The Atlanta Braves prove they’re much more than a speed bump on the way to a Dodger coronation.
Somebody had to lose last night, but it’s how you take the loss that matters most. As the Atlanta Braves were suddenly and dramatically blowing out the back of the Dodger bullpen last night, the cameras told the story.
Multiple faces in the home dugout were telling the same message: “uh oh”.
Sure: Los Angeles probably recognized that they would have a somewhat harder time with the Braves than they’d experienced with either the Brewers or the Padres in their first two playoff rounds. But the reality of losing a game before getting to the World Series looked like it hit them all hard.
This is a team that has been built and re-built to not only reach, but to win the World Series after multiple recent disappointments.
In 2017, they believe they were robbed of that title in 7 games against the can-banging version of the Astros. They lost it in 5 games against the Red Sox in 2018. Last season, they fell to the eventual Champions – the Nationals – in the 5th and final Division Series game.
The snagged Mookie Betts because they wanted that extra boost toward the Promised Land. They added to their bullpen for the same reason.
These early playoff rounds were supposed to be mere tune-ups for the main event next week. This is the best team in baseball — winners of 3 more games than anyone else… and eight more than this speed-bump Braves team that they’re playing now. After all, virtually all the pundits sre predicting they’d win.
Last night, both teams had their own reality checks — Atlanta when losing Adam Duvall to injury (and probably so for the duration of the playoffs); LA as starter Walker Buehler was valiantly fighting through blister issues and semi-closer Blake Treinen found out that the Braves can hit his fastball.
On top of that, the Dodgers also figured out that the hype on Max Fried was real. After all, nobody had done to them what he did last night:
24 batters faced. 9 strikeouts. 2 walks. 13 balls in play. 4 hits.
Depending on whose charts you like, that’s the first- or second-ranked offense in the National League that was shut down.
All but one of the outs were on balls with exit velocities under 98 mph (4 of them under 90). Only a curveball-guessing Kiké Hernandez was able to get anything both barreled and into the air.
Even before the 9th-inning Braves outburst, though, the Dodgers were scrambling to figure out how to generate offense. Little did they know that after the second inning, they’d never get two runners on base simultaneously.
They had those chances early, but not again, as Fried and the vaunted Atlanta bullpen did not allow a base runner of any kind after the 5th inning.
We’ll see later today how the Dodgers process the shock and awe of last night and respond behind Clayton Kershaw. We’ll also see how the Braves themselves try and take their momentum and run with it.
UPDATE: DODGERS’ PITCHING DEPTH GETTING TESTED
But if there’s one message that Atlanta delivered last night, it was this: Game On.