Dodgers Run Themselves Out of a Game 1 Victory

But with Scherzer on the mound for game 2, things are looking up.

It was pretty obvious that game 1 of the NLCS was going to be a weird one once the Dodgers announced that reliever Corey Knebel would start again for the second game in a row against Atlanta’s ace, Max Fried. But I did not have Chris Taylor snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the ninth inning with a base running blunder for the ages. I also did not have Cody Bellinger setting up that crushing mistake by getting a two-out pinch hit off a lefty, but here we are.

There are many positives the Dodgers can take away from their 3-2 loss to the Braves to open the NLCS last night. First, they nearly beat Fried despite not having a starting pitcher available. Fried went to Harvard-Westlake here in LA, so he probably grew up a Dodger fan. He helped the boys in blue last night by showing up without his usual crisp curveball, which made it difficult for him to put hitters away.

The Dodgers’ first four hits off Fried came on off-speed pitches, which was basically the opposite of what usually happens for both the Dodgers and for Fried. Atlanta’s big lefty must have noticed this trend, because in an 0-2 count against the Dodgers’ Will Smith, he shook off a slider, then a curveball, and threw Smith a fastball. Smith is one of the best fastball hitters in the world. He trailed only Juan Soto amongst NL hitters in batting average against heaters 95+ mph this season. It was a poor decision from Fried the second it left his hand. Smith whacked that fastball over the fence to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. I bring this up because even though the Dodgers only scored two runs last night they still handled Fried much easier than they did the opposing ace in the last round, Logan Webb. They will probably face Fried again in game 5, and they won’t be intimidated.

When the Dodgers announced they were starting Knebel yesterday my friend Chris lost his mind. Chris doesn’t have anything against Knebel that I know of, but he could not understand why the Dodgers weren’t rolling with their ace Max Scherzer instead. Scherzer, of course, closed out the NLDS win over the Giants with one inning of work on Thursday. Had he started yesterday on Saturday it would have been on only one day of rest. But Chris’ point was that Scherzer had only thrown 13 pitches on Thursday, which is fewer pitches than he would have thrown in a side session. They were the most stressful pitches a man could throw, however, with only one run separating the Dodgers from moving on to the next round or their season ending.

I was fine with the move, especially considering that throwing a bullpen game yesterday meant moving everyone back in the rotation by a day, not just Scherzer. This means that Walker Buehler will pitch Tuesday on six day’s rest, and Julio Urías will go Wednesday on five day’s rest. The Dodgers like these two young pitchers on extra rest, and you have to figure they especially like it for Buehler after he went on three days’ rest for the first time in his career the last time he pitched. According to my bible Baseball Reference, Buehler has started on five or more days of rest 69 times in his career (nice). He has started on four days rest 25 times in his career. Urías has started on four days rest 22 times in his career, and on five or more days 47 times.

Will the extra rest work? I have no idea. But I do believe Buehler needed extra time after last week, and that necessitated the Dodgers moving everyone back.

My friend Chris is worried about what the Dodgers will do in game 5, and I agree that’s the bigger problem than what the Dodgers did in game 1. If you only have three starters in a seven game series you ideally want each of those guys going twice and a bullpen game during game 4. Had the Dodgers won game 3 of the division series (which they lost 1-0) they would have been able to line up their pitchers to do just that in the NLCS. But because they had to play two elimination game against a tremendous Giants team, they were forced to use both Buehler and Scherzer on short rest just to survive.

Being down 1-0 feels a hell of a lot less scary in a championship series than it does in a division series. Last year the Dodgers fell behind the Braves 2-0 in the NLCS and then 3-1. Then they won three straight elimination games to capture the pennant. They are not rattled. And after last year’s devastating exit, the Braves are certainly not going to take anything for granted. Still, with Scherzer on the bump today, the Dodgers are favored to win the game and head back to Los Angeles tied 1-1 and with home field advantage and a well-rested Buehler and Urías lined up for games 3 and 4. That’s a situation they would love to be in.

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I don’t know what’s going on with Justin Turner, but he looks completely lost at the plate. This is not a great development for Los Angeles, since he usually bats clean-up. The bottom of the lineup continues to produce. Taylor, the eighth hitter, reached base three out of four times yesterday. Bellinger is hitting over .300 in this postseason, which delights me to no end. Mookie Betts was held hitless yesterday, which prompted me to look up a stat that made my jaw drop. The Dodgers are 17-2 in playoff games where Mookie Betts gets a hit. They are 0-5 in playoff games where he does not. (!!!!!!).

Thank you all so much for your support so far, and for participating in the game threads. This newsletter has worked out even better than I could have hoped so far. If you have been enjoying it, please tell your friends.

The baseball season will end in a month, and then I will shift to writing the stories I’ve always wanted to tell about the unseen people in the industry. You can expect a lot more newsletters like the one I wrote about the concession workers in San Francisco, and more food tours of NFL stadiums and NBA arenas. And of course I’ll write more about athlete mental health, as well minor leaguers’ fight for a living wage.

Today’s game starts at 7:30 PM ET/4:30 PT. I’ll send out a link to our game thread about 30 minutes before first pitch. Until then, enjoy your Sunday!