Dodgers Strike First, Claim Game 6

The first game of this NLCS was a tense thriller, carrying a score of 1-1 into the top of the ninth thanks to the performances of starters Walker Buehler and Max Fried. With a burst of offense in the ninth, the Braves took that game, 5-1. Five days later — doesn’t it feel like it’s been longer? — Atlanta entered Game 6, a repeat of that starting pitching matchup, with a chance to walk away with the pennant. And while the two games had many features in common — low scores, great starting pitching, and missed opportunities on the offensive side — it was the Dodgers, this time, who came out on top. After a 3-1 Los Angeles victory, the series is now tied at 3-3, with a decisive seventh game coming tomorrow.

Buehler set the tone by retiring Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman, and Marcell Ozuna on only seven pitches in the top of the first. Fried, who outpitched Buehler in Game 1, did not have the same success. He retired Mookie Betts without incident, but Corey Seager turned on a curveball on the inner half, sending it into the seats in right field. Two batters into the game, the Dodgers already had the lead — and one batter later, they added to it, as Justin Turner shot a sinker just over the outstretched arm of Cristian Pache in center.

A mound visit followed, accompanied by furrowed brows in the Atlanta dugout. Max Muncy walked and Will Smith singled, and now Fried had a veritable jam to deal with. Cody Bellinger then singled Muncy home, and just like that, it was 3-0 Dodgers.

But it wasn’t Fried, ultimately, who sank the Braves in Game 6. The Dodgers would not score off him in the remaining 5.2 innings he pitched. Despite Fried falling behind in counts often, and the three walks and four hits he allowed after the first, the Dodgers couldn’t scratch a run across. And they couldn’t score off Darren O’Day or Chris Martin, either, leaving a total of 10 runners on base. Their only hit in six chances with runners in scoring position was the first-inning Bellinger single. The Braves’ pitching staff — particularly Fried, who ended the day having thrown 109 pitches — put forth a valiant effort, grinding out a series of scoreless innings.

It was the Braves’ powerful lineup who faltered, wasting chances to pull closer or take the lead. They had no better chance than the one that came in the top of the second, immediately following the Dodgers’ three runs. Buehler came out to face the middle of the Braves’ lineup and promptly surrendered three straight singles to Travis d’Arnaud, Ozzie Albies, and Dansby Swanson. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Austin Riley struck out on three straight 98-mph fastballs, Nick Markakis worked the count full before taking strike three — again, all fastballs, the last one at 99.7 mph — and Pache, the last hope of getting something out of this golden opportunity to shift the game in Atlanta’s favor, grounded out to short to end the inning.

That was the Braves’ best chance of the game, but it was far from their only chance. In the top of the fourth, d’Arnaud and Swanson got Buehler for singles again around an Albies strikeout, but Riley and Markakis couldn’t drive them in. With two outs in the top of the fifth, Freeman smoked the first pitch he saw from Buehler into right-center, but Betts swiftly cut it off, preventing extra bases. Two pitches later, Ozuna scorched a pitch towards the wall in right, where Betts, running backward and leaping, made an incredible catch to end the inning, preventing at least one run from scoring.

In the top of the sixth with one out, Albies hit a chopper up the first base line. Muncy grabbed it, and Albies, feeling the tag, touched first and rounded it, exasperated at making an out. But Muncy had not, in fact, tagged him out: the ball had squeaked out of his glove as he applied the tag, and if Albies had not given up on the play, he would have been safe. Instead, Buehler scooped up the ball and applied the tag for the second out of the inning. That the error was immediately followed by yet another Swanson single — he would eventually reach third on a stolen base and a throwing error by Austin Barnes before being stranded — made it all the more critical.

Buehler left the game after six innings, and as though to celebrate his departure, Markakis jumped on Blake Treinen’s first pitch for a triple. After a Pache groundout, he came around to score on an Acuña double into right. But Treinen managed to retire Freeman and Ozuna to escape the inning without any further damage. Pedro Báez pitched a clean eighth, and a somehow-resurgent Kenley Jansen, in his second straight day of work, only took six pitches to close out the ninth for the Dodgers.

The Braves finished the day 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position, just a little better than their 1-for-12 mark in Game 1. In that contest, however, they had near-perfect pitching to bail them out. This time they didn’t have that luxury, and it only took a bad first inning to push them into a do-or-die situation. Tomorrow they have their rookie Ian Anderson on the mound, yet to be scored upon in this postseason; the Dodgers have yet to announce a starter but presumably will be throwing whomever they possibly can. Hold on to your seats, folks.





Rachael is the current managing editor of The Hardball Times and dilettante-in-residence at FanGraphs. Previous work can be found at Baseball Prospectus, VICE Sports, and The Hardball Times.

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RonnieDobbs
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RonnieDobbs

Stupid Dodgers moves for game 6:

Why pull Buehler after 6 and 89 pitches of shutout baseball? The worst part is that they lifted him just so he didn’t face the 8 and 9 hitters. The situation could not have been more perfect to get through 7 with their starter, which they desperately needed. It seems like their game-plan completely revolves around trying to use Treinen as much as possible. He has been bad more often than good as of late but they continue to grind him down. The Dodgers could have rested Treinen and went with a more effective Buehler , but they made the wrong decision as usual. Do they still trust Treinen? Is he available for game 7? Would they even want to use him? The whole using him every day thing seems to not be working, but the Dodgers are very much a make up our mind before the game kind of team is all I can come up with.

Using Rios as a pinch hitter for Barnes was nonsense. They did not need runs at that point as much as they needed defense and Will Smith is a bit of a liability at C in a close game late – he is a bad thrower and Kenley doesn’t hold runners. Rios has little business getting any ABs in any situation other than where you desperately need a HR… they didn’t. On the flip, Joc is an excellent outfielder and getting him in LF was a good idea that paid off. Joc in CF and Belly at 1B is their best bet. Sure Belly runs better, but Joc runs straight and skips the pageantry.

How must it feel to publicly voice your lack of confidence in your most reliable arm just to go right back to trusting him in the 9th with the season on the line? It didn’t take much more than a week for the delusion to work itself out as literally every other “top option” has fallen on their face. Kenley is the most trustworthy option in the bullpen. Kenley legitimately owes Dave Roberts a punch in the teeth. The fact that this cycle keeps happening is so crazy to me. Nobody should have to endure what Kenley does. What a way to treat one of the great closers of all time that has been a rock in their organization for a long time. Somehow amidst the distrust Kenley is also overworked. They have to trust him in game 7 and it will be three days in a row and 4 out of 5. Shame on all the people who don’t know the first thing about Kenley who have an uninformed opinion. There is nothing wrong with being uninformed, but to suggest action is… well, I guess it is just Twitter. Kenley doesn’t fit into the same mold as anyone else and we should appreciate him, not constantly call for his job. Can you imagine if the Yankees kept trying to move on from Jeter? The Dodgers are crazy and make a lot of dumb decisions. The whole bullpen thing has went so sideways that even if Kenley were to blow the game today, it would be his first blown save of the playoffs and it really wouldn’t even put him behind any of the guys that he was behind a week ago – he is that far ahead in terms of performance. In terms of track record, none of the other have anything, yet here is Kenley hanging onto his job by a thread… which actually means that he has likely been passed by some other guy with little experience. “somehow-resurgent” is how this article characterizes Kenley at this point. You all should be ashamed of yourselves. Nobody deserves to be treated that way. The ignorant masses just don’t know what they are talking about – don’t take it out on Kenley. The man literally couldn’t even warrant a full sentence of this article to himself. No accountability for a bunch of off-base garbage, just somehow he got lucky like he has hundreds of times throughout his career for the same organization that tries to go away from him when things matter the most.

The Dodgers mismanagement of their staff all series long will probably cost them. The one guy they won’t have to blame will be Kenley Jansen in that scenario. I would bet that a lot of the Twitter, and Fangraphs folks are holding their breath hoping that Kenely can manage to cost them the series, but its too late. All those better options have fallen apart already. People were wrong again and there is no redemption in this scenario – they have no better options and they now know it… again. There is however appreciation for the greatness of Kenley and I suggest that everyone appreciate the most magical of all FB as opposed to obsessing about pitch binning and velocity. Kenley is a magician, not some guy throwing 100 with little idea of where it is going. It is completely fair at this point to blame every future struggle by Kenley on the scrutiny that he alone faces. Name one other player that gets as bad of a deal as Kenley? Who else do hey start questioning before he enters the game? The answer to that question should be Joe Kelley, but its Kenley Jansen. The fact that he is still great even with reduced velocity is a testament to how special he is. Nobody is perfect, but Kenley has been the closest thing to perfect over the past decade of anyone.

The Duke
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The Duke

A nice sermon for a Sunday morning. Praise the Lord!

Phil
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Phil

Pulling Buehler after 6 innings? It’s almost like he has a blister issue that has limited him (in fact, this was the longest start of the last month for him).

Your rant about the Dodger’s not trusting Kenley is… bizarre. How Jansen pitched in 2016/2017 has no bearing on how he now – and if you look at velocity (all over the place!) and cutter movement (changed quite a bit – more horizontal movement, but only half the rise of peak Jansen). He’s still their closer (possibly in name only) – they haven’t publicly disrespected him. He’s not really great – his ERA has been over 3 the past years, that isn’t a great relief pitcher. It’s a fine, above average one.

If the Dodgers lose this series it will be because 1) the Braves are a really good team 2) the NL’s best bullpen this season gave up a run an inning in the first 4 games and 3) leaving Kershaw in too long in game 4.

yuudrush
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yuudrush

I don’t quite get your criticism of Roberts management of Jansen. Jansen had a recent trend of pitching poorly with low velocity and little pitch movement, so Roberts went to closer by committee. But then Jansen looked great in game 5 with better command, better pitch movement, and improved velocity. Considering the Dodgers don’t have any outstanding closer options at the moment, I think it was quite reasonable that Roberts went to Jansen in game 6, especially since Jansen was facing the bottom of the lineup.

Olan
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Olan

His 4 seam fastball at 94 mph with movement has looked pretty good! Maybe throw this more than the cutter?

mikejunt
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mikejunt

Its a 2 seam, not a 4 seamer, and he does throw it a good bit. Jansen hasn’t been a 90% cutters pitcher in years. The cutter’s still his best pitch when it’s moving correctly, but the 2 seamer is a strong weapon because it looks very similar but moves the opposite direction.

Similarly, his slider is now a pitch he uses, and it has a similar effect, as it moves vertically and dips under bats. However, both the 2 seam and the slider aren’t particularly insane pitches for a reliever – what makes them effective is that they start off looking the same as the cutter, but move differently. They’re only effective so long as people are looking cutter-first.

mikejunt
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mikejunt

FWIW, I’m usually keen to jump on a Dave Roberts bandwagon, but I think this was the first game in a long time where he really made entirely defensible and reasonable decisions. After the game, Roberts was asked why he pulled Buehler after 89 pitches and he said he felt Buehler was gassed because he had worked especially hard. Buehler agreed with this assessment, and so does the data: Buehler averages 96-97 on the 4 seamer, but in this game he went extensive periods where he was sitting 98-99 (such as when he blew away the Braves in the 2nd inning after loading the bases), and by the 6th inning his FB was down to 94-95. He was exhausted, and it was correct to remove him

Treinen and Baez were both reasonable choices. Treinen’s been their most consistent reliever this year overall, and Baez is a good fit against the Braves; an extreme flyball pitcher in a park that plays big who relies on a changeup, the pitch that the Braves have been least effective against this year. Baez has failed in a lot of playoff moments, and as an extreme flyball pitcher he’s much better used when there aren’t already men on base.

I was a bit surprised to see Jansen in the 9th but I think they were correct to believe in his resurgence. The difference between the Jansen we saw in Game 5 and where he had been for the last 3 weeks was remarkable. Jansen’s pitch velocity and movement come and go together, and between some mechanical adjustments to get his delivery back in line and the adrenaline of his frustration, he has hit velocity in the last two games he hasn’t shown since 2017. The Kenley Jansen of a week ago was a legitimate thing to worry about – he was throwing 89 MPH 2 seamers and cutters with virtually no movement. Between the coaching to help fix his delivery and whatever extra adrenaline he’s found due to the circumstances and criticism, Jansen hasn’t thrown the ball like that in years.

When you are in an elimination scenario, you have to use your guys. You can’t save Jansen for a game 7 that may not happen and, if it happens, may not also be a close game. You also know you’ll have a bunch of starting pitchers available to pitch in game 7 that aren’t as available in game 6. You’ll see May, Urias, Gonsolin, and maybe even Kershaw here in Game 7 tonight. The Dodgers didn’t want to use any of those guys yesterday. You have to use good pitchers with a 2 run lead in an elimination game, and the Dodgers did exactly that.

There’s lots of reasons to bag on Dave Roberts, but his decisions in this game weren’t bad. It’s probably the first high stakes playoff game in years where his decisions have been entirely reasonable and sensical.

Treinen’s probably not available today; otherwise, I’d expect every pitcher on the Dodgers besides Buehler to potentially be available, with Kershaw the least available, because he lines up to start WS Game 1 if they win, and none of the other starters will.