A Game 7 in the National League Championship Series presumably wasn't on Atlanta's radar after it took a 3-1 lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
And yet a winner-take-all Game 7 is indeed happening after the Dodgers followed their season-saving win in Game 5 with a 3-1 victory in Game 6 at Globe Life Field on Saturday.
The Dodgers mainly have their stars to thank for their latest triumph. Shortstop Corey Seager, who homered yet again, and right fielder Mookie Betts, who made another brilliant catch, came up huge in Game 6. Fireballing right-hander Walker Buehler did his part with six shutout innings.
Atlanta certainly had its opportunities to gain control of Game 6. But much like its chances to punch an early ticket to the World Series, these opportunities went unfulfilled.
Notable Players of the Game
Three for the Dodgers:
- SS Corey Seager: 1-for-4, 1 HR, 1 RBI. His solo homer in the first inning opened the scoring, and also ran his total for the series to five. That's a new NLCS record.
- RF Mookie Betts: 1-for-4, 1 BB. He may not have had much of a game offensively, but his astounding robbery of Marcell Ozuna in the fifth probably saved a crucial run.
- SP Walker Buehler: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 6 K. The Dodgers badly needed length from Buehler after fellow righty Dustin May lasted only two innings in Game 5. Buehler delivered, thereby pacing a win and saving Los Angeles' bullpen for Game 7.
Three for Atlanta:
- SP Max Fried: 6.2 IP, 8 H, 4 BB, 3 R (3 ER), 5 K. Fried was on the ropes after the Dodgers got to him for three runs in the first. But despite the loss, Atlanta must be thrilled that the left-hander settled down and provided a bullpen-saving effort in his own right.
- RF Ronald Acuna Jr.: 1-for-4, 2B, 1 RBI. Acuna was only 3-for-17 through the first five games of the series, so his run-scoring double in the seventh inning was surely a good sight for Atlanta.
- SS Dansby Swanson: 3-for-4, 1 SB. Speaking of welcome sights for Atlanta, Swanson had as many hits in Game 6 as he'd had through the first five games combined.
Where the NLCS Stands
-The series is tied 3-3. Game 7 is scheduled for 8:15 p.m. ET on Sunday, from Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
-Atlanta is slated to start right-hander Ian Anderson, who took the mound in Game 2, on regular rest. Though they've yet to announce a starter, the Dodgers will likely answer with right-hander Tony Gonsolin, who also started in the series' second game. If not, it'll probably be left-hander Julio Urias on three days' rest.
-The winner of Game 7 will advance to the World Series. It would be the Dodgers' first trip since 2018, and Atlanta's first since 1999.
Atlanta May Have Missed Its Last Best Chance to Beat the Dodgers
There's no such thing as a pleasant loss in the postseason, but this is one that Atlanta could rue for a long time if it doesn't come back in Game 7.
Though they were unable to get any runs off Buehler, Atlanta's hitters loaded the bases with nobody out against him in the second inning and later mustered a two-on, one-out chance in the fourth.
Whether it was because of bad hitting (maybe) or just good pitching (definitely), neither of those scenarios yielded any runs for Atlanta. Nor did its scoring opportunity in the fifth inning, though that had more to do with Betts' spectacular defense:
Atlanta's next big moment came in the seventh after Dodgers manager Dave Roberts removed Buehler, who had only thrown 89 pitches, in favor of Blake Treinen. Nick Markakis led off with a triple and came home on Acuna's one-out double. But that was that, as Freddie Freeman struck out and Ozuna flew out.
Hitting with runners in scoring position wasn't an issue for Atlanta either in the regular season (.270 AVG) or through the first four games of the NLCS (.308 AVG). But it suddenly is now, as the club's hitters are just 3-for-20 with ducks on the pond since the start of Game 5.
And yet, all is not lost for Atlanta just yet.
This is true both in the sense that Brian Snitker's club literally has one more game to play, and also in that it will arguably enter Game 7 as the favorite to win. That argument largely comes down to Anderson, whose three playoff starts have thus far produced 15.2 scoreless innings.
For their part, the Dodgers obviously won't be able to use Buehler. May and longtime ace Clayton Kershaw, the latter of whom started Game 4, might be available. But if they are, it'll be in a limited capacity out of the bullpen.
The Dodgers will mostly be in the hands of Gonsolin and Urias, neither of whom made much of an impression earlier in the series. Gonsolin got tagged for five runs in four and one-third innings in Game 2. Urias only allowed one run in five innings in Game 3, but the 101 pitches on his line spoke to how spotty he was with his command.
Luckily for them, the Dodgers have their bats to lean on.
Said bats paced an MLB-best 43-win effort in the regular season by leading the majors runs and home runs. They're also outscoring (35 to 30) and outhomering (14 to eight) Atlanta in the NLCS. And if there's a way to stop Seager, in particular, Atlanta's pitchers have yet to discover it.
Granted, Anderson won't make it easy on Dodgers hitters if he applies the right adjustments for his second assignment against them. But Los Angeles' bats are also capable of adjusting. They showed as much in Game 6 by largely laying off Fried's curveball, which had previously befuddled them in Game 1.
The Dodgers wouldn't hear the end of it if their attempt at a comeback ends up being for naught in Game 7. That would mark a second straight World Series-less season for the Boys in Blue, for which there would be consequences. Roberts' job, for example, would potentially pass to someone else.
If, on the other hand, the Dodgers complete their comeback in Game 7, they'll have their chance at snapping their championship drought at 32 years. Atlanta's own drought, meanwhile, would stretch to 26 years.
That's obviously not Atlanta's plan for Game 7. But if it happens, the club would probably be the first to admit that it never should have let the NLCS get that far in the first place.