Braves re­turn home; need win

The News-Times (Sunday) - - Baseball | Soccer -

The Los An­ge­les Dodgers head to At­lanta full of con­fi­dence af­ter con­sec­u­tive shutouts gave them a com­mand­ing 2-0 lead over the Braves in their Na­tional League Divi­sion Se­ries.

Now the Braves must win the first post­sea­son game in their new ball­park to ex­tend their season. And they face some daunt­ing his­tory: only three times have teams that trailed 2-0 ral­lied to win a best-of-five play­off se­ries un­der the 2-2-1 for­mat.

At­lanta was outscored 9-0 and out­hit 10-9 in los­ing the first two games at Dodger Sta­dium, where Los An­ge­les slugged five homers.

Game 3 is Sun­day night at SunTrust Park, with Kevin Gaus­man ex­pected to take the mound for the Braves. He was 5-3 with a 2.87 ERA in 10 starts af­ter At­lanta ac­quired him from Bal­ti­more at the July 31 trade dead­line in a six­player deal.

The Baby Braves ran into back-to-back dom­i­nant pitch­ers in Hyun-Jin Ryu and Clay­ton Ker­shaw in Los An­ge­les. At­lanta didn’t ad­vance a run­ner past sec­ond base in Game 1 and twice got run­ners to third in Game 2, but couldn’t score.

“We need to go out there and string some hits to­gether, a cou­ple big in­nings,” short­stop Char­lie Cul­ber­son said.

They might be hard­pressed to do that against rookie Walker Buehler, who starts Game 3 for the Dodgers hav­ing drawn com­par­isons to ace Ker­shaw.

“Ob­vi­ously, it’s a big spot,” Los An­ge­les man­ager Dave Roberts said, “but he con­tin­ues to kind of sur­pass all ex­pec­ta­tions.”

Buehler, a 24-year-old right-han­der, last pitched on Mon­day, al­low­ing one hit in 62⁄ in­nings and strik­ing out three in the NL West tiebreaker vic­tory over the Rock­ies.

“I kind of look at it as like a baby step,” Buehler said about hav­ing pitched in a cru­cial reg­u­lar-season Game 163. “Ob­vi­ously, this will be my first play­off game. But 163 has got to be some­where be­tween a reg­u­lar game and a play­off game. I’m just kind of go­ing with the same game plan and try and stay un­der con­trol.”

At­lanta man­ager Brian Snitker ac­knowl­edged he can’t do much more than jug­gle his lineup be­cause the Braves’ bench is thin.

“I don’t know that mov­ing guys around, giv­ing them dif­fer­ent looks in the lineup when you’re swing­ing the bats like we are is even the an­swer,” he said, “but we’ll try some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent.”

The Braves closed the reg­u­lar season with three losses in their last five games, manag­ing just one run in those de­feats.

“We’ve got to start scor­ing some runs and hope­fully we can do that in front of our home crowd,” said first base­man Fred­die Free­man, who was 1 for 8 with two strike­outs in the first two games.

Braves lead­off hit­ter Ron­ald Acuna Jr. fared only slightly bet­ter, go­ing 2 for 8 with two strike­outs. Cen­ter fielder En­der In­cia­rte went 2 for 6 with two strike­outs, while cleanup hit­ter Nick Markakis was 1 for 7 with two strike­outs in the two losses.

“This team’s bet­ter when we’ve had our backs against the wall,” In­cia­rte said. “We’ve shocked a lot of peo­ple al­ready — we can do it again.”

The Braves are back in the post­sea­son for the first time since 2013, hav­ing won 90 games in earn­ing the NL East ti­tle ear­lier in their re­build than most pro­jected.

How­ever, the Braves are 1-8 in play­off se­ries when they lose Game 2. Their lone vic­tory came in the 1996 NLCS when they lost to St. Louis and came back to take the se­ries in seven games.

“We’ve still got chances,” Cul­ber­son said. “We just need to take a deep breath and go out there and try to have fun.”

ROCK­IES LOOK TO AVOID ELIM­I­NA­TION

The thin moun­tain air in Den­ver might do won­ders for the slump­ing Colorado Rock­ies.

They’re go­ing home again, down 2-0 in the NL Divi­sion Se­ries to the Milwaukee Brew­ers. Game 3 in the best-of-five se­ries is Sun­day at Coors Field.

“I don’t have a doubt that we’re go­ing to get things go­ing,” Rock­ies vet­eran out­fielder Car­los Gon­za­lez said.

If not, Gon­za­lez could be gone.

The one-year, $5 mil­lion deal he signed last off­sea­son to re­turn to Colorado ex­pires at the end of the year. Af­ter 11 sea­sons play­ing on Blake Street, the three-time Gold Glove win­ner and 2010 NL bat­ting cham­pion is about as syn­ony­mous with Colorado as dry air and beer.

He’s a life­time .323 hit­ter at Coors Field, 72 points higher than his ca­reer road av­er­age. He knows how much of a dif­fer­ence play­ing at home can make for hit­ters.

Play­ing in front of a friendly crowd might have help the team re­lax af­ter a frus­trat­ing Fri­day night of break­ing bats and slam­ming bat­ting gloves into hel­mets.

The Rock­ies fin­ished among the ma­jor-league lead­ers in sev­eral of­fen­sive cat­e­gories this year. But they’ve scored just six runs in four games since slug­ging five homers in a 12-0 vic­tory over Wash­ing­ton on Sun­day that left them tied for the NL West lead af­ter 162 games.

“When you’re down and you have some op­por­tu­ni­ties in front of you and you don’t get it done, you’re go­ing to have some emo­tions you don’t see in the reg­u­lar season. The season is on the line,” Gon­za­lez said.

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