The Los Angeles Dodgers look to even up the 2020 NLCS today. After dropping Games 1 and 2 to the Atlanta Braves, the Dodgers blasted their way to a 15- 3 Game 3 victory with a historic 11-run first inning.
Facing a 2-1 series deficit, what are the keys for the Dodgers to complete the NLCS comeback and win the series against this talented Atlanta Braves team?
1. Be Patient, but Not Too Patient
After crushing the Padres in the NLDS clincher, the Dodgers struggled through the first 15 innings against Atlanta’s pitching. The vaunted discipline of the Dodgers vanished against Braves starter Max Fried (6 IP, 9 K, 2 BB, 1 ER). They were more patient against Braves rookie Ian Anderson (4 IP,5 K, 5 BB, 0 ER), but still couldn’t square anything up.
The Dodgers and manager Dave Roberts obsess over taking pitches and getting deep into counts and the stats certainly back the approach. However, there are times when their hitters, particularly Bellinger and Muncy, don’t swing at very hittable pitches solely for the sake of a higher pitch count. Especially in Game 2, the Dodgers watched,instead of attacked, too many hittable pitches. In Game 3, Betts (infield single), Seager (double), and Rios (home run), all did their damage on the first pitch.
Swinging at the first pitch each time will not breed success, but neither will passing up hittable strikes. They’re down 2-1, time to let it fly if you see a pitch you like.
2. Five Innings from Kershaw in Game 4
After being scratched from Game 2 due to back spasms, Clayton Kershaw will take the mound in a Game 4 that will decide the NLCS. That being said, this isn’t the Don Mattingly era – the Dodgers have one of the best offenses in baseball. Kershaw doesn’t need to be perfect for the Dodgers to win playoff games anymore.
A wild 11-run inning. pic.twitter.com/E8Jhc95pln
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 15, 2020
Hell, no Dodgers fan wants to see back-to-back hom. runs off of Kershaw in October (ever again), but if it’s just two runs, we’ll live with it. If Kershaw can spin five innings without giving up more than two runs, the Dodgers have a shot to win.
There’s plenty of pressure on Kershaw, but there shouldn’t be the pressure of perfection. If the offense can stay hot, Kershaw just needs to be good, not great.
3. Pitch Brusdar Graterol in High Leverage Situations
Manager Dave Roberts shied away from using Graterol against Freddie Freeman in what ended up being the pivotal at-bat of Game 2. Instead, Roberts rolled out the Master of Disaster, Pedro Baez. Baez gave up an RBI and the Dodgers went on to lose 8-7.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) October 14, 2020
Gaterol’s postseason stats would look a little different without Bellinger’s spectacular catch against Tatis Jr., but he’s got the stuff to get outs against any big league hitter. Even Freddie Freeman.
Remember Andrew Miller’s absurd playoff run for the Indians in 2016? That year, Manager Terry Francona and Miller pioneered using your best reliever in the playoffs in crucial situations, regardless of inning, en route to the World Series. Graterol can be that guy, if Roberts lets him.
Robert’s preferred relievers, Treinen, Baez, and Jansen, have not got the job done this postseason. The time has come to deploy the Bazooka at will.
4. A Better Walker Buehler
The NLCS for the Dodgers has been a microcosm of Buehler’s 2020 postseason – inconsistent to say the least. His blisters might be as famous as Rich Hill’s, but unlike Hill, he’s expected to be the ace of this staff in October.
He’ll need to find a way to regain his control if the Dodgers get to Game 6. Buehler has more walks in the postseason (11) than the other four starters combined (9). Watching Buehler’s playoff starts right now is akin to watching a NASCAR race, he always seems to be one turn away from catastrophe.
5. No Trent Grishams
Relievers and hitters get all the shine in the playoffs, but there’s an entire phase of the game that often gets overlooked – defense.
The Dodgers are sound defensively with Betts and Bellinger patrolling centerfield and rightfield, but AJ Pollock has had some blunders when judging line drives in left. Muncy and Seager have had some lapses in the infield. Justin Turner has short armed a few too many throws from third in the NLCS.
You can have your starter throw six strong innings, manage the bullpen correctly, hit with runners on, but when an error turns a single into a double in the ninth, it could be the end of your season.
What are your keys for a Dodgers comeback in the 2020 NLCS?