Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

NL teams set for the showdowns

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The Braves are back in the A-T-L for a decisive postseason game.

That's not necessaril­y a good omen for the home team.

Over the years, Atlanta has been the place where other teams come to celebrate in October.

The St. Louis Cardinals hope to continue that trend when they face the Braves in Game 5 of the NL Division Series on Wednesday.

“I was just a little kid when that happened,” Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson said with a shrug. “History is history. We're in the moment now. This is a completely different and new team.”

Indeed, Swanson was just 7 years old when Atlanta began a streak of nine straight postseason-round losses with a five-game setback to Arizona in the 2001 NL Championsh­ip Series.

Still, it's impossible to ignore that the Braves are just one series loss away from equaling an ignominiou­s record set by the Chicago Cubs, who lost 10 series in a row between 1908 and 2003.

Chicago finally ended its playoff misery in Game 5 of the ‘03 NL Division Series – at Turner Field, of all places. In fact, it became a bit of a running gag that one of baseball's most popular spots for celebrator­y pictures was the pitcher's mound in Atlanta, with the center-field scoreboard in the background, since nine visiting teams eliminated the Braves at their previous ballpark, with the Cardinals doing it twice.

The move to SunTrust Park in 2017 didn't change Atlanta's fortunes.

Last season, the Braves were closed out at home by the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the NLDS.

“I don't think any of those guys in there think about any of that,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Most of them don't remember it. They were probably in grade school. And they talk about that – well, you haven't won a playoff series, whatever – and again I say, we haven't won one in a year as far as I'm concerned.”

The Braves came within four outs of finishing off the Cardinals in St. Louis, only to lose 5-4 in 10 innings.

Perhaps it was only appropriat­e that this best-of-five series comes down to a winner-take-all contest. Three of four games have been decided in the final inning. The margin between the teams has been two runs or fewer in all but three of 37 innings.

“This has been an unbelievab­le series,” Snitker said. “My God, both teams just banging at each other and the close games and the late-inning heroics. It's been something. It's been exhausting.”

The pitching matchup will be a rematch of Game 2, when Atlanta's Mike Foltynewic­z outdueled Jack Flaherty of the Cardinals for a 3-0 victory.

Nationals vs. Dodgers

Stephen Strasburg's 2012 shutdown is a distant memory by now.

This sort of setting and stakes – Game 5 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, with the outcome of the NL Division Series on the line – is exactly why the Washington Nationals protected the pitcher they drafted No. 1 overall all those years ago.

Strasburg will get the ball for visiting wild card Washington, and Walker Buehler will be on the mound for leaguebest LA on Wednesday night in the finale of the best-of-five series.

“Better to be at home than on the road in Game 5,” Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger said.

The Dodgers are trying to reach the NL Championsh­ip Series for the fourth consecutiv­e year, while the Nationals have never won a playoff series since the franchise moved from Montreal to Washington in 2005.

“We've got their big horse against one of our horses,” Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki said.

Each starter already had a fantastic outing to earn a win in the series: Buehler gave up just one hit while tossing six scoreless innings in Game 1; Strasburg struck out 10 and allowed one run in six innings in Game 2.

That lowered Strasburg's postseason ERA to 0.64, the lowest for anyone with at least four career starts.

“It's something that you train for, you dream about as a kid,” he said, “and you want to have those opportunit­ies to just see how your stuff stacks up.”

It's the sort of production Washington was envisionin­g when general manager Mike Rizzo held the righty out of the playoffs seven seasons ago, a year after Strasburg had Tommy John surgery.

“Try not to look in the past. Try not to look in the future. Really just try and be in the moment,” Strasburg said when asked about 2012 on Monday night, after Washington beat Los Angeles 6-1 in Game 4 to force a Game 5. “Once you start thinking about how things could have been or what things might happen, it takes your focus away from what your job is.”

Buehler will be making his sixth postseason start; he is 1-1 with a 3.03 ERA. Last year, he appeared in one game in the NLDS, two in the NLCS and one in the World Series, in which the Dodgers lost to the Boston Red Sox.

“Something I'm familiar with,” he said of the pressure of the playoffs, “and getting to do it at home certainly helps.”

One thing to keep an eye out for Wednesday: The Dodgers will have three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw available to enter in relief.

 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? Houston Astros starter Justin Verlander is pulled in the fourth inning Tuesday night after getting roughed up by the Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS. Find game coverage on jsonline.com/sports.
GETTY IMAGES Houston Astros starter Justin Verlander is pulled in the fourth inning Tuesday night after getting roughed up by the Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS. Find game coverage on jsonline.com/sports.

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