In Game 6 Win, Braves Defeat Dodgers, Doubts, and 2020’s Demons

We have a hard time making ourselves feel it when probability offers good news. Going into Saturday’s NLCS Game 6, our ZiPS postseason game-by-game odds gave the Braves a 71.4% chance of advancing to the World Series. They had largely outplayed the Dodgers. Max Muncy and Justin Turner were still sidelined, and Joe Kelly had just joined them. Max Scherzer had been scratched with arm fatigue, leaving Walker Buehler to start on short rest. Game 7 might mean a bullpen game for Los Angeles, if there were a Game 7 at all. The Dodgers were up against it; the Braves, at worst, had another shot.

That is what we knew; feeling it was another matter. After all, the Dodgers had won 18 more regular-season games than the Braves, and in a harder division. They were riding a seven-game win streak in postseason elimination games, including an 11–2 drubbing in Game 5 to stay alive. Atlanta had dealt with injuries of its own, and this series had so far followed 2020’s pattern, causing an itchy bit of worry in the back of Braves fans’ minds as they remembered going up three-games-to-one in last year’s NLCS only to have Los Angeles claw its way back in Game 5 and take the next two. Ian Anderson, the Braves’ Game 6 starter, had only managed three innings in Game 2; Atlanta won, but he’d walked three and allowed two runs, and then there were all those bad first innings to think of. What if Eddie Rosario’s bat cooled? What if Chris Taylor’s didn’t?

It can all leave you looking for the place where the math proves faulty and the bottom falls out, and Game 6 offered a few spots where it looked like it might, with two worth highlighting.

Making the Worst of Admittedly Bad Options
In the top of the fourth, with the Braves up 1–0 on the back of a first-inning Austin Riley RBI double, the Dodgers put two on as Trea Turner and Will Smith reached on a walk and a single with one out. Anderson got Taylor to swing over a changeup low in the zone, but then in stepped Cody Bellinger. His regular-season struggles are well-documented, but a recent adjustment had him looking more like his old self, albeit with less pop; through 11 postseason games, he had hit .355/.429/.484. His resurgence continued, as he slapped a changeup into left field to beat the shift and tie the game:

Here, surely, was the turn. The odds were still slightly in the Braves’ favor, but against a shift-busting Bellinger, what are probabilities and pearls really worth?

The power of Atlanta’s various talismans wasn’t the only factor at play; Dave Roberts’ choices, past and future, also loomed large. With Scherzer unable to start, the Dodgers were left to pick from a few less-than-ideal options: Buehler on three days rest; another bullpen game; or David Price, who had put together a middling season split between starting and relief and was initially left off the NLCS roster. Of course, those choices spirited in Roberts’ earlier ones, chief among them the decision to use Scherzer and Julio Urías in relief earlier this postseason. Buehler was the best of the bad options, and through the bottom half of the fourth, it looked like the gamble might have worked. He started that frame by getting Joc Pederson swinging — his fourth strikeout of the night — and inducing a Dansby Swanson flyout. But he had labored all night, surrendering a lot of hard contact; of the nine balls Atlanta had put in play through three innings, six were hit with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph, and Swanson’s out added another.

When No. 8 hitter Travis d’Arnaud worked a walk, Brian Snitker had a choice to make of his own. Anderson had only thrown 66 pitches, but he had been more good than dominant, and Atlanta’s manager saw a chance to pull ahead, calling on Ehire Adrianza to pinch-hit for his starter. He doubled on another well-struck ball, bringing up Rosario with runners on second and third.

It was here that Roberts’ decisions shifted for the worse. Entering the night, Rosario had hit .471/.514/.735 this October. His numbers in the NLCS were even better: .571/.609/1.000. With the Braves’ lineup about to turn over, Alex Vesia had been warming, presumably in anticipation for this matchup. Yet Buehler was left in to face Rosario for a third time.

Rosario battled back after falling behind 0–2, and a flurry of sinkers and cutters later, he deposited a three-run home run into the right-field seats:

It was the cherry on top of a postseason performance that earned him NLCS MVP honors.

Much has been made of how teams have deployed their starters this postseason, with the primary concern being one of pitchers pulled too soon, leaving bullpens exhausted. But on Saturday night, it was a starter left too long that proved decisive, and an early exit that proved savvy. Roberts didn’t have a lot of good choices, but that doesn’t mean some weren’t better than others.

Tyler Matzek, AirHog No Longer
Inspiring stories move us, but they have a way of smuggling in doubt.

In the top of the seventh, Luke Jackson came on in relief of A.J. Minter, who had struck out four across two superlative innings after Anderson’s exit. It went south fast: Taylor doubled to lead off the inning on a ball that almost left the yard, Bellinger walked, and AJ Pollock laced an RBI double down the left-field line to bring Taylor home and put two runners in scoring position with no outs. Snitker had seen enough; you have to kill the Dodgers all the way dead, after all, or risk being on the other wrong end of a big inning. He needed someone steady, someone sure. He needed Tyler Matzek.

That Matzek was a choice here, let alone the obvious one, is astounding. The former first-round pick of the Rockies had seen his career derailed by unplayable control. After being outrighted off Colorado’s 40-man at the end of the 2016 season, he tried to catch on with the White Sox and Mariners in ‘17 and ‘18 but couldn’t stick. He ended up pitching for the Texas AirHogs of the American Association that latter year, and after another spring training stint, this time with the Diamondbacks, didn’t work out in ‘19, he returned to independent ball, where he made an arm slot adjustment that proved fruitful. After signing with Atlanta in mid-August of 2019, some promising work in the minors that summer and at the alternate site last year earned him a shot with the big league club. He pitched to a 2.79 ERA and 1.92 FIP in 29 regular-season innings in 2020, tacking on 8.2 frames of 1.04 ERA, 2.50 FIP ball in October.

Matzek’s good work continued into 2021 and especially into the postseason; pitching in eight of Atlanta’s nine playoff games, he’d thrown 8.1 innings with a 2.16 ERA and 1.49 FIP to go with 13 strikeouts, an average leverage index of 1.45 (anything above 1.00 is high pressure), and Championship Win Probability Added of 7.56%. He had been stellar, and a great story to boot. But sometimes great stories end with an undoing. He had gone from the yips to effectively wild, but he still issued his fair share of walks in 2021. The Dodgers’ lineup was thinned but still dangerous, and Matzek had allowed Los Angeles’ first run in last year’s Game 6. A bit of doubt tickled.

It needn’t have. Matzek got Albert Pujols swinging. That freaking slider. One away. He then got Steven Souza Jr. looking (we can debate whether, even with the platoon advantage, Souza was a better choice than Gavin Lux). Two away. Finally, he struck out Mookie Betts swinging to end the inning. Matzek would return for the eighth, needing only six pitches, five of them sliders, to dispatch Corey Seager, Turner, and Smith.

Will Smith would take care of the rest, with Taylor and Bellinger striking out and Pollock grounding out to end the game (and the Dodgers’ season) and send the Braves to their first World Series since 1999.

Stories like Matzek’s inspire because of the overcoming they entail, but having showed themselves capable of faltering, we tend to be unsurprised when their subjects eventually come up short. This was always in there, this ability to dip into wildness, into failure. We brace ourselves when the hope for a happy ending comes up against someone else’s potential to triumph. But we don’t always have to. Sometimes we can relax and watch a good slider do its work.

The postseason is an odd time for reconciling what we think with what we feel. It was always likely that the Braves would win, that the cumulative effects of the Dodgers’ pitching plan would assert themselves, that even a lineup as deep as Los Angeles’ would struggle without its best hitter. But these games have a way of compressing advantages and giving good players their moment. When it was all said and done, though, the Braves’ good players got to have their say, too. Atlanta’s performance in last year’s NLCS and in the first 110 games of this season didn’t matter any more than the Dodgers’ 106 wins. And when Freddie Freeman caught Pollock’s groundout, you could feel it, all the way down to your toes.





Meg is the managing editor of FanGraphs and the co-host of Effectively Wild. Prior to joining FanGraphs, her work appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Lookout Landing, and Just A Bit Outside. You can follow her on twitter @megrowler.

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3cardmonty
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Easily the most cursed World Series matchup of my lifetime. Do I root for the team of unrepentant cheaters, or the team whose fans engage in noxious racism throughout the entirety of every home game? Just unrelentingly grim.

3cardmonty
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The year is 1991. A Braves executive is watching an A’s home game. “I love the atmosphere created by the fans senselessly pounding on drums throughout the entire game,” he says to an intern. “But something’s missing. What if we could get our fans to ceaselessly make a noise that’s both obnoxious AND racist?” The intern looks up from his notes and opens his mouth to speak.

vslyke
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Member

That “intern” was a 21 year old Black organist. You can oppose the Chop without bending yourself in a pretzel by assuming the absolute worst origin possible.

Google “Tomahawk Chop clip 54138287” to see the source article or look up Carolyn Rose King’s Wikipedia and see Source 5.

(Reposted without source since Fangraphs understandably doesn’t let you link in a comment.)

3cardmonty
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Member

You didn’t let me finish the story. The words the intern spoke were “Why on earth would you want a stadium full of fans being obnoxious and racist all the time?” Then he was fired.

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

Easily the craziest couples of the World Series in my life. Am I advocating for a team of stubborn thieves or a team in which fans have to face destructive racism at home? That doesn’t stop the darkness.

We are a 1991 Warrior, the patron is considered the home of the game. “I love the atmosphere created by the fans, who hit the drums unnecessarily in the game,” he said. “But something is still missing. If we can make our fans make noise all the time, is this both frustrating and racist? Practice separating notes from notes and open your mouth to speak.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

Took me a second to realize that since Boston hadn’t advanced “the team whose fans engage in noxious racism throughout the entirety of every home game” was referring to the Braves.

It’s remarkable that one team ran a $250M payroll, including trading for the best player in the NL to replace their temporarily injured shortstop and Max Scherzer, and somehow they were the least objectionable team in a championship game.

It’s true that most baseball teams are kind of annoying to root for–the White Sox have Tony La Russa, the A’s and Rays are incredibly cheap, the Yankees and Dodgers spend so much money, the Mets are the Mets, etc. So I was really sad when the Blue Jays didn’t make it and the Brewers got eliminated. Baggage-free cheering.

I’m just going to hope that the Braves win it and ignore the fans. If they lose, I’ll just say I’m happy for Dusty Baker (who is legitimately fantastic) and pretend those other guys don’t exist. These jerks are not going to ruin this world series for me, no way.

johnforthegiants
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johnforthegiants

Just out of curiosity, what’s annoying about the Giants?

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

Now that I no longer associate the Giants with Barry Bonds, not a lot. And for a while they were kind of annoying in the Cardinals-fans-BFIB kind of way. But I think a couple of years in the wilderness makes them a lot less annoying.

The owner is kind of annoying, but not like Jim Crane-refusing-to-hire-women annoying. But they’re probably middle-of-the-pack; not baggage-free like the Brewers, Blue Jays, or Twins, but also not implicated in a massive cheating scandal in the last 5 years or a team that literally had a nickname of “The Evil Empire.”

johnforthegiants
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johnforthegiants

FWIW I’m with you on the Bonds issue. It’s amazing to me that so many Giants’ fans are laissez faire about the whole thing. I just try to avoid the topic with them.

Multiphasic
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Multiphasic

The steroid thing is easily hand-waved by the fact that many, many other contemporary players were implicated, and nearly all of them (postseason commentators A-Rod and Big Papi, for starters) were completely forgiven. But people forget Bonds had his own IPV allegations. There were no charges filed and that was a time (a long 20 years ago!) when MLB probably wouldn’tve done anything even if there were, but if it matters now it should’ve mattered then.

baseballenjoyer
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baseballenjoyer

The cognitive dissonance on display from the crowd at one of the Astros/Giants game this season when the Jumbotron showed Bonds in a box was something.

v2micca
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v2micca

It’s not as annoying now, but that Even Year meme they had going for a while got pretty obnoxious.

johnforthegiants
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johnforthegiants

Didn’t you know that all the racists in the country are in the south?

FunFella13
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FunFella13

What is objectionable about trying to win?

Original Greaser Bob
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Original Greaser Bob

Brewers were one of the worst teams for sign stealing. Plus Ryan Braun so no thanks there.

bravesfan
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bravesfan

not exactly a hot take, but methinks that if you are going to base a rooting interest on those in the stands, you aren’t going to have to dig deep to find enough truly objectionable folks.

dcracker
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dcracker

You were born after ’95 then.

3cardmonty
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I was just glad there was a World Series at all in ’95. A strong contender though, no doubt.

TKDC
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TKDC

I’m truly sorry that you are so but hurt because the Braves are better than your loser team. Chop on!!!!

3cardmonty
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Remember that time that Ryan Helsley called out the chop and you guys were so embarrassed that you didn’t do it for the rest of the series? All I’m suggesting is maybe just…stay embarrassed?

OddBall Herrera
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OddBall Herrera

I for one couldn’t help a chortle at the Braves and the Tomahawk Chop ending up in the World Series the year MLB finally exorcised the Indians and Chief Wahoo, and in the city they boycotted for the All Star Game to boot.

No matter what side of the issue you are on, one must appreciate the irony of it all. It will be interesting to watch MLB try to thread the woke needle here while promoting this Series.

I myself will be rooting for the Braves, simply because their mish mash of hastily assembled outfielders makes them seem like a Frankenteam, which is new and interesting . This is in spite of the Chop, the most obnoxious fan tradition in mlb up there with the stupid tweedledoo the Yankees play after every strikeout. Though as someone whose early baseball memories are from watching the 91 series while growing up in MN, I am a bit biased.

johnforthegiants
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johnforthegiants

I guess the only actual reason I have for being pro-Braves (as opposed to just anti-Astros) is that I always had a soft spot to Will Smith and thought the Giants gave him a raw deal from beginning to end. It’s very rare than the Giants treat anyone badly but Smith was a glaring exception.

Francoeurstein
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Francoeurstein

The Frankenteam is Francoeursteins favorite team!

dcracker
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dcracker

Remember when Ryan Helsley was so offended by the chop that he forgot his neighbors the Kansas City Chiefs do that same thing? I member.

TKDC
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TKDC

That was a huge mistake I hope we won’t make it ever again. We let some crocodile tears lead to disarming our fans and we lost. Again, I’m sorry your team sucks and my team is better, which is really the only thing this is about.

Jason B
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Jason B

“Disarming your fans”?

TKDC
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TKDC

“”Disarming your fans”?”?

Jason B
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Jason B

Why…why were they coming armed?

TKDC
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TKDC

I know that us normies aren’t supposed to make fun of people like you, but “disarming” was not meant literally and it’s clear you are either disingenuous or incredibly stupid. My apologies if it’s the latter.

Jason B
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Jason B

So…again, how were they “disarmed?”

dukewinslow
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dukewinslow

The only way to stop a bad Met with a gun is a good barve with a gun

chisoxmatt
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chisoxmatt

The tomahawk chop is an honor to Native Americans. We can be politically correct with any team if we really wanted to be and cancel any team. But political correctness is an evil thats wants to start civil unrest and division. I found my self rooting for the GB Packers today, which I would never do, but when going against the Washington Football team, its more than sports that is at stake. Im just glad Boston didnt win, since Lebron owns part of the team and loves to stoke government control through division.

OddBall Herrera
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OddBall Herrera

Don’t you dare come after my Staten Island Pizza Rats.

In all seriousness I feel that this post is moments away from the famed “Irish people don’t mind Notre Dame” argument….let’s just put it out there so everyone can get their eye rolling out of the way

dukewinslow
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dukewinslow

The biggest problem here is that so called adults are using something some people find offensive as a pretext to justify their dislike of a team other people like. If the Braves got rid of the chant, it’d just be something else. Once we move past that, then we get into problems of “whose standpoint do we defer to, and why?”

The problem is that a lot of native people like the chop, and most are indifferent (a vast majority liked the damn redskins name! Which was a surprise- the Washington post did a fairly comprehensive study on it) so any sort of “well it’s universally disliked” arguments aren’t solid. So then, it just devolves into getting out the calipers in a race to the bottom of the aggrieved olympics. If the Braves did polling on it and most found it offensive, I’d be fine pulling it. If they found that most native Americans were indifferent to positive, let’s not pretend like the critics would concede the point. And if the Braves pulled the chant, people would just find another reason. Because it’s pretext.

dukewinslow
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dukewinslow

Addendum: I respect the EBCI’s governing process on all of this too- if they vote to support it and strike up a licensing agreement, at least to me the most culturally sensitive thing you can do is respect their governing processes and statements, and take them at their word. At least you have to weight that more than a couple college grads who don’t have membership/can’t vote (Helsey can and will, I’m sure).

OddBall Herrera
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OddBall Herrera

I am mostly with you on this. I do think that the argument about team names involves a great deal of “on-behalf-ism”, and that it’s not hugely informed by knowledge of what the affected parties actually think, or if they even really care. To many, it doesn’t even matter, because feeling good about supporting a fashionable cause is clearly more important than the details these days, that’s just where we are as a nation.

However, on the other side, I’m equally skeptical of the “it’s not a big deal” arguments that are usually being advanced by the very people you’d expect to assert it’s not a big deal. I don’t personally have a problem with the Braves, but I’m going to listen hard to any interested parties who do.

3cardmonty
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Member

So me, being on the other side of the country from the Braves, a fan of a team in the other league that has no history with them…my opinions on the chop are purely pretextual because I’m so bound and determined to find a reason to hate this random other team. But literal *fans of the Braves,* who do the chop every night at the games, who then defend the chop…well they are totally sincere in their opinions on the chop and navigating by righteous first principles. No reason to question their motives or sincerity whatsoever. Do I have that right?

dukewinslow
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Member
dukewinslow

Yes. Stop projecting, your life will be better for it.

3cardmonty
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Member

Gosh, I’m just not sure I agree with you 100% on your policework there, Lou. Seems to me if anyone’s opinions in this debate are pretextual, it’d be the fans of the team in question, who have a clear incentive to defend and excuse their own behavior. The incentives of a Mariners fan casting about for a reason to hate one of the 29 other teams just for funsies seem…less clear?

dukewinslow
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dukewinslow

I would say that someone who insults the team, gets the facts wrong, and then doesn’t update or do the research, you’re tripling down on a bad faith troll that you got called on and don’t like when you get called on it. At least you still have human emotions, so you’re past high school. You found a reason to not like the team in the World Series. It’s not exactly uncommon in sports fandom for random hate.

3cardmonty
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Member

Gets the facts wrong? Wait…you’re referring to the clearly fictional origin story for the chop I posted? Like I was earnestly posting what I hoped to pass off as an actual historical incident? Oh dear. Here I’d been thinking you were just impugning your opponents’ motives for the normal reason of being a small person who is insecure about the morality of your own position. But it turns out you’re just not very bright, so now I feel kinda bad.

Original Greaser Bob
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Original Greaser Bob

LOL wut?

egregious comment
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egregious comment

This reads like you already ran it through the Serbian-Vietnamese translation routine.

johnforthegiants
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johnforthegiants

The Eastern Cherokees are absolutely raking in the dough selling Braves’ souvenirs on their reservation at the eastern entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, by far the most widely-visited national park in the US. Good for them! And the fans doing the chop are their best customers. We aren’t talking about a situation like Cleveland or Washington, where there are no Native Americans to benefit from this.

Josh
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Member
Josh

@3cardmonty: right on.

Here come the racists to show their true colors, while insisting that it’s “woke” to just…not be a racist.

Adults who respect others don’t mimic what they think “Indians act like,” and they sure as heck don’t call that “a sign of respect.” Who are you trying to fool?

There’s good news, though: Racists can stop, today. Nobody is making them act that way. Just stop.

Anyway, I appreciate your comments on this thread, 3cardmonty.