The Dodgers inability to produce offensively for two games in a row ended their postseason run earlier than expected. In Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, mostly quiet bats meant no margin for error for a spent pitching staff, and the Braves pounced, winning 4-2 on Saturday to advance to Atlanta’s first World Series since 1999.
Game 6 was the fifth elimination game this postseason for the Dodgers. Living on the edge finally delivered the fatal blow, but it took awhile. LA’s loss on Saturday snapped a seven-game win streak in elimination games, dating back to last season.
Walker Buehler’s inauspicious start to the game included hard-hit balls by the first four hitters, all with exit velocities of 97 mph or higher. That included a single by Rosario, naturally. He didn’t score, but Atlanta did produce a run in the frame thanks to back-to-back doubles by Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley. That it was the only run of the inning felt like a win for Los Angeles.
But after that, Buehler settled down, pitching on three days rest for the second time in three starts, the first two such times in his career. He missed 11 bats in this game in his 77 pitches and struck out six, looking much sharper than in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium, when Buehler induced only three swinging strikes in 76 pitches.
Buehler just needed one more swinging strike in Game 6.
After getting the first two outs of the fourth inning, Buehler walked Travis d’Arnaud, then gave up a broken bat double by pinch-hitter Ehire Adrianza. Mookie Betts got the ball back to the infield in quick order, and with the catcher running, Braves third base coach Ron Washington held d’Arnaud at third. After all, Superman was on deck.
Buehler got ahead of Rosario with two cutters on the inner half of the plate, and later in the at-bat threw two sinkers away, one for a ball, and another fouled away. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Buehler threw his fifth cutter in, and Rosario didn’t miss.
The laser home run down the right field line broke a 1-1 tie, Rosario’s third home run of the series. Picked up in a salary dump at the trade deadline from Cleveland, Rosario is one of the quartet of outfielders acquired by Alex Anthopoulos, helping to fuel Atlanta’s second-half run. Rosario had an NLCS to remember with a pair of four-hit games, including a walk-off hit in Game 2 and a two-homer game in Game 4.
Rosario was an otherworldly 14-for-25 in the series, hitting .560/.607/1.040 with three home runs, five extra-base hits, nine RBI, and six runs scored, an easy choice for NLCS MVP.
In a similar situation in the seventh, facing the same three-run deficit provided by Rosario, the Dodgers had their best rally of the night. AJ Pollock doubled home a run against Luke Jackson to cut Atlanta’s lead to 4-2, but more importantly put runners on second and third base with nobody out.
In came left-hander Tyler Matzek, who brought a chainsaw to the mound to cut down the Dodgers chances. He struck out Albert Pujols swinging on four pitches, then got pinch-hitter Steven Souza Jr. looking on four pitches. After Mookie Betts watched two strikes of his own, he struck out swinging.
Matzek’s dominance continued through the heart of the order in the eighth in short order. His two perfect innings needed only 17 total pitches.
Buehler took the loss in Game 6, because he was the one who took the ball. He allowed four runs in four innings, and had a 4.91 ERA in 18⅓ innings this postseason in four starts, two of which were on three days rest for the first time in his career.
The Dodgers asked a lot of their starting pitchers all season, and when Buehler, Max Scherzer, and Julio Urías were the only three starters left in the cupboard they were asked to do even more. Buehler pitched on short rest twice, Scherzer and Urías were both used in relief on throw days.
Urías (200⅔) and Buehler (226) blew past their previous career highs in innings in 2021, by 73 and 31 innings, respectively, with everyone transitioning from a 60-game season to a full 162. With so many miles on the odometer for those two plus the 37-year-old Scherzer, the “check engine” light was blaring for the entire series against Atlanta.
After posting a 2.25 ERA in the wild card game and NLDS combined, Scherzer, Buehler, and Urías had little left in the NLCS, with a 7.50 ERA and getting a combined four outs after a fourth inning of work in their four starts.
A taxed big three starting pitchers
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The Dodgers bullpen, after Buehler, did its job, putting up four scoreless frames, giving the relief crew a 2.91 ERA in 34 innings in the NLCS. It was a plucky performance in a season’s worth of valiant efforts for the team.
After winning 106 games, tying the most in franchise history, battling the 107-win Giants down the final day, then winning the wild card game, outlasting San Francisco in a grueling five-game NLDS, the Dodgers met their match in the Braves, who got their revenge after dropping last year’s NLCS.
The Dodgers couldn’t complete a 3-1 series comeback for a second year in a row. They just ran out of steam.
NLCS Game 6 particulars
Home run: Eddie Rosario (3)
WP — AJ Minter (1-0): 2 IP, 4 strikeouts
LP — Walker Buehler (0-2): 4 IP, 7 hits, 4 runs, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts
Sv — Will Smith (4): 1 IP, 2 strikeouts
Lots of rest is ahead, with the offseason now upon us. The Dodgers’ next game will be at home, hosting the Rockies on Thursday, March 31 on opening day 2022 at Dodger Stadium.