The Dodgers Offense Comes Alive in Time to Stave Off Elimination by Jake Mailhot October 22, 2021 For much of this postseason, the main storyline for the Los Angeles Dodgers has been a pitching staff that’s been stretched to its limit, but that focus neglects the fact that the Dodgers have also struggled to hit like they did earlier in the year. Entering Game 5 of the NLCS, they’d scored just 3.5 runs per game in their 10 previous playoff tilts. They were shutout twice by the Giants, and held to fewer than four runs four other times. It was an uncharacteristic slump for what had been one of the National League’s most potent lineups during the regular season. As a team, they were hitting just .231/.303/.356 (.286 wOBA) in October, a far cry from their .251/.339/.446 (.337 wOBA) regular season effort. With their season hanging in the balance, the Dodgers bats finally came alive on Thursday night. They collected 17 hits against the Atlanta Braves — every position player in the lineup collected at least one hit except for Will Smith — and pushed 11 runs across the plate to force a Game 6 in Atlanta this weekend. This was the Dodgers’ seventh straight postseason win while facing elimination, the third longest streak in baseball history. The hero of the game was undoubtedly Chris Taylor. He started his night by blasting a two-run home run off a center-cut fastball from Max Fried to give the Dodgers a 3-2 lead in the second inning — a lead they wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the night. In the third with runners on the corners, Taylor blooped a single into center for his second hit and third RBI of the game. He hit his second home run in the fifth inning, another two-run shot off Chris Martin, who had just entered the game in relief of Fried. Taylor came up again in the seventh inning with the bases empty and deposited a pitch into the left-center field bleachers — his third homer of the game and sixth RBI. His final at-bat came in the eighth and he came close to a fourth home run when he lined a hanging curveball down the left field line; it curved foul and he ended up striking out to end the inning: This was the first three-homer game of Taylor’s career, the first three-homer postseason game since Enrique Hernández’s big Game 5 during the 2017 NLCS, and just the 12th three-home run game in postseason history. After lifting the Dodgers to a walk-off win in the NL Wild Card game against the Cardinals, Taylor’s bat cooled off significantly during the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants. He collected just two hits in that series, driving in a single runner. Wild Card game heroics notwithstanding, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to see his struggles against the Giants as a continuation of his late season swoon. Battling a neck injury, he collected just seven hits during the season’s final month, bringing his overall line down to .254/.344/.438 (113 wRC+), this after he’d had a 130 wRC+ as late as August 28. In an otherwise phenomenal season, it was a disappointing end. But against the Braves, Taylor’s bat has awakened, a sign perhaps that the nagging neck injury is finally behind him. Prior to his outburst in Game 5, he had collected five hits and three walks in the previous four NLCS games and led all Los Angeles batters with 8.05% Championship Win Probability Added in the series; he added an additional 3.83% cWPA for his efforts during Thursday’s game. Taylor wasn’t the only Dodger to have a bit night. Not to be forgotten, AJ Pollock hit two home runs of his own. His solo shot in the second inning got the Dodgers on the board, only to be outshone by Taylor’s go-ahead homer just a few batters later. He added a three-run homer in the eighth inning, blasting a 3-0 fastball deep into the left-center field: Taylor and Pollock launched five home runs between the two of them, just the third time in postseason history that teammates have hit multiple home runs in a single game. The previous two pairs of teammates to do so — Fernando Tatis Jr. and Wil Myers in Game 2 of the 2020 NL Wild Card Series and Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series — combined for four home runs between them, which means Taylor and Pollock combined to hit the most home runs by two teammates in postseason history on Thursday night. Like Taylor, Pollock struggled against the Giants in the NLDS, collecting just three hits in that series. He missed a little over two weeks in September due to a hamstring injury but hit well in the final 10 games of the regular season. He had collected just three hits against the Braves prior to Game 5, and even with his two-homer game on Thursday, Pollock has cost the Dodgers -4.37% cWPA this postseason. Perhaps this is the beginning of a turnaround for him at the plate; if it is, it couldn’t have come at a more important point in the Dodgers’ season. Of course, before Taylor and Pollock’s fireworks, the game didn’t start out like Los Angeles would have hoped. Facing another bullpen game, manager Dave Roberts selected Joe Kelly to be his opener. He got one out to start the game but allowed a single against the shift to Ozzie Albies and then a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman to open the scoring. Kelly got another out in the inning but had to be removed in the middle of an at-bat due to an injury to his biceps. He’ll miss the rest of the postseason, with David Price likely to replace him on the Dodgers roster. After Kelly exited the game, six other Dodgers relievers held the Braves scoreless for the remaining 8.1 innings, allowing just three more hits and striking out nine Atlanta hitters, with an at-bat from Brusdar Graterol thrown in for good measure. With the off day on Friday before the series resumes on Saturday, the heavy usage of the Dodgers relief corps shouldn’t be too big of a factor in Atlanta, though they have thrown a lot of innings this month. It’s eerie how closely this year’s NLCS has tracked last year’s matchup. In 2020, Atlanta won Games 1, 2, and 4 while losing 3 and 5; the Dodgers took the last two and went on to the World Series. That same pattern has emerged again this year, and the Dodgers no doubt hope the same script has been written for series’ end. The Braves will hand the ball to Ian Anderson in Game 6 while the Dodgers counter with Max Scherzer.