It’s ironic just how similar this year’s NLCS is to last year’s. Just like in 2020, through the first four games, the Braves lead this 3-1. In fact, the series featured a big Game 4 win for Atlanta 4 in both 2020 and 2021 as they defeated LA 10-2 last year and 9-2 on Wednesday night. The run-differential through four? Close for the Braves. Through the series’ first four games last year, Atlanta’s offense had outscored LA’s 26-25. This time around, the Braves currently lead 22-14.
Fortunately, though, for Game 5 tonight, the Braves will be turning to lefty Max Fried — not a bullpen game like they did in 2020. After going up 3-1 last year, A.J. Minter opened Game 5. After pitching three impressive innings of one-hit ball (including seven strikeouts), Atlanta’s bullpen gave it up as Tyler Matzek, Shane Greene, Will Smith, and Jacob Webb combined to allow seven runs over the subsequent four frames. The Braves lost that game 7-3, and as we know, they never recovered, proceeding to drop Games 6 and 7.
Now, this time around, Atlanta has Fried taking the bump — the guy that already helped lead the team to a Game 1 victory back last Saturday, when he put together a solid 81-pitch outing and struck out five in six innings, allowing just two runs from eight hits. The dude that ripped off the best postseason start of his career back in the NLDS versus the Brewers — another 81-pitch outing that featured just three hits allowed, though no runs and eight strikeouts. This year, the Braves may be in a similar situation in terms of their position in the series, but make no mistake, they very well could finish this thing tonight.
Fried and the Braves must keep their foot on the gas on Thursday night. Adding to its already rather long list of injuries, the Dodgers have now lost All-Star third baseman Justin Turner as he partially tore his hamstring running to first during Wednesday’s game. Now, instead of a 4-WAR, 30-homer batter in the lineup, LA must turn to either Zach McKinstry, Billy McKinney, or Andy Burns — a trio of infielders that have a combined worth -0.1 fWAR during the 2021 regular season.
It’s not as if Turner was contributing much anyways. Through four games, the 36-year-old was only 2 for 10 (.200 AVG) with zero XBH. But, we’ve seen him heat up before in a playoff series, like last year when he hit .280 and finished second on the Dodgers in hits (7) for the series. You can bet LA will be missing Turner, if not for his bat, certainly for his strong glove at the hot corner.
I really shouldn’t have to tell you how important it is that the Braves wrap this series up tonight. You don’t even have to look to last year to see how quickly the tables can turn. In Game 3 on Tuesday, Atlanta was six outs away from a three-run win, but LA stormed back with four runs in the eighth inning to win 6-5. As the two teams walked off the field that night, I won’t lie; I thought that the series had just been flipped.
Notes for tonight’s Game 5
- You can bet LA will be going with the Johnny Wholestaff approach for tonight’s all-or-nothing Game 5. Manager Dave Roberts will most likely do anything and everything to keep this series going, even it means asking dead-arm Max Scherzer to pitch a few innings. The problem for the Dodgers, though, is that they’ve been relying on their bullpen the entire series, especially its lefties. Per R.J. Anderson at CBS Sports this morning, Roberts most likely has eight relievers to work with for Thursday’s game, with all but two being right-handed pitchers (Alex Vesia & Justin Bruihl). You can read through Anderson’s many LA pitching scenarios from the hyperlink above, but I believe it’s likely they open with Corey Knebel again, though this time try and get a few innings (instead of just one).
- While LA will have to piece together Thursday’s potential elimination game, as I mentioned above, Atlanta has the luxury of leaning on Fried. So far, the 27-year-old has been impressive during this postseason, maintaining a 1.50 ERA / 1.92 FIP in a dozen innings spanning two starts. Opposing batters (from both the Brewers and Dodgers) have slashed just .239/.239/.370 with one homer.
- Even better for the Braves, its bullpen’s workload doesn’t look bad at all. In a game tonight in which they could clinch a World Series bid, really only Minter appears to be unavailable potentially. The left-handed reliever has worked three innings over the last two games, totaling nearly 40 pitches (38) in that span — the highest total among the team’s regular relief core. Jesse Chavez, who doesn’t seem to be impacted by pitch-count, has thrown 27 pitches over 1.2 innings in the last two games, and Matzek is sitting at 28 pitches in that span. If Brian Snitker feels he can shut down LA’s offense and punch Atlanta’s ticket to the Fall Classic, I don’t see any of these guys being restricted.
- Eddie Rosario now leads the Braves in hits (10), RBI (6), home runs (2), runs scored (5), AND cWPA (12.8%). The trade deadline addition is now hitting .588 for Atlanta in this series, and thanks to a walk-off hit in Game 2 and his HUGE game last night, he’s definitely on track to become the NLCS MVP. Over the last few months, we’ve talked about how guys like Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall, and even Jorge Soler should be brought back for at least another year in 2022. But man, oh man, Rosario has really made the case that he should be included in that conversation as well.
Tonight’s Game 5 is scheduled for 8:08 PM (ET) on TBS.