The Dodgers are facing their fifth elimination game in 18 days, and trying to extend their seven-game win streak in such games dating back to 2020. The next challenge is Game 6 against the Braves, as the NLCS moves back to Truist Park in Atlanta.
“I guess when our backs are against the wall, we play our best and fight,” manager Dave Roberts said after Thursday’s Game 5 win. “But that’s just not an ideal spot to be in.”
While definitely not what they would have hoped, several Dodgers are at least experienced in games when playing with a season on the line.
Had Mookie Betts done nothing at the plate in last year’s NLCS, his contribution still would have been immense enough, with game-changing defensive gems in each of Games 5, 6, and 7. But he was also 5-for-12 at the plate in those three wins, and combined with his four elimination games this year, Betts has 14 hits in 29 at-bats when it’s do or die for the Dodgers, hitting .481/.500/.621 in seven games.
Seven Dodgers have played in at least six of the seven Dodgers elimination games in the last two postseasons, and all had their moment(s):
- Betts, aside from the defensive gems and the great overall hitting, had four hits in Game 5 against the Giants.
- Corey Seager hit three home runs in Games 5 and 6 in 2020 against the Braves, on his way to winning NLCS MVP.
- Will Smith turned Game 5 around last year with a three-run homer against Will Smith.
- Cody Bellinger hit a pennant-winning home run in the seventh inning of Game 7.
- Justin Turner hit a game-tying homer in the wild card game, and had a Superman dive double play in Game 7 against the Braves.
- Chris Taylor’s walk-off homer won the wild card game, and he hit three homers on a record night on Thursday.
- AJ Pollock homered twice on Thursday in Game 5 against the Braves.
Trea Turner wasn’t around last year, but in the four elimination games this year he has seven hits, including a double, in 17 at-bats (.412/.444/.471). He’s just 4-for-31 (.129) in the other seven games.
Dodgers in elimination games, 2020-21
Justin Turner isn’t active for Saturday’s elimination game, as he suffered a season-ending hamstring strain on Wednesday. That was the first of a string of Dodgers injuries this week, with David Price replacing Joe Kelly (biceps strain), and left-hander Justin Bruihl dealing with arm soreness.
The biggest injury is the newest, with Max Scherzer getting scratched from his Game 6 start, having not yet recovered from the dead arm he felt in his Game 2 start in Atlanta. Walker Buehler will instead start on Saturday, on three days rest.
That means the Dodgers bullpen will be heavily in play on Saturday, and possibly for two games this weekend in Atlanta.
Kelly pitched in seven of the Dodgers’ 11 postseason games, with no convenient replacement to take his key spots. But the six remaining active relievers who’ve been used the most have combined this postseason to strike out 44 against only three walks.
Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, Alex Vesia, Corey Knebel, and Phil Bickford have a collective 1.47 ERA and 1.45 FIP in 36⅔ innings over a total of 39 appearances.
Five of those six relievers pitched on Thursday, with Bickford not appearing in Game 5 after pitching the previous two days. All should be available for Saturday and potentially Sunday, at least ideally.
But ideal is hard to come by these days.
NLCS Game 6 info
Teams: Dodgers at Braves
Series: Atlanta leads, 3-2
Location: Truist Park, Atlanta
Time: 5:08 p.m.