Braves: Minter shines, but Dodgers win Game 5

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With a chance to eliminate the Dodgers and earn their first World Series appearance in over 20 years, the Braves bullpen couldn’t quite finish off the game’s most dangerous offense Friday night. Thanks to three runs in both the sixth and seventh innings, L.A. defeated Atlanta 7-3 in Game 5 of the NLCS. Unfortunately, this series will continue.

Friday night started much smoother than anticipated. The Braves closer from two seasons ago, A.J. Minter, toed the rubber and settled in rather quickly. He retired L.A. lead-off hitter Mookie Betts via fly out on the game’s very first pitch.

With all of Braves Country on the edge of their seats praying that Minter could provide at least an inning or two, the Atlanta lefty worked through the first frame in efficient fashion, allowing only a double by Justin Turner in between strike outs of Corey Seager and Max Muncy. Minter required only 14 pitches to navigate that first inning. The solid start on the pitching side gave way to yet another quick threat by the Braves’ first handful of hitters.

In Atlanta’s half of the first, following a Ronald Acuna groundout, Freddie Freeman doubled and advanced to third on a passed ball. Next, Marcell Ozuna worked a five-pitch walk to put runners on the corners. The setup was perfect for a cold Travis d’Arnaud. The catcher nearly homered to right for a perfectly placed sac-fly, scoring Freeman for the game’s first run. Braves lead 1-0.

If you thought Minter looked sharp in the first, he was only getting warmed. The 27-year-old needed just 10 pitches to set down the heart of the Dodgers lineup in the second inning. That included back-to-back swinging strikeouts of Cody Bellinger and A.J. Pollock.

Shortstop Dansby Swanson led off Atlanta’s half of the inning by forcing L.A. starter Dustin May to throw seven pitches before drawing a walk. Austin Riley followed with a strikeout for the first out, but veteran Nick Markakis was once again ready to contribute.

Markakis slapped a single to left, moving a hustling Swanson to third. With runners on the corners, young prospect Cristian Pache was again gifted another opportunity to come up big for Atlanta. He did just that by poking a line drive over second base to knock in the Braves second run. Braves lead 2-0.

With a two-run lead after two innings, everything seemed to be coming together for the Braves. This was exactly the kind of start the team needed to knock off the Dodgers. Minter continued to fly through the Dodgers lineup by striking out the side in the third on 18 pitches.

When the Dodgers defense came out on the field, reliever Joe Kelly took over for May on the mound. After back-to-back singles by Ozuna and d’Arnaud, Kelly was fortunate enough to get Swanson to put the ball on the ground for a bang-bang double play to end the inning.

For the fourth inning, Braves manager Brian Snitker opted for another lefty in Tyler Matzek, who proceeded to surrender a home run off the bat of Seager. Matzek would redeem himself by retiring the next four batters he faced.

Blake Treinen took the mound for the Dodgers in the Braves half of the fourth. He made fairly quick work of Riley, Markakis, and Pache, needing just 14 pitches to complete the frame and keep the Dodgers deficit at one.

Matzek stayed in to open up the fifth. After striking out Bellinger, he was replaced by Shane Greene, who has been used heavily in this series. Greene pitched well after a single by Pollock, sitting down the rest of the Dodgers lineup in order.

The Braves were simply overmatched in their half of the fifth, as Treinen blew through Acuna, Freeman, and Ozuna with just five pitches. That led to a sixth inning that wound up becoming costly for Atlanta.

The sixth started well for the Braves. Greene stayed in, and after Betts led off with a single, he quickly got two outs before Snitker called on lefty Will Smith. Smith appeared rusty, walking Muncy with six pitches before serving up a three-run homer from the other Will Smith. Dodgers lead 4-2.

L.A. went with Pedro Baez for Atlanta’s half of the sixth. He set down d’Arnaud, Ozzie Albies, and Swanson in order. The momentum was no longer on the Braves side, as things would worsen in the seventh.

Atlanta went with Jacob Webb for the seventh. Again, the inning started fine, as Webb struck out both Pollock and Joc Pederson before allowing a double by Chris Taylor. With Taylor on second, Webb left a fastball up for Betts which was drilled for an RBI single. The red hot Seager was up next, and another mid-90s MPH heater in the heart of the zone resulted in a 413-foot homer. Dodgers lead 7-2.

Riley opened the Braves half of the seventh with a single before the Dodgers replaced Baez with reliever Victor Gonzalez. Gonzalez walked Johan Camargo, but got a double-play out of Pache. Acuna flied out to end the inning.

Josh Tomlin quickly worked the eighth, setting the Dodgers down in order and giving Atlanta a shot to come back. For a minute there, it seemed doable. Freeman led off the Braves half of the inning with a lucky double off Gonzalez. That was followed later by an RBI ground out from d’Arnaud to pull within four. However, Brusdar Graterol struck out Albies, ending the threat. L.A. up 7-3.

Tomlin stayed in and pitched the final inning, allowing just a single by Enrique Hernandez before getting a double-play and striking out Edwin Rios. The Braves were done though. They went down silently in the ninth, as Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen struck out Swanson, Riley, and Camargo in order. Game over.

Friday night’s loss was a tough one to take and so unfortunate considering how well the Braves were playing through the game’s first five innings. For the first half of the game, the pitching was phenomenal and the offense was putting pressure on the Dodgers. Hell, Minter struck out seven batters in just three innings of work — the first pitcher to do so in the postseason… EVER. It’s such a shame that his night was spoiled.

The Braves are still in good shape. Entering Game 6, the team still has a fully rested Max Fried and Ian Anderson. Of course, the Dodgers horses are getting rested as well, but we’ve already seen Fried and Anderson outduel the L.A. offense. One of them just has to do it one more time.

Game 6 is scheduled for first pitch Saturday at 4:38 PM (ET) on FS1. It will feature a Game 1 rematch of Fried and Walker Buehler. The World Series is still just one win away folks.

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