The Braves finally slowed down the Giants for a weekend in Atlanta, taking 2 of 3 from the team with the best record in baseball and opening the door for the Dodgers to get within a mere half game of first place. Chasing the Giants has been a tall task for the Dodgers – with a win percentage over .600 every month this season, a weekend like the Giants just had in Atlanta hasn’t come around very often.
With Colorado in town for a weekend series, it felt like a golden opportunity to beat up on an inferior opponent and really make San Francisco sweat. Instead, the Dodgers came out flat and lost 2 of 3 while going 2-for-19 with runners in scoring position. I wrote before the weekend about the Rockies’ steady starting pitching, an underrated group that has Colorado a lot higher in the standings than most predicted. Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela each managed to shut down the Dodgers while pitching deep into their respective games, and Jon Gray looked well on his way to doing the same on Saturday before being removed with an injury.
In Friday’s loss, the Dodgers hardly produced any offense at all. They would score runs on solo homers by Will Smith and Trea Turner, but went 0-for-3 in the very few other opportunities they had en route to a 4-2 loss. Andre Jackson again looked solid pitching in a bulk role, but the bullpen game approach wasn’t enough to keep the Rockies at bay.
Saturday’s game was teetering on becoming another evening marred by missed opportunities – the Dodgers didn’t have a hit with runners in scoring position once again as the game entered the 8th inning. Will Smith and AJ Pollock would eventually deliver after the Dodgers loaded the bases, and Kenley would shut the door on a 5-2 win.
Heading into the rubber match on Sunday, the Dodgers had to feel confident. Mitch White was heading to the mound for Los Angeles, looking to build off of a career-best 7.1 scoreless innings in his last appearance on August 18. Antonio Senzatela, a pitcher the Dodgers had battered for 12 runs over 6 innings in April, was pitching for Colorado on a hot day at Dodger Stadium primed for runs to be scored.
Mitch White wasn’t sharp, allowing a 3-run home run in the first inning to CJ Cron that felt avoidable with Rio Ruiz on deck. To White’s credit, he teamed up with Brusdar Graterol and Justin Bruihl to keep the game at 3-0 until Joe Kelly fell apart in the 7th and the deficit moved to 5-0. The more shocking portion of the outcome to that point was the Dodgers’ inability to hit Antonio Senzatela, a pitcher they’d owned in the past. Los Angeles only managed 4 base runners over Senzatela’s 7 innings of work, despite making loud outs on several occasions. As frustrating as the offense was to watch, games like that will happen from time to time.
Then Dave Roberts lost his mind. Roberts would turn to Kenley Jansen to pitch the 8th, despite a 5-0 deficit and having pitched the previous night. Especially with a big Atlanta series starting the following day, the move was puzzling (or, to me, infuriating) to say the least. Kenley was fine, thankfully, getting through the inning on just 13 pitches. Time will tell if those wasted bullets negatively affect his ability to pitch Monday night against Atlanta if the situation calls for it. If nothing else, the move to Jansen was a show of faith in the offense from Dave Roberts; clearly, he believed that a 5-0 deficit was worth making irrational decisions to defend from becoming larger.
The Dodgers would not score in the bottom of the 8th inning, though, and Roberts quite literally gave up. Third baseman Justin Turner would be called upon to pitch, a stunt that may have been cute had the Dodgers been chasing a 15-run deficit while nursing a nice lead in the division. In a 5-0 ballgame, while fighting for their lives in a divisional race, it was one of the more non-competitive, jaw-droppingly pathetic moves I’ve ever seen from a manager at the Major League Level. After all, Roberts had JUST deployed his closer on zero rest to protect the deficit. The incongruence of the two decisions, both absolutely nonsensical in their own right, was a scary display of incompetence in the face of adversity.
As Atlanta makes their way to Los Angeles having done the Dodgers a favor against the Giants, I’m hoping Dave Roberts wants it a little more badly than he did Sunday. If he doesn’t, why are we watching?
Monday, August 30
Drew Smyly (9-3, 4.54 ERA) vs Julio Urias (14-3, 3.17 ERA)
When Drew Smyly and Julio Urias face off Monday night, it’ll be a battle of two of baseball’s most fortunate pitchers in terms of run support. The Dodgers have offered 6.32 runs per game in Julio Urias’ starts, while the Braves have scored 5.36 runs per game behind Drew Smyly.
Drew Smyly’s “stuff” hasn’t been the catalyst behind his effectiveness in 2021. Smyly ranks in the bottom quarter of MLB pitchers in most Baseball Savant categories, including xwOBA, xSLG, xERA, xBA, Barrel%, Fastball Velocity, Fastball Spin, and Curveball Spin. Hitters have found plenty of hard contact against him, and he doesn’t strike out very many of them. Smyly typically relies on a high chase rate, especially on his curveball – and hitters have more than obliged thus far in 2021. Still, his numbers aren’t exactly world-shattering – in August, Smyly’s averaging less than 5 innings pitched per start and allowing a home run every 3.8 innings of work while pitching to a 5.21 ERA. He allowed 3 home runs to the lowly Orioles in his last start, but picked up the win thanks to continued elite run support from the Braves. Generally speaking, pitchers’ who rely on chase rates for success often struggle against the Dodgers, who have been the best in MLB at avoiding chasing.
Smyly does present one problem for the Dodgers – he’s left-handed. Despite boasting one of the top offenses in baseball, the Dodgers are only producing at a 98 wRC+ clip against lefties, slightly below average and ranking them 17th in baseball.
The Dodgers will send Julio Urias to the mound in search of his 15th win of the season. Urias has been lights out in August, pitching to a 0.90 ERA over 4 starts, and is riding a 10 inning scoreless streak. He last allowed a run more than 3 weeks ago, on August 7 against Anaheim. Julio pitched well against the Braves back in June, propelling the Dodgers to their only win in that 3-game set in Atlanta with 5 strong innings.
Tuesday, August 31
Charlie Morton (12-5, 3.60 ERA) vs Walker Buehler (13-2, 2.02 ERA)
On Tuesday night, it’ll be Cy Young favorite Walker Buehler taking the mound for the Dodgers against Charlie Morton, best known in Los Angeles for his work as an Astro in the 2017 World Series.
Morton has produced a solid season for Atlanta, thus far taking the mound for 26 starts and producing a .500 or better record in every calendar month. His August has been solid, thus far posting a 2-2 record with a 3.10 ERA that aligns fairly well with what he’s done all season. Uncle Charlie has pitched at least 5 full innings in 13 consecutive starts and 17 of his last 18, reliably providing the Braves with quality length and saving their bullpen. He was touched up a bit by the Yankees in his last start, allowing 4 runs including 2 home runs over 6 innings, picking up the loss.
Morton did pitch against the Dodgers in Atlanta back in June, a start he earned the win for despite allowing 4 runs (2 earned) over 5 innings. What the Dodgers did well that night is what they’ll need to do well again – they pushed Morton’s pitch count, forcing him to throw 94 pitches, and didn’t allow him to work deep into the game.
Walker Buehler pitches for the Dodgers, looking to continue a thoroughly dominant 2021 campaign. Buehler last saw Atlanta last season in the NLCS, pitching 11 phenomenal innings over two starts, allowing only one run to cross home plate. For Buehler, the plan is simple – maintaining postseason-level intensity and doing what he’s been doing all season.
Wednesday, September 1
Max Fried (11-7, 3.54 ERA) vs Max Scherzer (12-4, 2.51 ERA)
Like Tuesday, Wednesday’s Battle of the Maxes ought to be a great matchup between two of the better pitchers in the National League. Both teams are very familiar with their opponent – the Braves saw Max Scherzer for years in the National League East, and the Dodgers have run into Max Fried over and over in both the Postseason and regular season for Atlanta.
For Fried, who famously pitched and batted for Encino Little League’s All-Stars in the early 2000s, the trip to Dodger Stadium is a homecoming of sorts. The Dodgers saw Max Fried twice in the postseason last fall, splitting the two games against him but only managing 4 runs over 12.2 innings. He also dominated the Dodgers earlier this season, pitching 6 strong innings on June 6 en route to a 4-2 Braves win. After a difficult start to the 2021 season, Max Fried has pitched very well as the season has chugged along. Since the All-Star Break, Fried is 5-2 with a 1.90 ERA – and 4-0 with a 1.36 ERA in August. Unlike Smyly, Max Fried embraces soft contact – while he strikes out his fair share of batters, his 86th percentile Average Exit Velocity against is his bread and butter.
When Max Scherzer takes the bump for the Dodgers on Wednesday, he’ll be making his 27th career appearance and 25th career start against Atlanta. Unlike the Phillies and Mets, Atlanta has actually caused Scherzer a bit of trouble in the past. For his career, Max is 10-9 against the Braves with a relatively pedestrian 4.04 ERA; since 2018, Scherzer’s 4.22 ERA against the Braves is his highest against any team in the league. Scherzer made his first start of 2021 against the Braves, and allowed 4 runs over 5 innings – including 2 home runs to Ronald Acuna Jr (notably not available this week) and 1 home run each to Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson.
Since joining the Dodgers, Scherzer has been sensational. The Dodgers have won all 5 of his starts, as he’s personally pitched to a 4-0 record, a 1.55 ERA, and struck out 41 batters in 29 innings pitched. If Los Angeles is going to take a lead into the later innings against Max Fried, they’ll need this most recent version of Scherzer to pitch well against Atlanta.