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Dodgers relish chance to play with fans in stands in ‘a step back toward normalcy’

Jason Castro of the San Diego Padres tries but fails to tag out AJ Pollock of the Dodgers.
Dodgers outfielder AJ Pollock scores during Game 3 of the NLDS at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. A limited number of fans will be allowed to attend the NLCS this week.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Monday’s meeting between the Dodgers and Atlanta Braves won’t be just the first game of the National League Championship Series. It also will be the first Major League Baseball game with a significant number of fans in attendance in 2020.

Up to 10,500 people — or about 26% of Globe Life Field’s 40,300-seat capacity — will be permitted to watch the NLCS and World Series in person. The World Series is already sold out. Tickets remain on sale for a few NLCS games, but not Game 1.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Dodgers reliever Blake Treinen said. “I think it’s a step back toward normalcy, where people have the right to be free and make a choice to go out and do what they want to do. If they want to come to a ballgame, come to a ballgame. I know we’ve all welcomed it.”

Fans were limited to buying tickets in groups of four. They’ll be required to stay at least six feet away from other groups and to wear face coverings. They won’t have to sign a waiver to enter the building or have their temperatures checked. They won’t be allowed within 20 feet of any players or other team members.

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A shaky Kenley Jansen shouldn’t prevent the Dodgers from a World Series title. The 2017 Astros, 2018 Red Sox and 2019 Nationals proved a closer wasn’t required.

The Dodgers got a taste of playing in front of people in the National League Division Series when a limited number of family members were allowed to watch them in person. But the NLCS will be the first time a mass number of fans will watch a game at Globe Life Field, the $1.3-billion home of the Texas Rangers that opened this year.

It’ll be different, something to get used to again after months of generating adrenaline from artificial crowd noise. But it’ll be welcomed.

“The other night, after we won Game 3, and we were going to get on our bus, there were a handful of Dodgers fans outside the park cheering us on and telling us they were ready and going to be here Monday,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “So, we were already getting excited about it.”

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Bring the heat

There will be a strength-on-strength matchup between Dodgers’ pitchers and Braves’ batters this week: The Dodgers love throwing fastballs — and the Braves love hitting them.

Only one team in MLB this season threw fastballs, sinkers and cutters at a higher rate than the Dodgers’ 63.1%, and no team averaged a better fastball velocity than their 94.7 mph. They were successful doing so too, limiting opponents to a .221 batting average and .373 slugging percentage.

Learning from past playoff failures, the Dodgers strike out less and do more with the bat than hit homers. Star addition Mookie Betts is a catalyst.

The Braves, however, feasted on the hard stuff. Their .308 batting average against the three pitches led the league by 10 points. Their .552 slugging percentage trailed only the Dodgers. And against pitches of 97 mph or harder, those numbers rose slightly to .309 and .553, respectively.

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MVP candidate Freddie Freeman was especially dangerous against fastballs, cutters and sinkers, batting .431 with nine home runs, while designated hitter Marcell Ozuna hit .403 with a team-high 13 homers.


Another pitcher?

Manager Dave Roberts said the club is considering replacing a position player with another reliever for the NLCS, citing the possibility of playing seven games over seven days. Scott Alexander, Josh Sborz, Mitch White, Dennis Santana, and Alex Wood are among the options.

Atlanta Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos is one of several executives with ties to the Dodgers’ Andrew Friedman, and both feel the scars of Houston’s cheating in 2017.

Blisterwatch 2020

Roberts said the club will still have to monitor the blister on Walker Buehler’s right index finger during Monday’s Game 1, but that the right-hander could go as long as 100 pitches and six innings. “That still goes with watching it every inning,” Roberts said. “But I do think that Walker’s in the best place he has been in the last few weeks.”

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Ríos still a possibility

Edwin Ríos (groin) ran and took at-bats in the Dodgers’ workout Sunday. His status for the NLCS remains undecided, though Roberts said he doesn’t envision Ríos as being more than a pinch-hit option, at least early in the series, if he’s cleared.

Staff writers Mike DiGiovanna and Maria Torres contributed to this report.


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