest batting average in the majors against four-seamers, sinkers and cutters, but they ranked 10th in slugging and swatted the fifth-most home runs. They hunted fastballs, too, with only the Boston Red Sox swinging at more as a team this season.

Against Julio Urías on Wednesday night, that approach reaped its benefits, with the middle of the Braves lineup attacking a few misplaced heaters for three solo home runs that gave them an early lead.

Eddie Rosario’s second-inning blast came on an 0-2 four-seamer that catcher Will Smith set up to receive low and away, but drifted up and over the outer half of the plate. An at-bat later, Urías couldn’t get his fastball down again, leaving another pitch belt-high that Adam Duvall drove over the wall in left-center field.

Freddie Freeman’s home run in the third came on a tougher pitch to hit, a fastball at the top of the zone that the former MVP was able to lift out to right — tagging Urías with his first three-home-run game since his rookie season in 2016.

“They just had a good game plan and took good swings,” Roberts said.

“They made those adjustments throughout the game,” echoed Urías, through an interpreter. “Some of those pitches I thought were a little bit better than the results showed.”

Stolen base record

In 162 regular season games, the Dodgers stole just 65 bases.

In 10 playoff games, they already have 14.

The latest one set a franchise postseason record, and helped score a run in Game 4, too.

With two outs in the bottom of the fifth and runners on the corners, Cody Bellinger swiped second base without a throw. Moments later, AJ Pollock singled him home on a two-run base hit.

The Dodgers have yet to be caught stealing en route to their franchise record total, going a perfect 14 for 14.

The only problem: They’ve been bad at defending steals, failing to catch the Braves on any of their four attempts in this series.

One last time at home

The Dodgers run onto the field at Dodger StadiumThe Dodgers run onto the field at Dodger Stadium

The Dodgers have gone 33 games without consecutive losses in Chavez Ravine, where they had a .716 win percentage overall. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

To eliminate the Dodgers on Thursday, the Braves will have to do something no club has done to the Dodgers since July: beat them in back-to-back games at home.

Since dropping two in a row to the San Francisco Giants in late July — only the fifth time it happened all year — the Dodgers have gone 33 games without consecutive losses in Chavez Ravine, where they had a .716 win percentage overall.

So do the Braves think they can do it?

“It is hard,” Snitker said. “I mean, as we saw last year, winning a game is hard, especially a veteran team like this that we’re playing. And it’s hard to win here.”

“But,” Snitker added, “I feel good about our club just from what we experienced last year and where these guys are.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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