The Atlanta Braves keep proving people wrong. After stunning the Los Angeles Dodgers in front of their home fans with a 9-2 win in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, the Braves are a win away from the pennant and moving onto the World Series.
They’ll try to do that Thursday night with their unquestioned ace, Max Fried, on the mound in what is expected to be a bullpen game for Los Angeles.
It felt like the Dodgers’ huge comeback in Game 3 against the Braves bullpen could spring them to a possible series comeback overall with a favorable pitching matchup (Julio Urías against an Atlanta bullpen game) in Game 4, especially with Huascar Ynoa being a late scratch with shoulder inflammation. Instead, the opposite turned out to be true.
Atlanta roughed up Urías for five runs in five innings and hit four home runs — two from sudden playoff superstar Eddie Rosario — while the Braves bullpen held an explosive Los Angeles lineup in check. Drew Smyly and A.J. Minter were the stars, providing length for the Braves and keeping the Dodgers from having much hope.
Los Angeles also lost Justin Turner for the rest of the series as his balky hamstring flared up on a double play groundout in the seventh inning. It was just a complete disaster of a night for the heavy favorites and another magical performance from the Braves, who seem to find a new hero every game.
First pitch is at 8:08 p.m. ET. The BetUS Sportsbook has the Dodgers as -140 moneyline favorites. The Braves are +130 moneyline underdogs.
Fried Has Been Great
The Dodgers blew it in Game 4 when they had an extremely favorable matchup against many of the Braves’ lower-tier relievers and now, in an elimination game, they have to go against Atlanta’s top pitcher. Fried has been electric in the playoffs, shutting out the Milwaukee Brewers for six innings in Game 2 of the NLDS and pitching six quality innings (allowing two runs) against Los Angeles in Game 1 of the NLCS.
This has been a continuation of his awesome regular season, in which he tied a career-high in innings (165.2) and posted a 3.04 ERA to go with a strikeout per inning and just over a 1.00 WHIP. He also limited home runs well — allowing just 0.8 long balls per nine innings — and held opponents to a .227 batting average. Fried seems to have officially turned the corner from promising young pitcher to elite starter who will routinely be in the Cy Young Award mix, and he has shown that this postseason.
Neither Milwaukee nor Los Angeles has had much of an answer for his curveball this postseason, helping him improve upon his 2020 postseason in which he got hit hard a few times by the Miami Marlins and these Dodgers. However, that Dodgers team had Max Muncy and Justin Turner and was much more in tune offensively than the 2021 version is right now.
If you’re betting online, you should take the Braves straight-up with their ace on the mound against a team that looked a little shell-shocked by how poorly it played in a very winnable game on Wednesday. All the Dodgers’ momentum and positive energy from Tuesday’s win seemed to evaporate away.
Dodgers’ ‘Pen Unreliable
The back-end of the Los Angeles bullpen — Kenley Jansen and Blake Treinen — is about as good as it gets in baseball but, for a bullpen game against a relentless Braves lineup, the issue is how the Dodgers will get to those guys on Thursday.
Corey Knebel, who has been the Dodgers’ opener a few times in the playoffs but hasn’t pitched well, could get the starting nod and could give way to Brusdar Graterol and Evan Phillips who both didn’t pitch on Wednesday night. Joe Kelly and Alex Vesia could follow and, for Dave Roberts’ sake, that hopefully could get the Dodgers into the seventh inning where the Jansen and Treinen combination might take over.
But, considering how much the Los Angeles offense has struggled in this series, there’s no guarantee that the bullpen will be able to shut down Atlanta enough to even make sure the Dodgers have a lead by that point. It’s not a reliable game plan to be down in the eighth inning and hope for another late comeback.
As far as MLB picks go, the Braves are just the safer choice here with all the uncertainty over how the Dodgers will attack this game from a pitching standpoint.
Too Risky To Use Scherzer
Max Scherzer, if he were to pitch at some point in Game 5, would be on three days’ rest today so it wouldn’t be shocking to see him get in the game out of sheer desperation by Roberts. However, with how tired he was after 79 pitches in Game 2, it would be mildly surprising if the Dodgers pushed him.
While it is the playoffs and anything goes — and someone like Scherzer always wants the ball — don’t expect Los Angeles to be especially reckless with their 37-year-old starter, even if he’s a free agent after the postseason ends.
The MLB playoff odds don’t really know how much to factor in a possible Scherzer cameo, which makes sense. Anyway, you should still back the Braves and the value.