Column: Wild NLCS tilts back as championship window reopens for Dodgers
The Dodgers won on Thursday night. Of course they did.
Nothing in this National League Championship Series has made sense.
Including Game 5. Especially Game 5.
Why wouldn’t Chris Taylor replace the sidelined Justin Turner at third base and pay tribute to him with a three-homer game?
Why wouldn’t the Dodgers overcome the loss of opener Joe Kelly just two outs into a bullpen game and claim an 11-2 victory over the Braves?
Of course they would, and now the best-of-seven series returns to Atlanta with the Braves’ edge down to three games to two.
“We’re not in the best situation, but with the players we have, with the leaders we have, with how we prepare, this series isn’t over,” first baseman Albert Pujols said in Spanish.
Chris Taylor, the hero of the Dodgers’ wild-card win, transformed the team from playoff zombies to NLCS-winning hopefuls with his three-home run game.
The 41-year-old Pujols, who contributed two hits and two runs to the breakout effort, knew better than to boast that his team was where it wanted to be.
But they are.
If games are controlled by pitching, the Dodgers have regained control of this series. They have Max Scherzer starting in Game 6 and Walker Buehler in Game 7.
The triumvirate of Scherzer, Buehler and Julio Urías was expected to be the Dodgers’ greatest advantage in this series. The strength became a liability, however.
Scherzer was reduced to a dead-arm state in his Game 2 start by the front office’s decision to unnecessarily deploy him as a closer against the San Francisco Giants in the NL Division Series.
Buehler looked compromised in Game 3 after a physically draining Division Series in which he made a start on three-days’ rest and came down with an unspecified illness.
Chris Taylor hits three home runs and drives in six runs to spearhead the Dodgers’ 11-2 season-sustaining win over the Atlanta Braves in NLCS Game 5.
Scherzer will get another opportunity under more normal circumstances and Buehler could too. Scherzer will pitch on Saturday on five-days’ rest, Buehler on normal four-days’ rest.
The road back to the World Series has reopened.
The Dodgers have won seven consecutive elimination games, dating back to last year. If they are experts in making up deficits, the Braves are equally familiar with giving up leads.
At the same stage of the postseason last year, the Braves were ahead, three games to one. The Dodgers won the next three games and went on to win the World Series.
The Braves won 14 division championships from 1991 to 2005 but won only one World Series in that period.
Maybe there’s something about Atlanta that makes its sports teams crumble under the spotlight. The city is also home to the Falcons, which infamously squandered a 28-3 lead in a loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
Evan Phillips played a key role in the Dodgers overcoming a potential disaster when Joe Kelly was injured. He also did something special for Andy Burns.
Fried upheld the Choke City tradition by losing a game the Braves looked as if they couldn’t possibly lose. He kept the Dodgers in check in the series opener, limiting the NL’s highest-scoring team to two runs over six innings in a 3-2 victory for the Braves.
Now, he was granted the privilege of pitching in a close-out game to a Dodgers’ offense that was down in the dumps. The Dodgers were batting only .231 in the postseason. They had scored two or fewer runs in five of their 10 games. The already noticeable absence of Max Muncy figured to become even more pronounced in the wake of the loss of Justin Turner to a season-ending hamstring strain in Game 3.
The Dodgers’ pitching was also handicapped, as Roberts was forced into a bullpen game without a long reliever. The game started with Kelly giving up a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman in the first inning — and that wasn’t the worst of it. With two outs, he delivered four pitches to Adam Duvall, the last of them an 85-mph changeup that was outside. Kelly didn’t throw another pitch, as he was walked back to the bench by a trainer.
Manager Dave Roberts said Kelly sustained a bicep strain and would miss the remainder of the postseason.
The Dodgers were dead in the water, again. They were already down, 2-0. They were already on their second pitcher.
AJ Pollock overcame his recent struggles at the plate, hitting two home runs in the Dodgers’ 11-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves in NLCS Game 5.
Then, in the second inning, a miracle happened. Baseball happened.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Roberts said.
AJ Pollock, who was benched earlier in the postseason, homered. Pujols singled. Taylor homered.
Suddenly, the Dodgers were ahead, 3-2.
The Dodgers added a run in the third, as Pollock, Pujols and Taylor singled in succession.
The attack persisted. Taylor finished with three homers, Pollock with two.
Six relievers combined to hold the Braves scoreless over the final eight innings.
And, like that, the Dodgers were on their way back to Atlanta, encouraged by where they stand but their enthusiasm tempered by the knowledge there are no guarantees in this series.
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