The Atlanta Braves are getting a do-over.
One year after their NLCS collapse created another bleak chapter in the history of Atlanta sports, the Braves have attained another 3-1 lead over the same opponent, the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers. The Braves got there by defeating the Dodgers 9-2 in Game 4 on Wednesday.
The Dodgers had appeared to be in strong position to even the series after their wild comeback in Game 3, starting playoff stalwart Julio Urías against a bullpen game for Atlanta. The Braves' chances diminished even more when opener Huascar Ynoa was scratched.
Reliever Jesse Chavez, who had pitched two of the last three days, started in Ynoa's place, but it was Urías who ended up looking like the gassed reliever. The southpaw, whose Game 2 relief appearance incited plenty of second-guessing for manager Dave Roberts, gave up back-to-back homers to Eddie Rosario and Adam Duvall in the second inning.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) October 21, 2021
More pain came in the third inning with a Freddie Freeman solo homer and an RBI single from Joc Pederson, then the fifth inning as a Duvall sacrifice fly capped a one-run rally. The Dodgers got back in the game with a two-run single from A.J. Pollock in the fifth, but they never got closer than that.
Rosario ended up finishing a double short of the cycle despite completing the two hardest legs in the first three innings, but did add a second homer to break the game open in the ninth.
HAVE A GAME, EDDIE ROSARIO 🔥pic.twitter.com/iHrz65xj5Q
— Yahoo Sports MLB (@MLByahoosports) October 21, 2021
Justin Turner exits with hamstring injury
The Dodgers' situation is even more dire after veteran third baseman Justin Turner exited the game in the seventh inning, pulling up while running to first base on a double play. Roberts confirmed after the game that Turner sustained a Grade 2 hamstring strain and will be out for the postseason, per MLB.com's Sarah Wexler.
Turner had hardly been carrying the Dodgers — he is 3-for-34 this postseason — but his injury creates yet another hole to replace in an already stretched out Dodger lineup.
Can the Braves finish off the Dodgers?
No MLB playoff team finished with fewer wins than the Braves this year, but they've found themselves in an enviable position in mid-October. Or about as enviable as you can get when you're an Atlanta team with a lead.
The Dodgers entered the NLCS with a significant headwind thanks to a five-game NLDS battle with the San Francisco Giants, forcing them to go with a bullpen game in Game 1 and start a short-rest Max Scherzer in Game 2. The Braves took both games in walk-off fashion, but missed out on a 3-0 lead thanks to the heroics of Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts.
That rally made Game 4 all the more pivotal, and the Braves ended up taking a commanding lead. Braves fans need little reminder what happened last time they were in this position, though circumstances have changed somewhat.
This Dodger team might have won 106 games, but Clayton Kershaw, Max Muncy and now Turner are out with injuries while 2020 playoff stars Kiké Hernández and Joc Pederson are playing for other teams (the Braves, in Pederson's case). The Braves might be without two of their three best hitters from last year for very different reasons — Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna — but other hitters like Rosario and Austin Riley have stepped up.
While the Dodgers theoretically had the advantage in Game 4 with Urías against a bullpen game, the roles will be reversed in Game 5 with the Dodgers going to the bullpen and the Braves starting a strong young lefty in Max Fried.
That Game 5 might be more important than the Braves care to admit. They may get to play a potential Game 6 and Game 7 in front of a home crowd, but few teams want to face Dodger aces Max Scherzer and Walker Buehler back-to-back with the World Series on the line, even if neither were their best in their first two starts this series.