Braves Stun Dodgers, Take 2-0 Lead

Did you know that the Dodgers are carrying nine relievers for their NLCS matchup against the Braves? It’s true — Phil Bickford, Justin Bruihl, Brusdar Graterol, Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly, Corey Knebel, Evan Phillips, Blake Treinen, and Alex Vesia all made the roster. That’s enough relievers that it’s hard to imagine how to move them all — the team made a concerted effort to add pitching options after their draining series with the San Francisco Giants.

With Vesia, Kelly, and Treinen already used tonight, Dave Roberts looked at that roster and chose none of the above. He called in Julio Urías, who threw 59 pitches on Thursday night, to come in on two days rest for his throw day and take the eighth inning. In a 4-2 ballgame, the Dodgers needed six outs of status quo to go home with the series tied, and Roberts preferred Urías, throw day and all, with a cluster of lefties coming up for Atlanta.

From one point of view, Urías was just fine. He threw 14 pitches — 10 curves and four fastballs. He had his usual velocity — both pitches were within 0.2 mph of their season-long velocity averages. He coaxed four whiffs in only 14 pitches. Great move, Roberts.

In all the senses that mattered tonight, though, Urías was the exact wrong pitcher to bring in. He gave up a single to Eddie Rosario, a flared single to Ozzie Albies, and then an absolutely crushed double to Austin Riley in the first six pitches he threw. Atlanta came in swinging, Urías scuffled slightly with location, and thanks to some very aggressive baserunning, the game was tied. Urías recovered to strike out the next two batters on four pitches each, but the damage was done.

That brief hiccup undid a game’s worth of grinding offense by the Los Angeles lineup. For eight innings, they had doggedly attacked Braves pitching. Throw a ball? The Dodgers took it. They drew nine walks — three intentional, oof — and Justin Turner was hit by a pitch. That’s how you chew through an opposing pitching staff, and Atlanta had already used seven pitchers. The levy broke in the seventh, with the intentional walks coming home to roost — Will Smith, given a free pass with Mookie Betts on second and two outs, scored on a bloop double that gave the Dodgers a 4-2 lead.

That’s usually how Dodgers games have gone this year. Grind down the opposition, score some runs, and let a stifling pitching staff and defense do the rest. They allowed 3.46 runs per game this year, the best in the majors by a ton. Their offense scored more than any other NL offense. The Dodgers cudgel you with their hitters, and then they don’t let you back in it. That’s just how it works.

After Urías’s fateful six pitches, the game wasn’t like that. Instead, it came down to one inning for all the marbles — with more available, of course, if things weren’t settled. The Dodgers did what they usually do — work counts and hit balls hard. Trea Turner hit the first pitch he saw to the warning track, 105 mph off the bat. Smith and Austin Barnes both took a lot of pitches, and both struck out swinging. In a lot of innings, that’s what the best offense in the National League looks like — one inning is just not that much.

The Braves made the most of their opening. They put together a rally exactly the way you’d draw it up — if you had never seen a baseball game before. Graterol broke Travis d’Arnaud’s bat with a 101 mph sinker — bloop single to center. Dansby Swanson bunted into a force out at second — an absolutely terrible bunt that Graterol nearly chucked into center field. Guillermo Heredia swung at every pitch he saw, never once making good contact — but he managed a dribbler that advanced a runner to second with two outs.

That brought in Jansen, though Graterol had been impressive — he threw nine pitches and got these results: two balls, two broken bats, a poor bunt, and nothing hit harder than 80 mph. But the game was on the line — a ball that landed in the outfield grass would end things. Roberts brought his best reliever into the game to maximize his chances of sending the game to extra innings.

Rosario had other ideas. He’d been on fire all game — three singles and a frankly wild trip around the basepaths that ended with a bang-bang play to make the game 4-3. He was up there to swing, and that’s what he did on the first pitch he saw from Jansen, a belt-high cutter. He hit a laser directly at Corey Seager — and, as it turned out, directly through Seager. The ball hit the aforementioned outfield grass, Swanson scored, and just like that, the Braves had a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series against the odds-on World Series favorite.

Starting things in the eighth inning focuses the action on the plays that determined the game, but it glosses over an otherwise engrossing contest. The 2021 playoffs have been heavy on quick pitching hooks, and neither starter made it through five innings tonight. Ian Anderson was the first to depart — down 2-0 in the bottom of the third, Brian Snitker opted to pinch hit when Anderson’s spot came up with one out and none on. It wasn’t a wildly quick hook — Anderson had walked more batters than he’d struck out and given up a home run — but it did mean the whole bullpen would be pitching tonight.

While that bullpen held the line, Max Scherzer faltered. He was mostly magnificent tonight — seven strikeouts against only one walk, only four hits, and 14 whiffs in 79 pitches, a solid mark. He made a mistake to Joc Pederson, though, and Pederson has made a name for himself by punishing mistakes in October. A middle-middle 77 mph curveball? That’s asking for a home run trot, and Pederson hit it 454 feet. To make matters worse, Scherzer’s one walk — to Riley, who took some tough pitches to get on — had immediately preceded the home run. That erased the Dodgers’ early lead, and set up the late heroics on both sides.

Scherzer got good results tonight, but he was pitching on borrowed time. He closed Thursday night’s series-clinching win in San Francisco, and didn’t have his usual stuff. Every pitch he threw was down from its seasonal velocity average — his fastball took the worst hit, at 0.7 mph. His location wasn’t sharp — his four-seamer leaked low in the zone more often than usual and his slider was scattershot. When the top of Atlanta’s lineup came up for a third time, Roberts went to the bullpen, and Scherzer said in his post-game press availability that he was fully onboard with the decision, for perhaps the first time in his career.

The Dodgers’ regular relievers put in yeoman’s work tonight. Vesia was excellent. Kelly threw a clean inning. Treinen pitched in with a scoreless frame of his own. Atlanta’s relievers mostly matched them. Jesse Chavez, A.J. Minter, and Jacob Webb all held Los Angeles scoreless in the middle innings. This game was a reminder that random pitchers you’ve maybe heard of once or twice are good, even against two of the best offenses in baseball. Those overlooked parts of these two star-studded rosters held things close long enough for the dramatic ending this game so richly deserved.

It might seem like I’m not giving the Braves enough credit in this game. They won it, after all, and here I am framing it as a referendum on using Urías. Well… I do kind of think that. The Dodgers won plenty of games just like this all year without relying on crazy gimmicks like starters on throw days. They won games without quick hooks on a cruising pitcher. They won 106 games in the regular season, after all, and they weren’t managing every single game like there was no tomorrow. Roberts got too cute tonight, and I think it hurt them, though of course Atlanta had to take advantage of the opportunity that Roberts’ managing gave them.

For his part, Snitker also managed like there was no tomorrow, but weirdly so. The Braves made a ton of questionable decisions that were all washed away. Those three intentional walks were mostly a mess. Walk Will Smith to face Gavin Lux? Maybe! Walk Smith again to face Justin Turner? I’m less into it. Walk Cody Bellinger to load the bases with Luke Jackson, he of the career 10% walk rate (11.1% in 2021!) on the mound? Thanks, I hate it.

Rosario’s aggressive baserunning was even weirder. With the Braves down 4-2 in the eighth, he tagged at first base on a fly ball to left field and was nearly thrown out at second. He then went home on an Albies single and was safe by fractions of a second. It didn’t matter at all — Riley smashed a subsequent pitch off the center field wall to tie the game, and Rosario would have scored anyway. But putting the pedal to the metal on baserunning decisions while down two runs is not exactly clean baseball. Swanson also bunted — probably a call from the dugout. Less of that, please!

This series will start up again on Tuesday night, with the Dodgers in a big hole. They’ll have to overcome a two-game deficit despite playing the Braves roughly to a standstill over two nights in Atlanta. But it feels, to me at least, like this series is still a referendum on the Dodgers. That’s not how baseball works. Both teams have a huge amount of agency in any given game, and Atlanta’s successes have been every bit as important as Los Angeles’s failures. But woof! What a messy, and thrilling, Game Two — one that pushes the Braves ever closer to a World Series berth that has eluded them for more than two decades.





Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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Nats Fan
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Nats Fan

Well the Braves are the best team left worthy of my rooting so good for them.

Left of Centerfield
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Left of Centerfield

I would replace “best team” with “only team”…

Easyenough
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Easyenough

Funny to listen to the Barves radio broadcast with Jim Powell’s hot sauce sponsor’s slam of the Nats. Trying and failing to find a quote, but something like, Nats fans don’t get why this hot sauce is so good.

Anyone able to quote it?

Serbian to Vietnamese to French is back
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Serbian to Vietnamese to French is back

It is interesting to listen to the radio show “Barves” with songs by Jim Powell as a sponsor of “Hot Sauce” dedicated to Nazi Germany. I tried and I couldn’t find a quote, but Nat fans can’t understand why this water heater is so good.

Can anyone quote that?

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

Braves – Red Sox would be one of the most bizarre world series you could imagine. In one corner, you’ve got the team that was dismissed before the season even started, with thin pitching and bad defense, no apparent desire to win now, and who limped to the end of the season. In the other corner, you’ve got the team that lost a top-3 player in baseball for the rest of the season, loaded up on a bunch of questionable corner outfielders, and then all of the outfielders they acquired went from iffy part-timers to borderline all-stars. “World Series 2021: It’s better to be lucky than good!”

Ivan_Grushenko
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Ivan_Grushenko

Not to mention Boston couldn’t support 2 teams in the middle of the 20th Century. Neither was very popular then.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

The Third Base Saloon grudge match: We’re going to cheer like it’s 1911!!

proiste
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proiste

Hate the Red Sox if you wish (I totally get it), but this world series would be easily the most entertaining combination left, and would likely be one of the most ridiculous ones in decent memory. The Sox and Braves both have the perfect combination of great offense, bad defense, and highly suspect bullpens to make every game a grueling back and forth thriller. No lead would ever be safe

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I used to really like the Red Sox, but would like them to sit in time out for a few years for Mookie-related transgressions and general Alex Cora ickiness. So I have a complicated relationship with them; I like them but I don’t like them.

I’d still rather they make it over the Astros, though. And a Braves – Red Sox series would be interesting.

Southi
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Southi

It could be argued that the Braves defense is good, especially their infield defense. As far as the bullpen goes, I definitely can’t speak for the Red Sox, but the Atlanta bullpen has pitched significantly better in the 2nd half compared to the 1st half. If you are looking at full season numbers you might not get a clear picture.

In any event, neither series is over and it could be that neither Atlanta or Boston gets into the World Series.

JohnThacker
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JohnThacker

The Braves are definitely the team to root for if you like aggressive trade deadline acquisitions and would like to encourage more of them. Sure, the Dodgers got Scherzer and Turner, but they were always expected to make the playoffs and buying made sense. Most Braves fans thought this year was over when those deals were made.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas

The rebuild Braves have like a .600 win percentage. In the off season, I wanted Joc/Soler/Duvall to fill in around Acuna over iron glove and spaghetti arm Ozuna.

This Braves team isn’t as bad as their year record shows. That said, they aren’t the Dodgers.

Cam78
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Cam78

I think AA’s thought process was since they were so cheap to acquire, just grab a bunch and hope one of them sticks. All of them ended up raking at the same time.

MorboTheAnnihilator
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MorboTheAnnihilator

When the braves get rid of their racist chop gesture, maybe. But they still have a ton of other issues like their thinly veiled dog whistle reasons for moving their stadium from Atlanta to the northern suburbs.

Squid_Mantle
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Squid_Mantle

I’d rather the Braves have kept the stadium in Summerhill and built around it (partly because I live in that area, and partly because it’s better-served by public transit), but I can’t imagine that a large corporation makes any decision for any reason other than its potential to make the organization more money. Also, Cumberland (where the new stadium is located in Cobb County) is more diverse than most people give it credit for being – it’s 50% white, at most, and it has a significant Latino community. Demographically, Metro Atlanta’s most diverse neighborhoods are outside of the Atlanta city limits, in the suburbs in Cobb, Clayton, DeKalb, and Gwinnett Counties, and the northern part of Fulton County beyond the city limits – the notion of the (inner) suburbs, like Cumberland, being predominantly white doesn’t hold true for Metro Atlanta.

I’m with you on the chop and the chant, though – bring on the Atlanta Hammers.

(Here’s some data on Cumberland’s demographics, by the way: http://documents.atlantaregional.com/profiles/Superdistrict/Cobb_County_Cumberland_NN.pdf. If anything, Cumberland is more diverse now than it was in 2015, the last year that data was included here.)

Southi
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Southi

If someone can’t see that the stadium move was motivated by money then they are the ones that are wearing blinders.

Sadly too many people are more interested in talking points instead of actually examing cold hard facts. It really doesn’t take much time and effort to find the truth I’d you are willing to search for it

TKDC
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TKDC

If you can find a local government willing to give you almost half a billion dollars no questions asked, who among us can honestly say they’d turn it down?

Francoeurstein
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Francoeurstein

The new stadium is 100x more accessible, to be fair

Mark Hogan
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Mark Hogan

Only for people who are you and live near you.

drewsylvania
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drewsylvania

Buddy and I talked about the chop last night. Racist as hell. But I suspect it sticks around because fans at the park would revolt.

Squid_Mantle
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Squid_Mantle

The team has actually stopped instigating the chop via the P.A. system, and sometimes it seems like they try to actively discourage it by playing the Seven Nation Army chant instead, but there’s just no closing that pandora’s box – the fans start the chant on their own.

CC AFC
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CC AFC

I’d love to see MLB come up with European football style penalties, e.g. the team has to play games with an empty stadium or is docked a win in the standings. Would think that would end things quick. I recognize the actual odds of this happening are nill.

Squid_Mantle
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Squid_Mantle

Yeah, I wish that we, as a fan base, could keep that chant energy but redirect it toward a less objectionable chant. I love that we have a chant – how many baseball fanbases spontaneously break out into an extended, distinct, team-specific chant throughout the game? – but I just wish it didn’t have the ugly association that ours does.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas

Would it still be racist if they replaced it with words but kept the melody (or whatever you call it). Something like “Leeeeeets go Braaaaaaaaves leeeeeeets go Braves”

Mark Hogan
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Mark Hogan

You can clearly still hear the rhythmic whistle that is the signal and timing mechanism they use to time the chant.

Squid_Mantle
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Squid_Mantle

That’s true – I’d forgotten about that. Now that I think of it, they also play the drum beat for the chant while showing a chopping tomahawk on the video display that rings the second deck. So, I completely retract my initial inaccurate recollection that the team no longer encourages the chant via the P.A. system, haha.

howieloader
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howieloader

That’s funny, I talked to my wife last night, she’s a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and she said she loves the chop and chant… I asked my father-in-law what his thoughts on it are… You know, a 60yr old Native American that has resevration land in North Dakota… He said he thinks it’s pretty cool and he’s not sure why anyone would be upset about it… Do you and your buddy who find it “racist as hell” identify with a Native American tribe so that your anecdote can hold as much weight as my anecdote???

diamonddores
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diamonddores

amen. Can’t pull for ATL so long as we see 40,000 white Cobb County residents doing the chant and chop. Disgusting. Down vote away, Atlanta Baseball Team fans.

Southi
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Southi

People tend to look through the lenses they choose to put on, and they see the things they focus on the most.
There is good and bad in everyone, none of us a perfect. We want to live in a perfect world, and we should surely strive towards that, but no one benefits from being berated and degraded continually. (And that truth cuts BOTH ways). It is amazing what progress can be made when both sides show a willingness to move towards each other.

drewsylvania
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drewsylvania

And there is always a way to move toward each other. (Except for complete antisocial psychopaths)

johnforthegiants
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johnforthegiants

Anyone have any idea what Jacoby Ellsbury thinks of the chop? I did a google search but I can’t find anything.

cowdisciple
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cowdisciple

I’ll root for them as soon as they ditch the chop. And apologize.

Mark Hogan
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Mark Hogan

Funny thing is they know it’s bad they stopped playing it when a Native American pitcher complained about it. Ryan Hesley from the cards back in 2019.

dcracker
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dcracker

Ryan Hesley was so offended by the chop that he forgot about his neighbors the Kansas City Chiefs who do the same thing.

Jason B
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Jason B

They could do more to deter it, sure. But at the same time, it’s tough to stop a crowd from spontaneously reflexing to a cheer/chant that they have been doing for 20, 30, 40 years when most of the ones (obviously) doing it don’t see anything wrong with it.