If Game 1 is any indication, we're in for a compelling National League Championship Series.
The Atlanta Braves took the series opener Monday night, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 in a battle that highlighted Atlanta’s pitching depth and spotlighted the Dodgers’ ninth-inning conundrum.
With usual bullpen ace Kenley Jansen struggling and the game tied going to the final frame, manager Dave Roberts called on Blake Treinen and later Jake McGee to get outs No. 25-27. The move backfired, as the Braves erupted for four runs on home runs by No. 9 hitter Austin Riley and switch-hitter Ozzie Albies. In between, Marcell Ozuna dropped in an RBI single.
That was more than enough support for the Braves’ sizzling pitching staff. Atlanta entered the NLCS with a 0.85 team ERA after pitching four shutouts in their five wild-card series and NLDS games. Left-hander Max Fried did his part to maintain that minuscule number, holding the Dodgers to one run on Kiké Hernández's fifth-inning home run. Prior to the home run, Braves pitchers had thrown 23 straight scoreless innings dating back to NLDS Game 1.
After Fried left, Atlanta’s bullpen pitched three scoreless frames.
It wasn't quite as smooth for Dodgers starter Walker Buehler. He never looked totally comfortable on the Globe Life Field mound. Buehler, who has been dealing with blisters, walked at least one batter in each of the first four innings — five walked overall — and allowed eight baserunners in 5+ innings, but escaped with only one run allowed on Freddie Freeman's first-inning home run. Brusdar Graterol helped preserve Buehler's ERA by escaping a first-and-second, no-out jam in the sixth inning.
Two batters into the game, Braves MVP candidate Freddie Freeman welcomed the season’s first fans back into the ballpark by launching a home run into the right field seats. A rare true souvenir in 2020.
The Dodgers will have a chance to even the series in Game 2.
The spotlight will be on Clayton Kershaw as he looks to build on his strong start to the postseason. Everyone knows about Kershaw's past struggles in October and how that narrative often times defines his legacy as much as his three Cy Young awards. Maybe 2020 will be different. In starts against the Brewers and Padres, Kershaw has allowed just three runs over 14 innings while striking out 19.
Atlanta will counter with Ian Anderson, a 22-year-old right-hander who might be an early favorite to win Rookie of the Year next year. That's how young his MLB career is. Anderson has proven the stage isn't too big. After posting a 1.95 ERA in six regular season starts, Anderson has not allowed a postseason run in 11 2/3 innings against the Reds and Marlins.
First pitch of Game 2 is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. ET Tuesday with TV coverage on FS1.
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