The Atlanta Braves came into their NLCS matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers as a clear underdog but flipped the script with a big 5-1 victory in Game 1. While it is going to certainly be a long series, you can’t ask for a much better start than what the Braves delivered on Monday night. Here are three takeaways from Game 1 as we prepare for the series to continue on Tuesday.
Max Fried and Atlanta’s bullpen was up to the task again
Max Fried struck out the side in the first but needed 28 pitches to escape. That number rose to 45 through two innings and it looked like he was destined for a short outing. Fried settled in from there allowing just four hits and one run over six strong innings. He walked two and struck out nineThe only blemish came on a solo home run by Kike Hernandez in the fifth inning on a hanging breaking ball. The bullpen did the job again as Chris Martin, Will Smith and Mark Melancon worked three perfect innings to close out the game.
We knew entering the postseason that the Braves had one of the best bullpens in the league but the way the starting staff has come together has been huge. Atlanta has now allowed six runs over six postseason games which includes four shutouts. While neither Cincinnati and Miami put up big offensive numbers, the same can’t be said for the Dodgers who were at the top in most offensive categories. Given the uncertainty behind Fried, Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright, a win in Game 1 was critical and Atlanta’s pitching staff once again delivered.
Adam Duvall’s injury puts outfield depth in question
Brian Snitker didn’t have an update on Adam Duvall following Game 1 but confirmed that it was a left oblique injury and that he didn’t expect the news to be good. The Braves will have to decide whether or not to replace Duvall on their NLCS roster which would make him ineligible for the World Series. If it is a serious oblique injury, then his season is most likely over.
What began as a crowded outfield situation this season has now seen that depth put to the test. Ronald Acuña Jr. is a fixture but Marcell Ozuna has settled in as a regular DH so far this postseason. Nick Markakis continues to start but his slump has continued into the postseason where he is 4-for-24 including an 0-for-3, two strikeout performance in Game 1 of the NLCS. Cristian Pache replaced Duvall after he was injured and saw his first action in centerfield at the major league level.
The Braves found themselves in an unusual situation late in Game 1 when Snitker elected to pinch hit Pablo Sandoval for Pache with the score tied and runners at first and second with two outs against Dodgers righty Dustin May. May hit Sandoval to load the bases and Dave Roberts brought in left-hander Victor Gonzalez to face Nick Markakis. Snitker countered by pinch hitting Charlie Culberson who struck out to end the inning. I have no fault with not letting Markakis face the lefty and can see what the thinking was. The reality though left the Braves with an outfield alignment of Austin Riley in left, Acuña in center and Culberson in right for the final two innings. It worked out fine in the end but will be interesting to see how the team handles Duvall’s injury over the remainder of the series.
Offense comes through late again
Before Atlanta scored four ninth inning runs they were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and had left 10 men on base through the first eight innings. While that is far from ideal, if you have watched this team at all over the last couple of seasons you know that they have displayed a knack for late game heroics. That came out in a big way in the ninth against a Dodgers bullpen that entered the game with a question mark at closer.
This Braves team looks different this time around. In their matchup with the Dodgers in 2018 they were young and not equipped to stand up to one of the best teams in the National League. Even after winning 97 games in 2019 they seemed to be playing not to lose against a Cardinals team that was clearly not as talented. The 2020 edition of this team seems to feel that they belong and that is coming through in their performance. This series is not over by a long shot but they took a necessary step forward in Game 1 and the pressure is now on the Dodgers.