Braves return home; need win
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.