ATLANTA — Mission accomplished for the Dodgers in extending this NLCS to the weekend, but now what?
The answer to that question revolves largely around their pitching situation. Max Scherzer on Friday was scratched from Saturday’s scheduled start for Game 6 of the NLCS against the Braves, an industry source confirmed. Scherzer’s gas tank was empty Sunday in Game 2 — he said his “arm was dead” — leading to an unsteady performance.
The Dodgers, who went the bullpen route in winning Game 5 on Thursday, will now have to decide between going in that direction again (with Tony Gonsolin and David Price carrying the load) or perhaps bringing back Walker Buehler on short rest. The original plan was for Buehler to return for a potential Game 7 on Sunday. The Dodgers this postseason are without another horse, Clayton Kershaw, who was shut down with elbow discomfort.
Scherzer’s fatigue in his last start might have stemmed from the energy he expended three days earlier in securing the save in the Dodgers’ NLDS clincher in San Francisco. The other part might be a 37-year-old pitcher who has logged 196 innings this season, including the playoffs.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts rested Scherzer through the three games in Los Angeles, which coupled with the two travel days pushed him beyond full rest. In 26 career postseason appearances, Scherzer owns a 7-6 record with a 3.22 ERA. Scherzer’s best performance this postseason came in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Giants, in which he allowed one run over seven innings. But the Dodgers lost 1-0. He returned to pitch a scoreless ninth for the save in Game 5, striking out Wilmer Flores — on what replays indicated was a checked swing — for the final out
Scherzer was removed after 4 ¹/₃ innings (79 pitches) in Game 2 of the NLCS because of fatigue. In that start, he allowed two earned runs on four hits, striking out seven — a game the Braves won on Eddie Rosario’s walkoff single in the ninth.
“I’ve been in this situation before,” Scherzer said after Sunday’s outing. “You don’t want to always go out there and pitch full strength. Usually in those situations, once you get past pitch 45 sometimes, it kind of loosens up and you’re able to get deeper into a game. But after that third inning, it didn’t loosen up. It was still more tightening up. So, I could tell that my pitch count was going to be limited.”
The Dodgers, down 3-2 in the series, will have to scramble as they face another win-or-go-home scenario. The Dodgers have won their last seven elimination games in the postseason.
The Braves are set to start Ian Anderson, who endured his own struggles in Game 2, allowing two earned runs over three innings. Anderson was part of last year’s Atlanta team that took a 3-1 series lead on the Dodgers before losing the next three games. The Braves are sick of hearing about it.
“It’s something we know about, but it’s something we’re definitely on a mission to kind of dispel,” Anderson said. “We’re still in a good spot. The vibes are good and we’re going to be ready to play.”
The psychologist in Roberts tells him the Braves are feeling pressure.
“I think we’ve got a mental advantage right now, going back there playing Game 6,” Roberts said before Scherzer was scratched. “History is a powerful thing to the mind and so we feel good and I think that we’re going to use it to our advantage, but at the end of the day we still got to go out there and play a good baseball game.
“Win [Saturday] and pick up the pieces and once you get to Game 7, like everyone who’s been a part of a Game 7, anything can happen. But I think that us being in elimination games and all that stuff bodes better for us, but again, that’s all moot, you still got to go play and execute.”
As disappointed as the Braves might be that they couldn’t complete the job in Game 5 on Thursday — the Dodgers smashed five home runs, including three by Chris Taylor in the 11-2 victory — if you told them before the series they would be ahead 3-2 with two shots at home to finish it, they would have gladly accepted it.
“Before [the series], I would say I’ll take it,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’ve got to win one of two games. If we can’t then we don’t deserve to [the pennant]. But I like our chances.”
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