The Dodgers offense showed its might with a record-setting outburst to win Game 3. But the bats wilted with a chance to tie the series, providing a spotlight to illuminate every single flaw from October failures past.
A six-run sixth inning proved the Dodgers’ undoing in Game 4 of the NLCS, giving the Braves a 10-2 win and a 3-1 series lead, pushing the Dodgers to the brink of elimination.
Though trailing the series entering Thursday, any potential advantage the Dodgers had rested in facing a rookie pitcher starting Game 4 — the third straight rookie pitcher to start for the Braves — and a potential bullpen game in Game 5. But that rookie pitcher, Bryse Wilson, proved more than up to the task.
Wilson allowed only one hit — an Edwin Ríos home run — and a walk in six innings, the longest outing of his major league career, while striking out five, needing only 74 pitches to silence an offense that was so loud the night before.
That set up another chapter of the vaunted Clayton Kershaw postseason narrative, which tends to overwhelm every other thing that happens in these October games.
Kershaw allowed a run on four hits and a walk through five innings. He struck out four and got two double plays to limit the damage. It was a perfectly fine first two times through the Braves order, but with the Dodgers offense mostly missing in action, the game was tied at 1-1.
At 71 pitches through five innings, it’s reasonable for Dave Roberts to have Kershaw start the sixth inning.
With the top of the Braves order due up, and Kershaw two days removed from getting scratched from his start with back spasms, it’s also reasonable to have Kershaw on an extremely short leash.
The sixth inning started innocently enough, with an infield chop over Kershaw’s head that Ronald Acuña Jr. beat for a single, then advanced to second base after Kiké Hernandez’s throw got past Max Muncy and went into the Braves dugout.
Up came the left-handed Freddie Freeman, who smashed a ball 101.1 mph into a shift-aided lineout two innings earlier. This should have been the left-handed Kershaw’s last batter. As a Brusdar Graterol warmed up, Freeman smashed a ball even harder this time, this time his 105.5 mph grounder got into right field for a double and a Braves lead.
“I’m not going to take Clayton out after a week ground ball, and another ground ball off the bat of Freeman,” Roberts said.
With Graterol ready at this point, Kershaw stayed in the game to face Marcell Ozuna, who hit .356/.463/.867 against left-handers this season. As you wonder whether that slugging percentage is a typo (it’s not), you might remember Ozuna from such earlier at-bats as his screaming home run in the fourth inning for Atlanta’s first run of the game.
As you might expect, this matchup did not end well for the Dodgers, as Ozuna doubled to score Freeman, a 3-1 lead that spelled the end of Kershaw’s night.
These were the exit velocities for Ozuna against Kershaw on Thursday, per Baseball Savant:
The next part of the Dodgers’ October meltdown checklist happened next. The relief pitcher that reasonable people would have brought in sooner ends up only exacerbating the situation.
Graterol, after a lineout, allowed a single to score Ozuna, because October wouldn’t be complete without a Kershaw-bequeathed runner scoring after he leaves. But then Graterol allowed a double and another single, eventually plating three runs of his own.
It was a full-blown disaster inning for the Dodgers that not only torpedoed their chances of winning the series, but also helped distract how inept their offense was for six innings against a rookie pitcher making his postseason debut.
Every Dodgers relief pitcher used in Game 4 either allowed at least a run or allowed an inherited run to score on their watch. At some point it doesn’t matter what buttons you push when every one leads to something bad.
Winds of change
Especially in the early part of the game, the wind was so prevalent that you could see the pants of the players blowing while on the field. Several players, including Freeman and Acuña, were shown on the broadcast indicating they had trouble seeing.
Globe Life Field has a retractable roof, and one would think it would have been as easy call to close the roof before the game with such wind prevalent. But, with fans in the stands during a pandemic, it wasn’t that simple.
I’m told MLB wants these games to be played with the roof opened unless it rains. Having fans here during a pandemic is another factor (would rather have it be open air). MLB made the decision today.— Jorge Castillo (@jorgecastillo) October 16, 2020
“It seemed like it was crazy enough to where they might want to close the roof, but it didn’t affect me much,” Kershaw said.
The wind at least provided a talking point, with Joc Pederson’s 411-foot flyout to center in the fourth inning not ending up a home run, and again in the seventh when a potential three-run shot by A.J. Pollock died at the right field wall.
The Dodgers did end up scoring one of those potential three runs in the seventh to pull within five, only to have Ozuna simply laugh at the idea of wind holding him back, homering three pitches into the bottom of the inning to get that run back for the Braves.
Ozuna was 4-for-5 with two home runs and a double, driving in four and scoring three.
Los Angeles managed all of three hits in Game 3, and have a bullpen — which the Dodgers consider their deepest in years — that’s allowed 15 runs in 15⅔ innings in this NLCS, plus all three runners inherited from starting pitchers have scored.
“When we do get ahead, we’re not finishing with the strikeout. We’ve just got to continue to try and make pitches,” Roberts said. “I still believe in every single guy in that clubhouse.”
The Dodgers have no room for error remaining.
Game 4 particulars
Home runs: Edwin Ríos (2); Marcell Ozuna 2 (3)
WP — Bryse Wilson (1-0): 6 IP, 1 hit, 1 run, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts
LP — Clayton Kershaw (2-1): 5+ IP, 7 hits, 4 runs, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts
Game 5 of the NLCS on Friday was locked into a 6:08 p.m. PT start time (FS1), the latest of the series, earlier Thursday when the Astros stayed alive to force a Game 6 of the ALCS against the Rays.