There will be a Game 6 in the National League Championship Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers ensured it Friday with a 7-3 win over Atlanta in Game 5 that was powered by one likely hero and one less likely hero.
The former was star shortstop Corey Seager, who cranked two home runs and drove in three. The latter was young catcher Will Smith, whose three-run homer off Atlanta left-hander Will Smith (plenty of intrigue, but no relation) in the sixth inning shifted the tide in Los Angeles' favor.
Atlanta still has a 3-2 lead in the series, which will continue Saturday afternoon at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
The Dodgers, though, can hope that their Game 5 triumph will give them the momentum they need to complete a comeback and return to the World Series.
Notable Players of the Game
Three for the Dodgers:
- C Will Smith: 1-for-4, HR, 3 RBI. According to FanGraphs, his go-ahead blast off Smith lowered Atlanta's win probability from 66.7 to 25.9 percent. And yes, it was the first matchup between a hitter and pitcher with the same name in MLB playoff history, per Elias Sports Bureau.
- SS Corey Seager: 2-for-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI. His first homer got the Dodgers on the board, while his second broke the game open. He has four home runs and 10 RBI for the NLCS, the latter of which is already a club record for a single postseason series.
- RF Mookie Betts: 2-for-4, 1 RBI. Betts had as many hits in Game 5 as he'd had in the first four games of the series combined. More importantly, he snuffed out a third-inning rally with a nifty shoestring catch.
Three for Atlanta:
- LHP A.J. Minter: 3.0 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 7 K. They may not have mattered in the end, but those are darn impressive numbers for a career reliever who became the first pitcher to ever make his debut as a starter in a playoff game.
- LHP Will Smith: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 R. Before he lost a literal battle of Wills, he ruined a perfectly good left-on-left matchup by walking Max Muncy upon entering with two outs in the sixth.
- DH Marcell Ozuna: 1-for-3, 1 BB. After homering twice and driving in four in Game 4, Ozuna hurt his team in Game 5 by leaving third base early and getting called out upon review after Betts made his nifty catch.
Where the NLCS Stands
-Atlanta leads 3-2, with the series set to resume with Game 6 at Globe Life Field on Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for 4:38 p.m. ET.
-After starting for the Dodgers and Atlanta, respectively, in Game 1 on Monday, right-hander Walker Buehler and left-hander Max Fried are slated to start Game 6 on regular rest.
-If the Dodgers force a Game 7, it will be played Sunday.
The Dodgers Have New Life, but Not Necessarily Momentum
After L.A. won 43 of 60 games during the regular season, it would have been shocking to see the club bow out in only five games in the National League Championship Series.
From this perspective, the Dodgers at least dignified their involvement in the NLCS by winning on Friday. They have to hope the momentum that didn't materialize after their big win in Game 3 will show up this time.
Seager has been the big star, but it's telling that Smith became the seventh Dodger to go deep in the series when he took his fellow Smith yard Friday.
For his part, it wasn't Buehler's fault that the Dodgers lost Game 1. He walked five batters yet allowed only three hits and one run in five innings. L.A. will gladly take more of that in Game 6.
In the event that the Dodgers earn a win and even the series, it'll be all hands on deck for Game 7. Though Tony Gonsolin would likely start, veteran ace Clayton Kershaw could get a shot at redemption following his latest October misadventure in Game 4.
Here's the thing, though: Even as good as it looks, the Dodgers' path forward looks less inviting than the one that was in front of them after Game 3.
They rode an 11-run first inning to a 15-3 win in that one, which followed a seven-run outburst in the last three innings of Game 2. Between their offensive surge and a seemingly lopsided pitching matchup—Kershaw vs. Bryse Wilson—for Game 4, the Dodgers looked well on their way to erasing Atlanta's initial 2-0 advantage in the series.
Instead, Wilson came through with six outstanding innings, and Atlanta's offense took it from there in a 10-2 blowout. So much for Los Angeles' momentum.
With Fried on the mound for Game 6, Atlanta stands a good chance of once again thwarting the Dodgers' attempt at a comeback. The ace lefty pitched to a 2.25 ERA in the regular season, and his six one-run innings in Game 1 lowered his ERA for the postseason to 2.65.
In spite of their deficit in the run column, there's also little question that Atlanta's bats can hang with those of the Dodgers.
Atlanta ranked second to L.A. in both runs and homers in the regular season and has had the more consistent offense of the two clubs in the NLCS. To wit, the Dodgers have scored only 10 runs outside the last three innings of Game 2 and the first three innings of Game 3.
Should Atlanta fail to close out the series Saturday, it'll still arguably be in better shape than L.A. for Game 7. After all, the prospect of starting young right-hander Ian Anderson—who has yet to be scored on in three playoff starts—sounds better than the Dodgers' presumed "Johnny Wholestaff" plan.
There's a lot on the line for both teams. Atlanta hasn't been to the World Series since 1999. The Dodgers were there in 2017 and 2018, but the club's last championship was all the way back in 1988.
But regardless of who wants it more, this series will be decided by the same thing that decides every playoff series: Whoever plays better baseball.