Braves: Pitching dominates again in Game 1

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The stage was set for an offensive showdown Monday night, and though it took more than three hours for the Braves to finally break all the way through, the offense exploded with a four-run inning in the ninth to win 5-1 and jump ahead 1-0 in the NLCS. 

First baseman Freddie Freeman got the momentum going for the Braves right out of the gate with a 429-foot solo homer in the first inning off LA starter Walker Buehler — a shot that was hit a screaming 111.6 MPH (the game’s hardest-hit ball). Braves lead 1-0.

 

A one-run lead was all Max Fried needed, at least for a while. In his third-straight Game 1 start of this postseason, the southpaw mostly coasted through the first four innings Monday, save for a 28-pitch effort in the opening frame. A pair of singles by Justin Turner and A.J. Pollock, followed by a Chris Taylor walk in the second, were the only mistakes the Braves starter made through his first 12 outs. However, the fifth-inning started with a bit of trouble when Dodgers super-utility man Enrique Hernandez jumped on one of Fried’s rarely hung curveballs and launched it 393 feet for a game-tying home run. 

 

In an instant, the momentum seemed to shift LA’s way. But as the lefty has done so many times in 2020, Fried collected himself and escaped the inning mostly unscathed. 

The top of the sixth featured back-to-back singles by catcher Travis d’Arnaud and DH Marcell Ozuna, ending Buehler’s night right at 100 pitches. The Braves failed to capitalize, though, as Dodgers reliever Brusdar Graterol entered the game and immediately set down Dansby Swanson, Cristian Pache, and Nick Markakis in order (the latter of which looked absolutely lost at the plate in this game). But almost as if he felt the game perhaps slipping away, Fried put together his best inning of the night in the bottom of the sixth, striking out Max Muncy and Will Smith, before getting Cody Bellinger to pop out in the infield. After six strong innings and 96 pitches, Fried was done (6 IP, 4 H, ER, 2 BB, 9 K).

LA’s Dustin May and Atlanta’s Chris Martin traded perfect innings in the seventh, striking out one apiece before Ozuna started the eighth inning with a lead-off double. After May got d’Arnaud to ground out and Ozzie Albies to strikeout, the red-headed flamethrower intentionally walked Swanson and hit pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval, loading the bases for Charlie Culberson. The Dodgers then pulled May for reliever no. 3, Victor Gonzalez, and he proceeded to strikeout Culberson, ending the Braves’ threat. With the heart of the LA lineup up, lefty reliever Will Smith made quick work of Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner, pushing the game to the final inning still tied at one. 

Then the Braves bats woke up


Batting last in the lineup, Riley stepped to the dish for Atlanta to start the ninth, tasked with facing Dodgers reliever Blake Treinen (who had allowed just one homer all year). Treinen worked a 1-2 count but then left a 98 MPH fastball right in the middle of the zone. The Braves young third baseman was 0 for 3 with a pair of strikeouts up to that point, but he was sitting on the heater like his life depended on it. Bat flip and all, Riley gave the Braves a 2-1 lead.

 

Ronald Acuna kept the excitement going with a double before advancing to third on a Freeman popout to center. Acuna then high-stepped it home, thanks to an RBI single by Ozuna. Braves lead 3-1.

 

Still in the ninth, LA went with their fifth reliever of the game, Jake McGee. The lefty quickly got d’Arnaud to pop out, but once again, another Dodger pitcher tried to sneak a fastball past an Atlanta hitter. Ahead with an 0-2 count, McGee aimed up in the zone with a 96 MPH heater, but Albies squared it up for a two-run dinger and his first home run of the postseason. Braves lead 5-1.

 

The Dodgers’ pain finally ended when Swanson struck out to end the Braves half of the ninth. Although a four-run lead was too much to overcome, especially against a bullpen as elite as Atlanta’s. Closer Mark Melancon took care of business and got three consecutive ground outs to end the game, picking up the save. Braves win.

 

Takeaways from Game 1

 

Max Fried has reached another level

Another strong pitching performance by Fried is almost like another All-Star season from Freddie Freeman: it’s basically expected at this point. Although the Braves lefty took it up a notch in Monday’s Game 1 win. Not only did Fried outduel Buehler, but he generated swings and misses at will against LA, ending his outing with a 42% whiff-rate with his curveball and 50% rate with the slider. When Fried wasn’t painting the black with his fastball, he was spinning breaking balls with the confidence of a veteran ace against arguably the best offense in baseball in the biggest game of his life. We already knew he was a top-tier big league starter, but Monday proved that Fried is a power-pitching ace. 

 

Adam Duvall’s injury is costly

In his very first at-bat Monday night, Duvall appeared to be in serious pain after fouling off a pitch in the second inning.

He immediately left the game, and the verdict is that he strained his oblique. During the broadcast manager, Brian Snitker said Duvall “popped that thing pretty good,” which suggests he’ll most likely be out for the NLCS and, as a result, become ineligible for the World Series if the Braves were to advance. Sure, after being one of the leaders during last year’s postseason, Duvall has struggled in the 2020 playoffs, hitting just .100 (2 for 20) thus far. But his pop and periodic hot streaks with the bat have been vital in Atlanta’s lineup, and his glove is just as important on defense. The Braves went with Cristian Pache as Duvall’s replacement in Game 1, and that may be the team’s best option considering anyone else would probably involve Austin Riley moving to left field. However, it does take away a ton of power from the batting order. We’ll find out more Tuesday, but it’s looking like we’ve seen the last of Duvall in 2020.

 

What’s up with Nick Markakis? 

It wasn’t just the two strikeouts, but more of the way he looked at the plate in general. Markakis didn’t seem comfortable at all Monday night, against any of the Dodgers pitchers. After recording a hit in each of the Braves first four playoff games, the 36-year-old is hitless in his last eight tries, and honestly, none of them have looked like competitive at-bats. Markakis is the no. 8 hitter and not expected to crush homers and drive in runs, but with lefty Clayton Kershaw on the mound Tuesday for Game 2, he needs a break. 

 

No more looking up at the Dodgers! 

If there’s anything at all to take away from Monday’s Game 1 win, its that the Braves are no longer second-tier to the Dodgers. Time and time again, whether it’s a West Coast trip during the regular season or a playoff series, LA has seemingly always had the Braves number. They either have the more dominant starting pitching, deeper bullpen, or more powerful lineup, but in 2020 the tables have turned. Player for player, this Atlanta team is just as talented as the Dodgers, and barring a massive self-implosion, this should be a helluva series. Regardless of whether or not the Braves wind up winners of the NL this year, Monday’s performance showed that the gap between the two teams has now finally closed. 

Next up: The Braves and Dodgers will continue the series with a 6:05 PM (ET) start time on Tuesday. Atlanta is starting righty Ian Anderson, and LA will counter with lefty Clayton Kershaw. The game will be televised on FS1.

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