Last night’s NLCS Game 1 was made for those of you who read only the first chapter and the last chapter of the books. Only twice last night did Atlanta have a running back in scoring position, in the first inning and in the ninth inning. Both times, he stole second base to get there. Both times, he scored to give the Braves their only two game leads in their 3-2 win over the defending champion Dodgers at Truist Park.
Eddie Rosario, Atlanta’s first player, singled off Corey Knebel, the right-hander who worked as a starter for the Dodgers in consecutive games. Rosario passed second, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch.
In the ninth, it was Los Angeles reliever Blake Treinen on the mound when Ozzie Albies singled with one out. Then, despite Treinen’s best efforts to stop the steal, Albies successfully took second base and scored the winning run on Austin Riley’s single to left field.
There will be a lot of talk about the Dodgers’ option to use eight different pitchers in Game 1. There will certainly be questions about how Los Angeles will cover the innings in this best-of-seven series with just three true starting pitchers. And these will be valid concerns.
Regardless of the outcome, however, Los Angeles’ pitching decisions worked more or less as Dave Roberts intended. Again, the Braves only had two running backs in scoring position: first and second to last batter. Atlanta’s second run came in the fourth, when Austin Riley hit a solo home run down the left-field line.
The Dodgers’ problem in Game 1, as was the case in their two losses to the Giants in the NLDS, was that they didn’t score. Los Angeles had 10 hits, including three doubles and a home run, but was 1 of 8 with runners in scoring position. In the Dodgers’ three playoff losses so far, they scored a total of two runs and were a 1-for-17 combined with RISP. Los Angeles’ most glaring error came when Chris Taylor got caught between second and third base in the last out of the ninth inning. Another chance to score fell by the wayside.
That said, scoring shouldn’t be a problem for Los Angeles’ lineup, which led the National League with 5.12 runs per game. As good as the Braves’ rotation is – left-hander Max Fried, right-hander Ian Anderson and postseason wizard Charlie Morton – their relievers could become a problem the deeper this series goes. That was the case when these two teams met on last year’s NLCS, which the Dodgers won in seven games after falling behind 3-1. They scored 25 of their 39 series runs against the Atlanta bullpen, including seven in the pivotal Game 5.
Los Angeles hitters became more familiar with the Braves relievers the more they watched them. Will Smith was victorious in the first game of last year’s series. (Coincidentally, Treinen was also the losing pitcher in that game.) But by their third outing, in Game 5, the Dodgers had found out; Catcher Will Smith hit the three-run blast, sparking a lot of memes for dinger Will Smith-off-Will Smith.
Two other Atlanta relievers also faded toward the end of last year’s series. Working as a starter in Game 5, left-hander AJ Minter dominated in three scoreless innings. But, when he came out of the bullpen in the sixth inning of Game 7, he quickly delivered a home run that tied the game. In the next inning, right-hander Chris Martin, who was brilliant in his first four appearances, allowed the homerun lead to Cody Bellinger that ultimately decided the series.
Smith was the winning pitcher in last night’s game; Minter and Martin did not pitch, although they are both on the list. We’ll see how long it takes the Dodgers to resolve them, as well as the other arms of the Braves’ bullpen (Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson, Jesse Chavez, Jacob Webb and Drew Smyly).
This brings us back to all eight Los Angeles pitchers in Game 1, because what happened to Atlanta’s bullpen last year could happen, too. by Atlanta’s offense as it sees the same Dodgers relievers for the third, fourth or fifth time in the same series.
It will be interesting to see how the Dodgers chart their starters the rest of the way. Max Scherzer goes tonight, and then Walker Buehler will pitch Game 3 on the Tuesday after tomorrow’s travel day. Julio Urías is scheduled to start Game 4, but from there, it will depend on the situation. By Game 5, they could repeat what they did last night, or if they face elimination, they could start Scherzer on three days off. If that happens, Buehler could slide to pitch Game 6 with three days off, and then by Game 7, they could do the same thing they did in their NLDS Game 5 win over the Giants, open with Knebel and maybe with another. entry reliever before using Uriah as the volume guy on a short break. Either way, they will almost certainly have to go with one more bullpen day to get through the series. To avoid overexposing the bullpen, Los Angeles not only needs to win tonight’s game, it also needs Scherzer to dig deep.
Using eight pitchers in Game 1 didn’t hurt the Dodgers. We’ll see if that’s still the case at this time next week.
1. THE OPENER
“To understand why Kiké Hernández has claimed this postseason as his personal property, as a combination of Babe Ruth in 1928, Carlos Beltrán in 2004 and Randy Arozarena in 2020, you have to understand the great change that he undertook just as these playoffs began.”
That’s Tom Verducci, writing about the rising star of this year’s playoffs. In his column after the Red Sox’s 9-5 win over the Astros in Game 2, he explains how one little move made Hernandez the best hitter in baseball.
Read Tom’s full story here.
Want to know more about the end of Game 1 of last night’s NLCS? We have you covered:
Taylor’s mistake ruins the Dodgers’ chance in game 1 by Stephanie Apstein
Los Angeles faced their best chance to beat Atlanta in the top of the ninth. Instead, the Braves walked away with a 3-2 victory.
Riley’s departure gives the Braves a 1-0 lead over the Dodgers by Madeline Coleman
Missed the Five Tools newsletter yesterday? You can find that here:
How should we feel about the Astros? by Matt Martell
It’s time to enjoy baseball villains, even if we’re not ready to forgive them just yet.
3. WORTH NOTING by Tom Verducci
The 2021 postseason looks like the turning point for a sport that has been invaded by relievers and the monotony of pitching changes. In twenty-two games (and 44 starts), starting pitchers have had just eight wins and thrown 31 2/3 fewer innings than relievers.
Only three times in 44 starts has a pitcher hit 100 pitches. In three LCS games so far, managers have used 38 pitchers. The average start is 4 1/3 innings.
4. WHAT TO EXPECT from Stephanie Apstein
The Dodgers and Braves meet again, for Game 2, at 7:38 pm at Truist Park in Atlanta. Atlanta will open 23-year-old right-hander Ian Anderson, the team’s first-round pick in 2016. Charlie Morton really is the No. 2 starter, but manager Brian Snitker wanted to give him an extra day off after Game 4 of Tuesday’s NLDS with a short break.
Likewise, the Dodgers are grappling with the consequences of pushing a pitcher further than usual: Ace Max Scherzer closed out Thursday’s NLDS Game 5 after starting Game 3. (The wild-card game had also started) . Scherzer told manager Dave Roberts that he could start NLCS Game 1 but it would be “limited” or he could wait a day and be in normal condition for Game 2. Roberts chose last.
5. THE CLOSER by Emma Baccellieri
Among the most curious features of the Braves’ victory over the Dodgers? They did it without the help of Freddie Freeman. The franchise star went 0 out of 4 with 4 Ks. He hasn’t had a game like that all season, much less a game like that where the Braves won. (Of course, it helps that such a night is extremely rare for him – this was just his twelfth game in 12 major league seasons in which he went hitless and struck out four times.) On the one hand, perhaps there is something encouraging. about this, in the sense that he showed a way to win even without Freeman in his prime. On the other hand, Braves fans would probably rather not have to take advantage of that again.
That’s all of us today. We will return to your inbox tomorrow. In the meantime, share this newsletter with your friends and family, and tell them to sign up for SI.com/newsletters. If you have any questions for our team, please send a note to [email protected].
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.