The Atlanta Braves find themselves in a must-win situation for tonight’s Game 4 of the NLDS following Sunday night’s embarrassing 13-6 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Game 3 started out perfectly for the Braves, as the team jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning thanks to some clutch hitting from Evan Gattis and Chris Johnson. Unfortunately, this would be the only lead Atlanta would have in this pivotal third game.
The Dodgers would go on to outscore the Braves 13-4 the rest of the way, and although the Braves briefly tied the game in the fourth inning with RBIs from Brian McCann and Johnson, but it just was not enough to stop an offense headlined by Adrian Gonzalez (2 hits and 2 RBIs), Yasiel Puig (3 hits and 2 RBIs), and Hanley Ramirez (3 hits and 2 RBIs). To put it simply, the Braves were outnumbered in Game 3 as far as power hitters are concerned, leaving the team with one chance to bail out their season.
Game 4 between the Braves and the Dodgers will be played on Monday, October 7th at 9:37 p.m. EST and will be televised on TBS. In this matchup, the Atlanta Braves will send veteran starter Freddy Garcia (1-2 with a 1.65 ERA in six games and just three starts) to the mound against Ricky Nolasco, the former Miami Marlins ace who has done a fine job as part of the Dodgers’ rotation (13-11 record with a 3.70 ERA and 165 strikeouts).
With so much riding on this game, the message that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez should stress to the team is simple: just get hits. A big problem with Atlanta throughout the 2013 season has been the fact that the team has struggled when they have failed to hit a home run, and we have seen the exact same thing in this NLDS, as Jason Heyward’s two-run blast in the ninth inning of Sunday night’s game has served as the team’s only dinger in its two losses to the Dodgers. Los Angeles’ pitching staff is very talented, so hitting the ball out of the park will be easier said than done; however, if the team is able to leg out singles and doubles consistently (like they did at the start of Game 3), this series may very well come back to Turner Field for a Game 5.
As important as it will be for the Braves to hit consistently in this momentous game, the bullpen must also be accountable when called upon. Atlanta’s bullpen was simply outstanding in the regular season (combined for the lowest ERA in the National League since 1990), but in the Dodgers’ two victories they have been quite hittable, as they have given up four runs in these two tough defeats. It is uncertain how deep Gonzalez will allow Garcia to go in tonight’s contest, but common sense would make it look as though any sign of trouble from the fifteen year veteran will lead to his exit, leaving it all in the bullpen’s hands.
The outcome of Game 5 is obviously undecided at this point, but a loss for the Atlanta Braves would most likely result in the lampooning of the seasons that was for Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton, the questioning of Fredi Gonzalez’s tactics in so many areas (whether fair or unfair), and the consideration that thirteen NL East division titles and just one World Series victory may not be as noteworthy as it seems.
UPDATE 8:00 p.m. The Dodgers are set to start Clayton Kershaw in tonight’s Game 4. Kershaw, who gave up three hits and fanned 12 Braves through seven innings, is definitely L.A.’s best pitcher, which means it will take a lot for the Braves to survive and advance.