The Atlanta Braves have one of the best offenses in all of baseball, but it's been their impeccable pitching that has them a pair of wins away from the World Series.
22-year-old rookie Ian Anderson extended Atlanta's historic run of impressive pitching performances, throwing another 4 shutout innings as the Braves beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 8-7, to take a 2-0 series lead in the NLCS on Tuesday night.
Atlanta has allowed just one run or fewer in five of their first seven postseason games. They have limited the most prolific offense in baseball this season to just four runs through the first two games of the championship series.
Anderson has not allowed a run this postseason, posting a perfect record of 2-0, allowing no runs, on six hits, with 22 strikeouts in 11.2 scoreless innings of work. The Braves team ERA through the first seven games is 1.86.
"He was good, he kept us off balance all night," said Dodgers' shortstop Corey Seager. "It's just been a battle for us the last two games."
If the Dodgers are to solve the pitching puzzle that is the Braves staff, they will not have a lot of time to do it. There are no breaks or travel between games and the season could come to another shocking and disappointing end in two days time.
Continuous playoff baseball poses a bevy of problems for Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts and his bullpen usage. He needs to save his high-leverage relievers for when he has a lead, but he doesn't want a small deficit to snowball into a insurmountable one like it did in the fifth inning on Tuesday.
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The disastrous fifth inning for the Dodgers began with two walks and a double before Roberts went to Pedro Baez out of the bullpen. Baez surrendered a single and issued two more walks before being lifted for another low-leverage reliever in Dylan Floro. The four walks in the inning were a postseason high for the Dodgers, and it led to four more runs for Atlanta.
"You're playing seven days in a row, so you have to try and give your starters some leash," said Roberts. "I didn't want to put in our high-leverage guys in a 3-0 game in the fifth inning. We just ran into some trouble and couldn't finish that inning out."
Originally scheduled starter Clayton Kershaw was a late scratch on Tuesday morning after he suffered back spasms during a bullpen session on Saturday.
Rookie Tony Gonsolin was called upon instead, facing a daunting task in his postseason debut.
However, Gonsolin rose to the occasion early. He was perfect through the first three innings, before allowing a hit in the fourth. Unfortunately for Gonsolin, the first hit he did allow travelled 408-feet, and halfway up the seats in right field for a two-run homer.
"My ability to make the adjustments quicker weren't there," said Gonsolin, who admitted it he may have been trying to hard during the game. "It was good to get my first postseason experience out of the way."
The blast came from the soon-to-be NL MVP Freddie Freeman, who homered for the second time in as many games. Freeman finished 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBI. Ozzie Albies also homered for the second straight game with a solo shot in the 9th inning.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers two former MVPs Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger were a combined 0-for-14, with two walks, five strikeouts and six runners left on base before the ninth inning.
One of the lone bright spots for the Dodgers came in the bottom of the seventh inning when Corey Seager crushed a cutter from A.J. Minter into the Braves' bullpen in left-center for a three-run homer. It was the first runs allowed by Minter this postseason, and only the second homer surrendered this entire season.
"That home run by Corey was an exhale from everybody," said Roberts. "I definitely think that’s some momentum we can take into tomorrow. We just have to take it one game at a time. I know it's a cliché, but it's true...to see us fighting, that was a good thing."
Seager added an RBI double in the bottom of the ninth, and was responsible for all of the Dodgers runs until Max Muncy followed with a two-run blast that cut the Braves lead to 8-6. Muncy's homer was the eighth in two nights in a stadium notorious for keeping balls inside the park.
Before the series began, it was billed as a battle of two undefeated juggernauts. But thus far through two games it's been a lopsided affair as the Dodgers have clearly run into a buzz saw in the Braves. Atlanta is a perfect 7-0 this postseason.
Game 3 of the best-of-seven NLCS is Wednesday at 3:05PM PT.