The Dodgers may be down 2-0 in the NLCS, but they’re not out of it yet
The Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves in a position that’s become all-too-familiar over the past eight years. Down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series to the Atlanta Braves, they face the firm prospect of another disappointing playoff exit.
For the first 15 innings of the series, the Braves had everything working for them. Ian Anderson had another scoreless start, Ozzie Albies and Mark Melancon formed a formidable tag team, and Freddie Freeman was swinging the bat like the MVP candidate he was all season.
The Braves took a 7-0 lead over the Dodgers in Game 2, and although the Dodgers cut the deficit in the ninth inning to one run, Atlanta still walked away with an 8-7 win to take a commanding lead in the series.
The Dodgers haven’t lost three straight games all season, a prospect they’ll look to avoid in Game 3 on Wednesday. They were the best team in baseball all season long, but time is quickly running out as they chase the first World Series title for the franchise since 1988.
There is still a glimmer of hope for the Dodgers, though, three reasons why they aren’t done in the NLCS just yet.
1. They can take something from Game 2 rally
Through six-and-a-half innings of Game 2 on Tuesday, the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers appeared listless and frustrated. Down 7-0 to the Atlanta Braves, they were nine outs away from going down 0-2 in the NLCS after another emphatic defeat.
Then the Dodgers woke up. Corey Seager hit a three-run home run in the seventh. In the bottom of the ninth, Max Muncy hit a loud line drive into the seats in right field for a two-run homer to cut the deficit to two. Cody Bellinger, like Muncy hitless so far in the series, then ripped a triple to right, at 113.6 mph the hardest-hit ball of the night.
Bellinger represented the tying run, but he never advanced the last 90 feet as A.J. Pollock grounded out to end the game. Their late-game rally came one run short, but the Dodgers must be heading into Game 3 knowing they finally got to the Braves vaunted pitching staff.
The Dodgers scored seven runs over the final three innings on Tuesday. That’s more than the Braves had given up in the previous six games combined. Muncy, batting just .158 this postseason going into the game, finally got his first home run, while Bellinger, the reigning NL MVP, found his swing in the game’s final inning.
They still trail the series, but if there is such a thing as momentum coming off two straight losses, the Dodgers have it.
2. Clayton Kershaw can still pitch this series
Kershaw’s back began to tighten up while he was throwing a bullpen session on Saturday, three days after beating the Padres in Game 2 of the NLDS. It got better each day since then, but he and the Dodgers still felt like he wasn’t ready to go on Tuesday.
The Dodgers are still hoping he can pitch at some point this series. Manager Dave Roberts, though, isn’t sure when. “I honestly don’t know what game we plan on starting him,” he said on Tuesday. “But, I think to leave that option open for Clayton when he feels as good as he can, makes the most sense for all of us.”
A successful return of Kershaw to the pitching mound might be what the Dodgers need to get back in this series. He’s dominated the Braves over his career. In the 2018 NLDS, against a Braves lineup that included Ronald Acuna, Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, and Nick Markakis, Kershaw gave up only two hits over eight shutout innings. Freeman is 6-22 in his career against Kershaw; Acuna and Marcell Ozuna are a combined 3-21.
Kershaw is 5-0 with a 1.78 ERA in 11 starts against the Braves. But that’s in the regular season. Kershaw has proven he’s a different pitcher come October. Among 29 pitchers with at least 100 postseason innings, Kershaw ranks last with a 4.38 ERA.
He’s made some strides toward putting his past playoff failures behind him this year, winning both his starts this postseason. Against the Brewers in the Wild Card round, he struck out a postseason career-high 13 over eight innings in a 3-0 Dodgers victory.
If that Kershaw returns, even just for one game this series, the Dodgers can come back. At this point, down two games to none, just seeing their ace on the mound would be a significant morale boost for the Dodgers.
3. Who will start for the Braves?
The Dodgers rotation is set for the remainder of the series, provided Kershaw comes back strong and healthy. The same cannot be said for the Braves.
Kyle Wright will start Game 3 on Wednesday and try to put the Braves ahead 3-0 in the series. After that, though, manager Brian Snitker has no idea who will start the next two games.
The Braves are potentially facing two straight bullpen games in Games 4-5 of the series. There is no obvious starter on the roster beyond the trifecta of Max Fried, Ian Anderson, and Wright. Fried, the Game 1 starter, would be pitching on three days rest in a potential fifth game.
Among their not-so-intriguing options, Josh Tomlin has the most postseason experience. He started four games for the Cleveland Indians during their run to the World Series in 2016. He also started five games this season but won only one of them, going 1-2 with a 6.33 ERA. The Dodgers also hit him for three runs in Game 2.
The Braves have to hope their bullpen continues to pitch like they have all postseason. Before the Dodgers seven-run outburst in Game 2, the Braves bullpen had given up just one run in 23.1 innings. Tyler Matzek, Will Smith, and closer Mark Melancon have pitched a combined 16 innings so far this postseason; they’ve collectively given up only four hits and no earned runs.
They’ve been stellar so far. But can they keep it up for two full games against a Dodgers lineup that led the league in runs scored this season? That’s a question that might determine who wins this series.