To catch you up, the Boston Red Sox took a 2-1 series lead over the Tampa Bay Rays after winning a 13-inning game with a walk-off homer from Christian Vazquez on Sunday. In Sunday’s other AL division series, the Chicago White Sox got their first win, beating the Houston Astros, who lead the series 2-1.
Game 4 of the Astros-White Sox series was postponed due to rain. It is scheduled to now be played on Tuesday. Ready for a day with high-stakes October baseball? Here’s the best from Monday’s games:
Braves 3, Brewers 0
Braves lead series 2-1
Whether it’s the Braves’ pitching, the Brewers’ hitting or, most likely, a combination of both, the bottom line is the same: Milwaukee must figure out some way to generate some offense, or its season will end with Game 4 on Tuesday.
All three games in the Atlanta-Milwaukee division series have followed the same script. The starting pitchers for both sides put up zeros, the bullpens mostly do their jobs and the outcomes are determined by one or two key offensive sequences. The Braves converted their best scoring opportunity in Monday’s Game 3, the Brewers did not, and Atlanta grabbed a 2-1 lead in the series with a 3-0 win.
Milwaukee starter Freddy Peralta and Atlanta counterpart Ian Anderson both were dealing in the early innings, and both were removed for pinch hitters in the fifth inning, because their teams both put two runners on base and runs have been oh-so-hard to come by in this series.
While the Brewers’ second-and-third, one-out threat in the top of the fifth fizzled, the Braves’ two-on, none-out surge in the bottom of the fifth did not, as Atlanta manager Brian Snitker was able to exploit what has emerged as a highly favorable matchup for Atlanta.
In Game 1, Adrian Houser, working in relief, gave up a solo homer to pinch hitter Joc Pederson in the late innings, the only run the Braves scored in that contest. With two runners on, Anderson due up and Houser again on in relief, Snitker sent Pederson up again. And, again, it worked: Pederson clubbed a three-run, pinch-hit bomb to right field that accounted for the only scoring in the game.
So here we are, three games in, and the Brewers have scored two runs total in the series. Over their last seven postseason games, Milwaukee has gone 1-6 and scored a total of eight runs in those seven games. It’s a nasty trend for the Brewers, one that they have about 24 hours to curb or else their season will come to a very quiet end. — Bradford Doolittle
According to ESPN’s Stats and Information, the Braves are now 6-3 in the postseason at Truist Park (opened in 2017), winning four straight dating back to 2019.
Atlanta will seek to close out the NLDS having lost 10 of their last 13 potential series-clinchers since losing the 1999 World Series.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) October 11, 2021
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) October 11, 2021
Joc Pederson was using Anthony Rizzo’s bat for that home run! pic.twitter.com/jnlS4L2f9N
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) October 11, 2021
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) October 11, 2021
chipper jones, he’s just like us pic.twitter.com/CMOcBu4KpV
— Cut4 (@Cut4) October 11, 2021
Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich showing off the arm.
— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) October 11, 2021
The Brewers and Braves have arrived in style.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) October 11, 2021
People keep asking me questions about my shirt already answered by my shirt. pic.twitter.com/rabVCCvr2W
— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) October 11, 2021
— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) October 11, 2021
Rays vs. Red Sox
Boston appears quite committed to keep Devers’ moving in the right direction.
everybody say “raffy” keep it goin’ pic.twitter.com/t7aiHflgOb
— Cut4 (@Cut4) October 12, 2021
The Red Sox took control in the third inning beginning with a 3-run homer by Rafael Devers. Alex Verdugo drove in Xander Bogaerts via double before scoring his own run to give Boston a 5-0 lead.
The outburst drew approval from a couple notable Red Sox fans.
Rafael Devers. Red Sox strike first.
404 feet pic.twitter.com/L7y74QJTxC
— Mike Monaco (@MikeMonaco_) October 12, 2021
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!? pic.twitter.com/1JxQ5v8HLG
— Red Sox (@RedSox) October 12, 2021
its the RED SOX 🤣🤣🔥 keep it rollin boys!!! 👀
— David Ortiz (@davidortiz) October 12, 2021
Let’s GO RED SOX!!!!!
— Lil Wayne WEEZY F (@LilTunechi) October 11, 2021
Hunter Renfroe didn’t take long to get fans on their feet with this web gem.
Hunter Renfroe was ready to play ball. 💪 pic.twitter.com/eTWeHG2yAb
— Red Sox (@RedSox) October 11, 2021
Boston bling alert.
Alex Verdugo’s connection to Boston is special. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/ttqOaTnr3T
— MLB (@MLB) October 11, 2021
MLB playoffs 2021 – Kyle Schwarber breaks open ALCS Game 3 and a brief history of October grand slams
Kyle Schwarber stepped out of the batter’s box and stretched his arms and his bat above his head, loosening up his limbs and the long-sleeved shirt underneath his Red Sox jersey. He wasn’t going to swing anyway. Right? Three balls, no strikes, bases juiced, see if Jose Urquidy can throw a strike after already walking two batters in the inning and throwing 34 pitches.
Schwarber did swing — and good things often happen on the 35th pitch of an inning if you’re the batting team. Schwarber sent a 114-mph rocket into the right-field bleachers to give the Red Sox a 6-0 lead in the second inning of Game 3 of their ALCS against the Astros, on their way to a 12-3 drubbing to take a 2-1 series lead.
It was the 75th grand slam in postseason history. Following the grand slams from J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers in Game 2, the Red Sox became the first team in postseason history with three grand slams in one series. They join the 1998 Braves as the only team with three grand slams in a single postseason. In three games, they’ve roughed up Astros starters for 14 runs over 5.1 innings as the lineup is suddenly sizzling like the 2018 crew.
We’ll get to more on Schwarber and the Red Sox in a moment, but whenever somebody hits a grand slam I always — always — immediately recollect the famous Jim Palmer factoid: In his long Hall of Fame career, Palmer never allowed a grand slam. This never pops into my brain when I’m walking my dogs or doing the dishes, but a grand slam happens: Jim Palmer. Every time.
It’s an astonishing thing to never happen. Nolan Ryan, the hardest pitcher to hit in major league history, allowed 10 grand slams in his career, the most ever, which is as equally astonishing as Palmer never allowing one, especially since they allowed a similar number of total home runs — 321 for Ryan, 303 for Palmer.
Palmer faced the bases loaded 213 times in his career. Batters hit .196 against him in those situations, with 13 walks, 40 strikeouts, 12 double plays and just six extra-base hits. Tim Kurkjian wrote about Palmer’s grand-slam feat last year, and Palmer recalled the closest he came to allowing a grand slam. In a game against Cleveland in 1977, Rico Carty hit a deep fly ball to center field, but Al Bumbry reached over the fence and robbed Carty of a home run.
Memories, of course, can be faulty or exaggerated, particularly 43 years after the fact, so it sounds like one to fact check. As it turns out, that game is easy to find. Palmer faced Cleveland just once that season, on Sept. 24 in old Municipal Stadium. Sure enough, in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Indians loaded the bases with no outs, the game tied 1-1. Palmer got Andre Thornton to pop out to second base, struck out Bruce Bochte and induced Carty to fly out. Ken Singleton and Eddie Murray then won the game with home runs off Dennis Eckersley in the ninth.
And, yes, Bumbry made the play as Palmer remembered. “To win, Bumbry had to make a leaping catch for the last out of the inning, depriving Rico Carty of a bases-loaded homer,” the Baltimore Sun reported.
So now back to Schwarber’s grand slam — and the Red Sox belting three in a two-game span during this league championship series. This is a unique accomplishment, even as wild baseball trivia goes, and it’s also meaningful trivia, because it’s helping the Red Sox win games. Some quick research:
Schwarber’s home run came on the 2,942nd plate appearance in postseason history with the bases loaded. Since 75 of those ended with a home run, that’s a grand slam every 39.2 plate appearances.
During the 2021 regular season there were 4,516 plate appearances with the bases loaded and 159 grand slams, or one every 28.4 plate appearances. You would expect more grand slams to be hit in 2021 than in postseason history, since home runs are hit at a much higher rate now than throughout baseball history.
We mentioned Ryan. He allowed a grand slam every 50.9 plate appearances, so he was still stingier than your average postseason pitcher. Jamie Moyer allowed 522 home runs in his career, the most ever. He allowed eight grand slams in 265 plate appearances — one every 33.1 plate appearances. Ryan’s issue is that he faced so many more bases-loaded situations in his career than other pitchers, the price he paid for walking so many batters.
As for Schwarber, he swung at a 3-0 pitch and stood there as the long, majestic fly ball sailed into the cool Fenway night. Schwarber isn’t somebody who usually admires his home runs, although he did do a circle fist pump and bat toss when he homered off Gerrit Cole in the wild-card game. But can you blame him? He also carried the bat most of the way to first, but you ride the emotional roller coaster this time of year and, really, this was nothing special for a grand slam in a playoff game, especially considering Carlos Correa’s “This is my time” home run in Game 1.
Watching Schwarber’s at-bat, was there ever a more predictable grand slam? That sounds silly, predicting a grand slam. We just told you they don’t happen that often. But consider how the inning unfolded. Urquidy walked Alex Verdugo with one out. J.D. Martinez doubled, and then Hunter Renfroe walked to load the bases. Christian Vazquez singled in one run and Christian Arroyo reached on the hard-hit two-hopper that bounced off Jose Altuve’s chest for an error. Urquidy had fallen behind Martinez, Renfroe, Vazquez, Arroyo and now Schwarber — five straight batters. If there was any time a pitcher seemed likely to groove a 3-0 fastball, this was it.
Still … batters don’t usually swing 3-0 and even less often with the bases loaded. In the regular season, batters swung at a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded just 7.9% of the time. Of the 74 previous grand slams in postseason history, we know the counts for 58 of them. The only one that came on a 3-0 count was Reggie Sanders of the Cardinals off Jake Peavy of the Padres in the 2005 NLDS. There have been grand slams on 0-2 counts (3) than 3-0 (2).
So maybe Schwarber’s blast wasn’t exactly predictable, but you could sure feel it coming.
The greatest grand slam in postseason history? By win probability added, it’s the one Paul Konerko hit in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series for the White Sox. Trailing the Astros 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh with the bases juiced and two outs on a cold, wet night in Chicago, Konerko swung at a first-pitch offering from Chad Qualls and lined the ball into the left-field seats. The Astros would actually tie the game in the top of the ninth before Scott Podsednik hit a walk-off home run off Brad Lidge.
Konerko’s grand slam certainly turned the game around, but it’s not even the most memorable home run from that game. Not only did Podsednik hit the walk-off home run, but he hadn’t hit a home run all season, in 507 at-bats. Even among White Sox fans, Podsednik’s home run is one to remember.
So Konerko’s slam can’t be the greatest.
Second on the win probability list is the one Devon White hit for the Marlins against the Giants in the 1997 NLDS. White, who was a really good underrated player, turned a 1-0 deficit in the sixth inning into a 4-1 lead. Do even diehard Marlins fans recall that one? (No jokes about diehard Marlins fans.) Win probability favors results with two outs, because if the batter makes an out, the inning and rally are over. Understandable. But this is not the greatest slam in postseason history and maybe not even worthy of the top 25.
David Ortiz hit a huge one for the Red Sox in the 2013 ALCS against the Tigers. Trailing 5-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 2, with Boston in danger of going down 2-0 in the series, he tied the game off Joaquin Benoit, and the Red Sox won it the next inning — going on to win the series and then the World Series.
My own, completely biased choice is an easy one: Edgar Martinez’s salami for the Mariners off John Wetteland in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the 1995 ALDS, breaking open a 6-6 game. It doesn’t score high in win probability because it came with no outs, so there was a good chance the Mariners score anyway, but I’m absolutely going to run the video:
Also, consider the ramifications of that home run:
–Because of it, Buck Showalter was afraid to use Wetteland in Game 5;
–Which meant Jack McDowell was in there pitching to Martinez for his series-winning double in the 11th inning;
–Which led to Joe Torre replacing Showalter as Yankees manager;
–Setting the Yankees’ dynasty into gear;
–Oh, and it saved baseball in Seattle.
So, yes, I might go with Martinez’s grand slam as the greatest in postseason history.
I think four others could vie for greatest ever:
1. Bill Skowron hit the only Game 7 grand slam in World Series history, for the Yankees in 1956, but they were already leading 5-0.
2. Kent Hrbek for the Twins in Game 6 of the 1987 World Series, turning a 6-5 lead into a 10-5 lead and setting the stage for the Twins to then win Game 7.
3. New York’s Tino Martinez in Game 1 in the 1998 World Series, off Mark Langston of the Padres with the game tied 5-5 and two outs in the seventh. On a 3-2 pitch. After Langston had struck out Martinez on the previous pitch — except home-plate umpire Rich Garcia missed the call.
4. Johnny Damon’s slam in the second inning of Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, giving the Red Sox a 6-0 lead over the Yankees. It remains the only grand slam hit in a Game 7 of an LCS.
Then again, the most memorable postseason grand slam might just be the one that wasn’t — Robin Ventura’s grand slam single for the Mets in the rain in the bottom of the 15th inning in the 1999 NLCS:
Then again, we’re only three games into this series. What will Schwarber and the Red Sox have in store in the next two games … and perhaps beyond?
Aaron Boone to return as manager of New York Yankees
Aaron Boone, who has led the New York Yankees to the postseason in each of his four seasons in the Bronx, will be returning as manager on a new three-year deal with a club option for 2025, it was announced Tuesday.
“We have a person and manager in Aaron Bone who possesses the baseball acumen and widespread respect in our clubhouse to continue to guide us forward,” Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement. “As a team and as an organization, we must grow, evolve and improve. We need to get better. Period.
“I know Aaron fully embraces our expectations of success, and I look forward to drawing on his intelligence, instincts and leadership in pursuit of our next World Series championship.”
Boone’s job security came under scrutiny after the Yankees’ third-place finish in the AL East and loss to the rival Boston Red Sox in the AL Wild Card Game.
Overall, Boone has a 328-218 record in his four seasons as manager, but the Yankees haven’t been to the World Series since 2009 — the third-longest drought in franchise history.
The last time a Yankees manager was allowed to manage a fifth season without having won a World Series ring was 1922.
“When you are the manager of this team and you wear the N.Y. and you wear these pinstripes, it’s a heavy burden,” slugger Aaron Judge said after the team’s season ended. “But a guy like Booney, man, he wears it with pride, shows up to work every day and gets us prepared the right way, keeps us motivated and gets on guys when he needs to.
“It’s been a pleasure the past couple of years to play for him and fight for him every single day. I could spend all night giving you reasons why he should still be the manager.”
After leading the majors in runs scored from 2017-2020, the Yankees finished 19th in runs scored (711) during the 2021 season. They also had the sixth-worst strikeout rate, and there were complaints in the front office about the team’s in-season adjustments.
After the season, the team did not renew the contracts of hitting coach Marcus Thames and third-base coach Phil Nevin. The team also was not expected to bring back assistant hitting coach P.J. Pilittere, sources confirmed to ESPN.
ESPN’s Buster Olney contributed to this report.
Can the Los Angeles Dodgers come back from an 0-2 NLCS hole?
After one of the greatest second-place seasons in MLB history, after dispatching their rival San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers are in trouble. Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Just like in 2020, they’re down 0-2 to the surging Atlanta Braves. Back then, the Dodgers completed the comeback with a 4-3 series win. But this year, with their rotation no longer lined up favorably, perhaps the most-star-studded team in baseball needs someone to step up — and soon. As the series returns to LA, we asked Bradford Doolittle, David Schoenfield, Buster Olney, Alden Gonzalez and Tim Keown for their takes on how — if at all — the Dodgers can dig out of this hole.
How do the Dodgers get back in this?
Doolittle: Home runs. I realize that the Dodgers have had major clutch-hitting woes — 2-for-18 so far in the NL Championship Series — but in theory that should even out as the series progresses. Take-and-rake, on the other hand, is the Dodgers’ game and no one does it better. So far in the playoffs, the Dodgers have hit seven homers in eight games. Two former Dodgers and members of last year’s title team — Kiké Hernandez and Joc Pederson — have hit eight by themselves. In the game Max Fried started for Atlanta, the Dodgers put up a first-pitch swing rate over 50% for just the fourth time in a game all season. Maybe that was the game plan for Fried, but that’s not the Dodgers’ grind. Take-and-rake. The Dodgers need to get back to it.
Schoenfield: I’ll jump on this bandwagon as well. The Dodgers are hitting .233/.304/.361 in the postseason, which is what can happen when you face a lot of good pitching — and that won’t get any easier with Charlie Morton going for the Braves in Game 3. Obviously, losing Max Muncy has hurt the lineup perhaps more than we expected, but the Dodgers also desperately need the Turners to start producing. Justin Turner hit .278 with 27 home runs in the regular season but suddenly looks like he’s 56 instead of 36, hitting .107 with one walk in the playoffs and starting Game 2 on the bench with a stiff neck. Trea Turner, the NL batting champ, is hitting .200 with one RBI, no walks, nine strikeouts and as many double plays hit into (2) as extra-base hits (2). His career postseason line is now .225/.267/.291 and he hasn’t homered in his past 24 playoff games. The Turners need to hit.
Olney: The cliché about momentum and the next day’s starting pitcher absolutely applies here, as the Dodgers can win the pitching matchups to crawl back into this series. Walker Buehler is fully capable of shutting down the Braves’ lineup, and so is Julio Urias. The L.A. offense, suffering without Max Muncy, is not as dynamic as it was last year, but the pitching can carry the Dodgers.
Gonzalez: I’m not going to let their situational-hitting woes go so easily. Two hits and nine strikeouts in 18 at-bats with runners in scoring position in an LCS is simply unacceptable for a lineup like this. The Dodgers had the leadoff man on in five of nine innings in Game 2 and scored him only twice. After the game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts admitted that his offense isn’t implementing the right approach in that situation. “Certain times in scoring position,” Roberts said, “we’re expanding too much.” Roberts’ Dodgers have stranded 17 runners through two games. They’re clearly the better offensive team — even with Muncy out and Turner not right — and are simply not executing well enough.
Keown: The Dodgers need to stop treating every game as an elimination game — until it is. Their use and misuse of their pitching staff reeks of panic, and they’ve been too cute by half in their past three games. They have to do other things, too, like hitting home runs and getting their bodies in front of potentially game-winning liners up the middle, but mostly it seems like they just need to stop trying to prove they’re the smartest people in the room and just play the way they did all season.
How much will Sunday’s pitching decisions affect the rest of the series?
Doolittle: Dave Roberts said it best: Both teams are in the same position. I’m more worried about the Braves’ bullpen than I am about the Dodgers, because L.A. has better top-to-bottom depth in that area, and carried one more pitcher than Atlanta on the NLCS rosters. Brian Snitker has leaned awfully hard on Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson and Will Smith over the last two rounds. After the grueling Giants series, Los Angeles just had to get through the weekend. Obviously it would have been a heck of a lot better for the Dodgers if they had won one of the games. But for all the worry about their pitching merry-go-round in the first two games, I think things actually line up pretty well for them at home, after a travel day.
Schoenfield: Clearly, the Dodgers are obsessed with getting as many lefty-on-lefty matchups against Freddie Freeman as possible — which led to the questionable decision to remove Blake Treinen after one easy inning when he threw just nine pitches (after throwing just seven in Game 1) to bring in Julio Urias on two days of rest after he threw 59 pitches in Game 5 against the Giants.
Two issues here: Last year, with the expanded 28-man rosters due to COVID, the Dodgers had a plethora of lefties to choose from in the bullpen, with Urias and Victor Gonzalez (who had a very good postseason) the two main guys, but also Alex Wood and Jake McGee. Remember, Wood tossed four scoreless innings in two outings in the World Series. This year, Gonzalez stumbled and isn’t on the playoff roster, Wood and McGee signed with the Giants and the only trustworthy lefty reliever on the playoff roster is rookie Alex Vesia. Justin Bruihl, another rookie, has all of 18 innings in the majors. Thus, in comes Urias even though he’s also scheduled to start Game 4. Roberts had used Vesia in the fifth to get through the Eddie Rosario/Freeman part of the order (removing a self-proclaimed “dead-armed” Max Scherzer was the right move), so Roberts was left to choose between Urias or one of his right-hander relievers in the eighth.
The other issue is that the platoon advantage you gain against Freeman you lose against Ozzie Albies when he flips over to the right side — he had a .940 OPS against lefties, .749 against righties (Freeman was .949 against righties, .760 against lefties). The Dodgers’ strategy seems to be “Don’t let Freddie Freeman beat us,” but the actual tactical advantage is minor (even factoring in getting the platoon edge against Rosario). So it will be fascinating to see how Roberts operates moving forward — and that includes Kenley Jansen as it seems Roberts doesn’t really trust him, even though Jansen in 2021 has been a much better pitcher than in the past two seasons.
Olney: None. Urias threw 14 pitches in Game 2 and could easily come back to start in Game 4, and while it’s possible that Braves manager Brian Snitker could juggle his rotation after pulling Ian Anderson out of the game relatively soon in Game 2, it seems more likely that he’ll keep Max Fried, Anderson and Charlie Morton aligned for Games 5, 6 and 7, if necessary.
The pitching really hasn’t been an issue in this series. The larger question is whether either offense can break out.
Gonzalez: I’ll push back on that slightly while expanding to how the deployment of starting pitching has affected the Dodgers’ immediate future. They’re down 2-0, with three games in three days at Dodger Stadium, and the pitching outlook is suddenly ominous. Walker Buehler takes the ball coming off a short-rest start, and though he will do so with an extra day of rest, starters often say they feel the effects of starting on short rest in the outing after that. Next is Urias, who might not have thrown that many pitches over his past two outings but is someone who surpassed his previous career high in innings by the start of August — August! — and appeared in three games over a stretch of nine days. Roberts is concerned enough about his workload that he’s toying with the idea of pushing him back to Game 5 if the Dodgers don’t face elimination then. The other game — whichever it ends up being — will be handled by a collection of relievers, and it doesn’t seem as if the Dodgers trust Tony Gonsolin to pitch the bulk of the innings. Scherzer would’ve made a Game 5 start if he had gone in Game 1, but he was pushed back an extra day because he was needed to pitch the final inning of NLDS Game 5. The cost of that was two bullpen days in the first five games of this series instead of just one.
Keown: The Julio Urias decisions are baffling to me. He was 20-3 during the regular season with an ERA a tick over 3.00, and this is the postseason he gets? It’s one thing to acknowledge that Urias is the one guy in the rotation who has shown an ability to filter back and forth from starting to relieving, and it’s an entirely different thing to actually make him do it unnecessarily and repeatedly. The news that he will most likely be pushed back to start Game 5 affirms the obvious: The Dodgers blew it by bringing him out of the bullpen for Game 2. If they lose Game 3 — and as good as Walker Buehler is, Charlie Morton is no slouch — the Dodgers will face a Game 4 elimination game with no reliable starter. Imagine the possibilities.
What has been most impressive about the Braves so far?
Doolittle: Man, I hate to step this far afield from the terra firma of the empirical, but there is just a great energy about that team right now. It has a similar vibe to the Nationals in 2019, but while Washington was catching lightning in a bottle, the Braves feel like a group really reaching full maturity right before our eyes. And that’s without Ronald Acuna Jr. relegated to a cheerleading role. It’s the kind of energy that grows and can take on a life of its own when a team starts reeling off late wins. The sooner the Dodgers can flip that momentum, the better for them. Some early runs for Walker Buehler in Game 3 would be a good start.
Schoenfield: The bullpen. Ask Buster Olney’s son about the Atlanta bullpen. It was, umm, a little shaky at times throughout the season. But in six postseason games the bullpen has allowed just four runs in 23.2 innings while holding opponents to a .177 average. Closer Will Smith allowed 11 home runs in the regular season, but he has tossed five scoreless innings so far. Tyler Matzek has been scored upon in just four of his past 40 appearances going back to July. We knew the Braves had a chance with Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson in the rotation, but the bullpen had to perform — and so far it has.
Olney: Austin Riley. Last year, the Dodgers seemed to beat Atlanta with star power — Mookie Betts and Corey Seager playing at a high level. The notion that the Braves could beat the Dodgers with a slumping Freddie Freeman seems absurd — but Riley has become the Braves’ Batman to Freeman’s Superman. Last year, Riley couldn’t hit good pitching; this year, he can.
Gonzalez: Big picture — the Braves boast a 2-0 NLCS lead over a team that won 18 more regular-season games, even though Charlie Morton has yet to pitch, Freddie Freeman has struck out seven times in eight plate appearances, and Ronald Acuna Jr. can only watch from the bench. It is quite remarkable. The Braves’ hitters struck out 14 times in Game 1 and their pitchers issued nine walks in Game 2, and yet they won both games — by a combined two runs, but they won them nonetheless.
Keown: Take your pick: (1) They fell behind 4-2 late in Game 2, with the Dodgers’ best relievers waiting, and won; or (2) they’ve won the first two games with no contribution from Freddie Freeman. It’s difficult to explain, but the Braves appear to be staking a claim for all the teams and managers who understand all the numbers and still abide by one cardinal rule: They trust their guys. Ride or die and all that business.
The Dodgers will win Game 3 if …
Doolittle: Two homers from the offense and at least one batter faced by Buehler in the seventh inning.
Schoenfield: Yep, getting some length out of Buehler is vital. Roberts did have a quick hook for him in Game 4 against the Giants, pulling him with one out in the fifth, but that was on short rest. This start will come on six days of rest. So six — or seven — from Buehler and then Treinen and Jansen should get the job done. And hopefully something big from one of the Turners.
Olney: In the grand Dodgers tradition of Sandy Koufax and Fernando Valenzuela, Walker Buehler needs to hoist the Dodgers on his back, throw up a bunch of zeros and outpitch Charlie Morton.
Gonzalez: The Dodgers’ offense sticks with its approach in RBI situations. Their hitters have done a nice job taking walks and shortening up with two strikes, but for some reason they haven’t been doing so at the most critical junctures. With the bases empty or a runner only on first base, they’ve chased only 32.3% of two-strike pitches. With runners in scoring position, that two-strike chase rate jumps to 58.3%.
Keown: Simple: Walker Buehler goes deep into the game and makes all the bullpen decisions easy.
The Braves will go up 3-0 if …
Doolittle: Charlie Morton does his thing. Snitker isn’t afraid to let Morton go deep, so if he gets on a roll and the score stays low, the Braves have to love their chances in the late innings.
Schoenfield: The little things keep going their way. In Game 2 that included the aggressive baserunning from Rosario — not just on the play at home with the send from third-base coach Ron Washington, but the tag up from first base on the fly ball to left field. Joc Pederson made a key backup on the little flare that skipped past Guillermo Heredia, preventing Justin Turner from scoring. It also included miscues from the Dodgers: Steven Souza’s terrible throw from right field, Corey Seager unable to corral Rosario’s game-winning hit, or even A.J. Pollock’s throw from left when Rosario tagged up. Indeed, let’s see if the Braves remain aggressive in challenging the non-Mookie Betts outfield arms.
Gonzalez: Freeman comes alive. That the Braves have won both games without getting anything from Freeman should be very discouraging to the Dodgers. They’re just waiting for him to make his presence felt in this series, and if he does so in Game 3, it could push them to the brink.
Keown: They watch how the Giants approached Buehler and repeat it. In a September blowout of the Dodgers, and to a lesser extent Game 1 of the NLDS, San Francisco waited and waited until Buehler gave the Giants something to hit. They made him throw strikes to get outs, and they sat on hittable fastballs and did their damage in short bursts. Right-handed hitters like Austin Riley and Adam Duvall are key; they need to take Buehler’s high fastballs to right field for maximum effect.
So … do the Dodgers complete the comeback again? Who wins this series?
Doolittle: It would be hypocritical of me to jump off the Dodgers’ bandwagon after jumping on it way back in the spring. We have not seen the real L.A. machine yet in this series, but we will. But I am wavering because even if the Dodgers sweep the three games at home, they still have to win one before a Braves crowd that has been waiting to see another pennant clincher in Atlanta for a really long time. Still, I’m taking the Dodgers in 7.
Schoenfield: The Dodgers came back from a 2-0 deficit against the Braves in last year’s NLCS, which started with a 15-3 rout in Game 3. But the Atlanta rotation is in much better shape than last season, when Kyle Wright started Game 3 and allowed seven runs in the first inning, Bryse Wilson started Game 4 (which the Braves won as Wilson had a great game), and Minter started a bullpen game in Game 5. This time they turn to Morton, TBD in Game 4 and Fried in Game 5. Four wins in five games against an Atlanta team that is pitching well right now is a tough ask — especially with the Turners struggling. Braves in 5.
Olney: After way too many lousy predictions in the first rounds of the postseason, I’ve got the Braves beating the Dodgers, in part because their pitching was properly aligned coming into the series, and L.A.’s was not, owing to the Game 5 stress in San Francisco.
Gonzalez: I’m tempted to say the Dodgers will come back and win this series because they’re so much more talented, but I can’t. Yes, they did this last year. But they did it in the bubble, without having to play at the Braves’ home ballpark while facing elimination. And this is not last year’s team. Cody Bellinger isn’t the same player, Justin Turner doesn’t look right, Max Muncy isn’t in the lineup, Joc Pederson is on the other side, their starters are more taxed, and I just can’t see the Braves letting this happen again.
Keown: I picked the Dodgers in five, and I’m starting to think I might have been wrong. There’s no question the Dodgers can fight back — they were down 2-0 and 3-1 to the Braves before winning last season — but I wouldn’t bet on it. The Braves have Morton for Game 3 and Max Fried for Game 5, so it’s hard to envision them losing all three in Los Angeles. The guess here is the Braves go home ahead 3-2 and close it out in Game 6.
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