When A.J. Minter was announced as the starter mere hours before Game 5 on Friday, it certainly was uncommon territory for the Braves. Though the Braves bullpen had plenty of experience this season entering games early to support the struggles of Atlanta’s starters, using the “opener” strategy was a new plan of action. However, it seemed ideal with how the NLCS had progressed over the first four games.
In terms of the “opener” himself, Minter could not have provided the Braves with a better start to the game. However, despite the offense supporting him with two early runs, the rest of Atlanta’s relief corps could not replicate Minter’s success, and the offense could not capitalize on opportunities as it had done previously.
In the top of the first inning, Minter retired Mookie Betts and Corey Seager, allowed a Justin Turner double, then forced Max Muncy to swing and miss for his second strikeout of the inning. In the bottom of the first, the Braves found some early success. After a Ronald Acuna Jr. ground out, Freddie Freeman doubled and advanced to third on a pass ball. After a walk to Marcell Ozuna, Travis d’Arnaud hit a sacrifice fly to score Freeman, after which Ozzie Albies struck out to end the inning.
In the top of the second, Minter went right back to work, retiring the side in order via a ground out and two strikeouts. The Braves offense again found some success against Dustin May in the second, as a walk by Dansby Swanson, single by Nick Markakis, and RBI single by Cristian Pache made the score 2-0. Unfortunately, neither Acuna Jr. or Freeman could do more damage.
In the top of the third, Minter may have had one of his best innings of the year. He recorded three strikeouts on called third strikes, ending his night with seven strikeouts over three innings. He threw 27 strikes on 42 pitches, and allowed only one hit and seven strikeouts. It was an impressive and needed performance for the Braves, as Minter provided them with the exact start to the game they needed.
In the bottom of the third inning, the Braves again threatened to score. This time, Ozuna and d’Arnaud led the inning off with singles. However, after an Albies ground out moved the runners to second and third with one out, Swanson hit a fly ball to Betts, who made the catch at his shoestrings. Initially, Ozuna tagged and scored to make the score 3-0. However, replay revealed Ozuna had left the bag early, and he was called out. The inning was over, and the score remained 2-0.
That was just the beginning of the Braves troubles. Tyler Matzek entered in the top of the fourth inning, and immediately was greeted with a solo home run off the bat of Seager. He would then retire the Dodgers in order to end their half of the inning. Both teams would only produce one hit over the next three half innings, and the score remained 2-1 after five.
As Shane Greene began his second inning of work, he allowed a single to Betts, who then advance to second on a steal, but then retired Seager and Turner. Will Smith entered the game for Greene, and walked Muncy. After that, the world finally was treated to the matchup they had been waiting for: Will Smith versus Will Smith. Unfortunately, while it was the turning point of the game, it was due to the Dodgers catcher feeling like the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Will Smith the Dodger launched a three run home run into the stands, and earned the lead for the Dodgers at 4-2. Though Will Smith the Brave had looked much more reliable as of late, his homer prone tendencies from earlier this season caught up with him.
The Braves remained quiet in the bottom of the sixth, and the Dodgers were ready to get back to work in the top of the seventh inning. After two quick strikeouts, Jacob Webb allowed a double to Chris Taylor, a single to Betts, and a two run home run to Seager, which was his second of the game. The end result was a 7-2 Dodger lead.
Atlanta appeared to have a potential opportunity to chip away at the lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, as Austin Riley singled and Johan Camargo walked. However, Pache grounded into a double play and Acuna Jr. flew out to end the threat. Josh Tomlin entered the game for the Braves in the top of the eighth inning, and easily made his way through the Dodgers order to retire them in order.
Freddie Freeman doubled to begin the Braves portion of the eighth inning, and would score after a Ozuna sacrifice fly and d’Arnaud ground out. Ablies ended the inning on a strikeout. Tomlin again worked a quick inning against the Dodgers lineup in the top of the ninth inning. His success tonight could prove significant, as it allowed the Braves to keep a few significant arms fresh for tomorrow night in support of Max Fried.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers turned to struggling closer Kenley Jansen to earn the victory. However, Jansen was up to the task tonight, as he retired Swanson and Riley on swinging strikes, and Camargo on a foul tip to end the game, allowing the Dodgers to keep their season alive.
Minter was excellent, and the Braves had some success early producing runs. However, the Dodgers offense simply was better tonight, as they scored their final six runs on the night with two outs in the inning. With the quality of talent on both of these teams, sometimes it is a simple as one team making the most of their opportunities more than the other.
Though the Braves were not able to schedule to trip to the World Series tonight, they still have to feel good about their chances tomorrow. Though it will be a quick turnaround with a 4:38 PM start on the East Coast, Max Fried will be on the mound, and both Chris Martin and Mark Melancon should be fresh to lock down the late innings. Atlanta had the built in luxury of having a subpar game due to their 3-1 lead. However, with their ace on the mound and another chance to end the series tomorrow, the hope is that the Braves can push this bad night to the side and earn a reason for all of us to celebrate tomorrow.