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Dodgers’ win-now gambit doesn’t win Game 2, might have consequences later

LA’s third straight game decided in 9th inning sends them home down 2-0 in NLCS

Championship Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves - Game Two Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Dodgers pushed in all their chips in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, and it blew up in their face. The Braves walked off Los Angeles in the ninth inning for a second straight night, this time a 5-4 comeback win that put Atlanta up 2-0 in the NLCS for a second straight year.

Eddie Rosario delivered the game-winning single on Sunday, a rocket off a shifted Corey Seager’s glove that scored Dansby Swanson, but the train was careening off the track an inning earlier.

“You can’t be afraid to fail,” manager Dave Roberts said before Game 2. “Careful doesn’t play in the postseason.”

But there’s a difference between careful and reckless.

Up two runs with the Braves’ left-handed duo of Rosario and Freddie Freeman due up in the eighth, Roberts had a few options:

  • Stick with right-hander Blake Treinen, who pitched a scoreless seventh on just nine pitches, is the Dodgers’ most experienced multi-inning reliever, with no discernible splits.
  • Turn to Julio Urías, three days after he pitched four innings in Game 5 of the NLDS, and lined up to start Game 4 of the NLCS three days from now.
  • Use left-hander Justin Bruihl, who is much better against lefties than righties, and would eventually have to face switch-hitter Ozzie Albies, who is great against southpaws. Bruihl retired all three batters he faced in Game 1, including Rosario and Freeman, but didn’t face Albies.

Roberts opted for Urías, who closed out last year’s NLCS against the Braves with three perfect innings on two days rest. But on Sunday, his outing didn’t go as well.

Rosario singled, then advanced to second on a flyout. Albies brought him home on a single to short right, buoyed by a poor, bouncing throw from Steven Souza Jr. and an excellent slide by Rosario at home plate. Souza was in right field because Mookie Betts moved to center after Lux was double-switched out fo the game when Treinen entered.

Then Game 1 hero Austin Riley doubled to the centerfield wall, scoring Albies with the tying run.

The Dodgers tried a win-now move, but didn’t get the win. Now they potentially have consequences down the road, aside from a 2-0 series deficit.

If they need a rubric for how a pitcher might perform on only two days rest after a high-leverage relief appearance — which will be the case when Urías starts Game 4, as Roberts reiterated Sunday night — they can look at Max Scherzer’s start in Game 2.

Scherzer was pushed back an extra day to Sunday, giving him an extra day of rest after saving the final game of the NLDS. He was on board with the plan, noting how he’d never started on one day of rest but had with two days rest, coincidentally against the Dodgers in the 2019 NLDS.

Scherzer struck out seven of his 18 batters faced, but was also laboring, at 79 pitches with one out and one on in the fifth inning. In a 2-2 tie, manager Dave Roberts walked to the mound to pull Scherzer, who didn’t even protest, looking very much like a pitcher in his fourth high-intensity game — 15 of the 18 innings he’s pitched had the Dodgers either tied or separated by one run — in the last 12 days.

“My arm was dead,” Scherzer told reporters after the game. “I could tell when I was warming up.”

The two runs Scherzer allowed came on a rocket home run by Joc Pederson, into the second-deck Chop House area in right field. Pederson has connected with Atlanta thanks to three playoff home runs in relatively limited duty. But he wasn’t the only former Dodgers draft pick to hit his 12th career postseason home run on Sunday.

Seager hit a home run off Ian Anderson in the first inning to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead just two batters into the game.

Seager’s biggest power burst in his transcendent 2020 postseason came in the NLCS, with five home runs and two doubles against Atlanta. Seager in the first seven games this postseason hit three doubles, including one in each of the previous two games, but this was his first October home run in 2021.

The Dodgers made Ian Anderson work even after the two quick runs, putting two runners on in both the first and third innings. They weren’t able to score any of them, but the traffic was enough to get Anderson out of the game after just three innings.

Anderson, who still qualified as a rookie this season, has been excellent in his two postseasons, with a 1.35 ERA in six starts. He’s faced the Dodgers in half of those starts, and they’ve made the right-hander work:

  • vs. Reds/Marlins/Brewers: 16⅔ IP, 0 runs, 3 walks, 23 strikeouts
  • vs. Dodgers: 10 IP, 4 runs, 10 walks, 9 strikeouts

But despite facing six innings of the Atlanta bullpen, the Dodgers scored only twice more, and they seemed fortunate to do even that.

The Dodgers, similar to their struggles all postseason, were hitless in their first eight at-bats with runners in scoring position, leaving runners on base in four of the first six innings. They finally broke through in the seventh, an eight-batter frame that featured only one ball hit into play.

Two walks, one intentional, and a hit by pitch loaded the bases with two outs for Chris Taylor, playing third base in place of Justin Turner, who suffered a neck stinger on Saturday. Taylor flared a ball to centerfield that eluded Guillermo Heredia for a double, scoring two to break the tie.

Betts, who scored the first of two runs on the play, got into scoring position by stealing his second base of the night. The Dodgers stole four bases in Game 2, tying a franchise record done three other times. In eight postseason games the Dodgers are 11 for 11 in steals this postseason, after stealing 65 bases during the entire regular season.

The Dodgers finished 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, but also only had four hits in the game. Overall, LA is hitting .233/.304/.361, and averaging 3.38 runs per game. If they don’t improve that soon, the season will end.

NLCS Game 2 particulars

Home runs: Corey Seager (1); Joc Pederson (3)

WP — Will Smith (2-0): 1 IP, 2 strikeouts

LP — Brusdar Graterol (0-1): ⅔ IP, 1 hit, 1 run

Up next

Monday night includes an off-day workout at Dodger Stadium before potentially three games in Los Angeles. Walker Buehler starts on six days rest on Tuesday afternoon (2:08 p.m. PT, TBS), the only daytime start of the three games at Dodger Stadium. Charlie Morton is on the same rest for the Braves after he, like Buehler, started on short rest in Game 4 of the NLDS.