The Atlanta Braves are one win away from the World Series after throttling the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-2 in Los Angeles on Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NLCS. If you're a Braves fan and hesitant to get excited, no one will blame you. Last year, the Braves were up 3-1 against the Dodgers, and we all know how that ended.
The defending World Series champs are on the ropes, and the Braves can finish them off Thursday at Dodger Stadium. And if they do, they can thank their trade-deadline acquisitions.
The Braves had a bad start to the season in a bad division. Their best pitcher, Max Fried, struggled through a hamstring injury and then a blister early in the season and he underperformed to start 2021, going 6-5 with a 4.71 ERA in the first half of the season. Their best player, Ronald Acuna Jr. tore his ACL in July. Prior to the July 30 trade deadline, the New York Mets were supposed to be the team to beat in the NL East, the Washington Nationals were on the fence about a rebuild and the Philadelphia Phillies weren't backing down.
It would have been easy for Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos to hit the reset button on the season and sell off some talent for a deep postseason run next year. Instead, the general manager remade the Atlanta outfield, trading for Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario, the latter of which led the offensive onslaught for the Braves Wednesday night.
The four of them are slashing .341/.400/.593 with six homers and 21 RBI in eight postseason games, but it's Rosario who has turned into the star of the month.
The new Mr. October has two four-hit games in the 2021 postseason, one of which came Wednesday when he went 4-for-5 and nearly hit for the cycle. Rosario singled, tripled and homered twice. At that point, who even needs the double? Duvall also homered, proving how important that outfield makeover has been to the season.
Anthopoulos made the right call in pulling the trigger in July. Few thought the Braves were capable of making it this far after Acuna Jr. tore his ACL, but the decision to go all in saved the season, and it's paying dividends. The club netted Rosario and cash for Pablo Sandoval in a trade with Cleveland. What a bargain.
While the outfield has been crucial for Atlanta throughout the NLCS, it's only a piece of the puzzle. The Braves have been the more dominant team in every aspect.
The pitching has been stifling. Atlanta has a 3.60 ERA in this series. Fried, the Atlanta ace who limited the Dodgers to two earned runs over six innings in his last time out in the NLCS, will start Game 5 on full rest Thursday night. The Braves couldn't have planned it any better.
This is the Dodgers we're talking about: a team with All-Star caliber talent at nearly every position, and it a knows how to overcome a playoff deficit. This team looked vulnerable against the San Francisco Giants last week, and we all know how that turned out. However, it also needed a controversial check swing call to advance and has been outplayed in the NLCS.
But if the Braves do close it out and head to their first World Series since 1999, you can thank Anthopoulos and his deadline dealings. So get excited this time, Braves fans, it's a different series with new players and new narratives.
Braves Players of the Game
LF Rosario: 4-for-5 with three runs and four RBI. Rosario opened the scoring for the Braves with a solo homer in the second inning and capped off his stellar night with a three-run home run in the ninth inning.
1B Freddie Freeman: 2-for-4 with two runs, two RBI and a walk. His home run in the third inning gave Atlanta a key insurance run and put the Dodgers in a 3-0 hole.
The Braves bullpen: Some have been critical of manager Brian Snitker's bullpen usage, but he mixed and matched effectively in Game 4 leaving a few arms to spare. Chris Martin, A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek and Will Smith blanked the Dodgers throughout the final five innings of the game.
Dodgers Players of the Game
PH/LF A.J. Pollock: 1-for-2 with a two-run single to plate the only two Los Angeles runs of the night in the bottom of the fifth.
Phil Bickford: 1.2 scoreless innings to relieve Julio Urias and give the Dodgers a chance to come back in the game. The last time Urias has allowed three or more home runs in a game was 2016 when the left-hander was 19 years old.
The third baseman suffered a Grade 2 hamstring strain running to first base in the seventh inning. The Long Beach native has been a leader in the clubhouse for years, so despite his .118 batting average in the 2021 postseason, Turner will be an emotional loss.
Regardless of whether or not the Dodgers advance, the image of Turner being helped down the dugout steps by Albert Pujols will be an enduring image of these playoffs.