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Dodgers vs. Braves: Four reasons Los Angeles is on the verge of elimination in the NLCS

A grim recurring theme for the Dodgers and their fans has been disappointment after the season. This season marked their eighth straight NL West title, but they have famously not won the World Series since 1988.

To put it together, the Dodgers have been a juggernaut in the regular season for three of the last four years, including this one. In 2017, the Dodgers won 104 games but fell to the Astros in seven games in the World Series. Last year, they won 106 games, but were upset by the eventual champion Nationals in the NLDS. The Dodgers this season set the best regular season record in baseball and, scaled to a season of 1

62 games, played at a pace of 116 wins. Still and yet LA finds itself on the brink of elimination against the Braves in the NLCS.

The Braves threw the Dodgers in Game 4 on Thursday and now lead the series with a 3-1 figure. Previously, teams that are down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have returned to win that series only 14.9 percent of the time. In other words, the mighty Dodgers are very likely tied their heads to yet another October failure.

In this particular case, it is worth examining how they got into this enviable position – ie. that they should win three games before the Braves win one. It’s not a single thing that you would expect. Here’s a quick look at how the Dodgers have once again found themselves on the brink of October.

1. One of MLB’s best pitching staffs has been anything but

During the regular season, the Dodgers pitching corps were among the very best in baseball. They led majors in ERA and ERA + and ranked second in allowed runs per. Games and K / BB ratios. In NLCS, however, they have not lived up to advanced billing on the pitch front. As we enter Game 5, the Braves beat the .275 / .362 / .514 series, and in related matters, the Dodgers for the series have an ERA of 6.17. By breaking it down, LA rotation in the NLCS has an ERA of 5.12, and the bullpen has an ERA of 6.98. Yes, the Braves have a strong offense, but the Dodgers’ pitching staff were undoubtedly stronger in the regular season. So far, Braves’ offense has dominated to unexpected extremes.

2. The Dodgers race score has been for the cluster

The Dodgers are down 3-1, but they are only surpassed by the Braves by a single run. It’s a feature of the Dodgers’ ritual slaughter of Atlanta in Game 3, which they won 15-3. Look at the Dodgers’ overall slash line for the .236 / .341 / .479 series and it suggests excellent quality. Overall, this is true, but here’s the problem:

That outburst in the middle includes their near comeback in Game 2 and that Game 3, where they put 14 runs on the board in the first three innings. Outside of the isolated thunderstorm, the Dodger bats have been pretty well tamed.

In a strange way, it gave the cluster Braves utility on another level. Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, after being buried early, was able to churn through ineffective innings in Game 3, with Huascar Ynoa doing most of the lifting. All the way, Dave Roberts, for reasons sufficient for himself, let Julio Uria work five innings and throw a career-high 101 pitches – all after being put to an 11-0 lead when he took the mound to his first pitch. Had Roberts drawn Urias after the required first three strokes, he would be available for Game 5. Things as they are, the Dodgers have an uncertain pitching adaptation to the must-win affair.

Betts and Smith were two of the Dodgers’ best hitters of the regular season. Betts in his first season with LA fought .292 / .366 / .562 with 16 homers in 55 games. Throw his standout defense and base-running, and Betts is completely in the NL MVP discussion. Catcher Smith, meanwhile, in 37 games set a line at .289 / .401 / .579, which by positional standards can be described as “particularly special.”

In NLCS, however, Betts has an OPS of just .437, and Smith checks in with an even worse rating of .313. Smith had come out of a strong NLDS against the Padres, and Betts produced at a typically high level through the first two rounds. Against Atlanta, however, these two nuclear bats have not been of much help.

4. Dave Roberts’ slow hook in Game 4

Given that the Dodgers lost Game 4 by eight runs, it might seem crunchy to no end. Determining how a game would have unfolded if a critical point had gone the other way, however, is an egg that is impossible to remove. What we do know is that Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw – he with the complicated playoff story – in the sixth inning of Game 4 allowed back-to-back hits to start the frame. The second of those hits, a Freddie Freeman double, gave the Braves a 2-1 lead.

That brought Marcell Ozuna to the record. Ozuna was one of the game’s best hitters of the regular season, and he had already homerated in Game 4. He had the sharing advantage against Kershaw, and he faced him for the third time in the game. Given that Kershaw had just given up to two hits and the clear signal, it seemed like an obvious time to summon a right-hander from the bullpen. Roberts, however, stuck with his starter. Here’s what happened:

Then the game was dissolved in Braves’ favor. Had Roberts made the somewhat obvious decision to lift Kershaw and injected various matchups and pitch sequences and scores into the game and everything else, things might have unfolded differently. There is no knowledge of it, but despite the possible margin of victory, it is reasonable to look at this decision as a focal point.

Simple enough, right? All the Dodgers need to do to defy their current deficit, and the story that comes with it, is getting better pitching, more consistent frames, better tactical decisions from the dugout and better luck. Yes, it takes a lot for the Dodgers to flip the postseason script they’ve been reading from for far too long.

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