2018 National League Division Series 2
|2018 National League Division Series|
|Los Angeles Dodgers
92 - 71 in the NL
|3 - 1
90 - 72 in the NL
The Second National League Division Series of 2018 featured the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Atlanta Braves. Notwithstanding the Dodgers' need to go through a one-game playoff to secure a division title, they were considered heavily favored heading into series and in fact were the popular bet to defend the National League pennant they had captured in 2017, now that their main rivals, the Chicago Cubs, had been eliminated at the Wild Card Game stage. The Braves had impressed everyone by winning the NL East title handily, but the consensus was that they were still a bit too young and inexperienced to contend for the ultimate honors. The two teams had met twice before in the postseason, both times in the Division Series as well, in 1996 and 2013, which each team winning once. The latter series also happened to be the last time the Braves had played in the postseason.
The Dodgers won the series rather handily, completely dominating the first two games, both wins coming by shutout, then after erasing a 5-0 deficit, lost Game 3 by a single run a before winning Game 4 handily. The result was rather expected, as the Dodgers were clearly on a mission to return to the World Series in order to attend to some unfinished business. It was however a good opportunity for the young Braves' players to get a first taste of the postseason, in the expectation that they were likely to be back before long.
The young Braves had surprised most observers by not only winning the NL East division title, but by doing so rather handily. It was a team that had jelled quickly, with two of the youngest players in the league playing starring roles in LF Ronald Acuna and 2B Ozzie Albies. 3B Johan Camargo had also had a breakout season, and a fourth youngster, SS Dansby Swanson, was the glue holding the infield together defensively even if his hitting remained disappointing. However, he was unavailable for this series because of a wrist injury. Ironically his replacement was Charlie Culberson, a postseason hero for the Dodgers a year ago. There were also some strong veterans on the team however, most notably 1B Freddie Freeman and RF Nick Markakis, as well as the catching tandem of Kurt Suzuki and Ben Flowers and CF Ender Inciarte.
The pitching was a bit of a concern behind All-Star Mike Foltynewicz, also coming off a break-out season. A year ago, Anibal Sanchez's career appeared to be over after a string of poor seasons, but he had been reborn in Atlanta after being picked up off the scrap heap, while Julio Teheran, long considered to be a future ace, had seemingly taken a step back. The other spots in the rotation were taken up by young pitchers still needing to prove themselves, such as Sean Newcomb and Max Fried, while the bullpen lacked a true closer. Against an experienced and deep team like the Dodgers, the Braves appeared over-matched on paper.
The Dodgers had had a much more difficult season than anyone had anticipated after falling just short of a World Series title a year ago, but it was mainly the result of a rash of early-season injuries, and not of some deeper flaws. Once most of the missing players had returned, led by 3B Justin Turner and P Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers of old had shown up, and only a tremendous late-season push by the Colorado Rockies had kept them from clinching the division early. They were a team with plenty of power, led by OFs Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig and the surprising Max Muncy at 1B. They had also strengthened themselves noticeably with late-season acquisitions, the most prominent of these being SS Manny Machado, a replacement for Corey Seager whose season had ended after only a few weeks because of an arm injury. Utility player Kiké Hernandez and C Yasmani Grandal had also had good seasons with the bat and the team was so strong offensively that OF Matt Kemp, who had been their best hitter in the first half, and IF/OF Chris Taylor, one of their best offensive players in 2017, now found themselves largely sitting on the bench because of the strong competition from all quarters.
On the mound, the Dodgers had perhaps the strongest contingent of starting pitchers of any team not the Houston Astros, led by Kershaw but also featuring Hyun-Jin Ryu, Rich Hill, Walker Buehler, Ross Stripling, Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda. In fact, they had so much riches with everyone being healthy that the latter three were likely to be used strictly out of the bullpen all postseason. Which was a good thing because if the Dodgers had one weakness that gave manager Dave Roberts worries, it was how to bridge the gap from the starters to closer Kenley Jansen. A secondary worry was that Jansen had been sidelined with heart arrhythmia in August and that the problem could possibly re-surface.
- Adrian Johnson, Lance Barksdale, Gary Cederstrom (crew chief), Tom Hallion, Jim Reynolds and Doug Eddings
|1||Atlanta Braves 0 Los Angeles Dodgers 6||Mike Foltynewicz (0-1) Hyun-Jin Ryu (1-0)||October 4||8:37 pm|
|2||Atlanta Braves 0 Los Angeles Dodgers 3||Anibal Sanchez (0-1) Clayton Kershaw (1-0)||October 5||9:37 pm|
|3||Los Angeles Dodgers 5 Atlanta Braves 6||Walker Buehler (0-0) Sean Newcomb (0-0)||October 7||8:07 pm|
|4||Los Angeles Dodgers 6 Atlanta Braves 2||Rich Hill (0-0) Mike Foltynewicz (0-1)||October 8||4:30 pm|
Game 1 @ Dodger Stadium
|WP: Hyun-Jin Ryu (1-0); LP: Mike Foltynewicz (0-1)|
|Home Runs: LA - Joc Pederson (1), Max Muncy (1), Kiké Hernandez (1)|
- Attendance: 50,947
The Dodgers won Game 1 handily as their greater postseason experience was on display. Veteran lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu was on top of things, retiring the Braves in the 1st around a single by Freddie Freeman, on his way to allowing just 4 hits and no runs over 7 strong innings. The Dodgers then quickly got to a nervous Mike Foltynewicz. Joc Pederson, the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the 1st, jumped him for a solo homer. He then allowed a double to Justin Turner and walked Max Muncy before recording his first two outs on strikeouts of Manny Machado and Yasmani Grandal. He then issued another walk, to Cody Bellinger, to load the bases, before getting out of the jam by striking out Yasiel Puig. In the 2nd, he was unable to pull off another Houdini act, however. After a couple of quick outs, he hit Pederson with a pitch, then walked Turner, before Muncy took him deep again, this blast good for three runs. It was now 4-0, and the Braves were basically out of the game. A sign of this was that manager Brian Snitker let Foltynewicz hit in the top of the 3rd, not because he intended to send him back on the mound, but because he did not want to burn a pinch-hitter in case his team managed to mount a comeback and some options were needed later in the game.
The Braves' first two relievers, Sean Newcomb and Max Fried, were solid, pitching 2 and 1 1/3 innings without giving up a run respectively. In the 6th, however, after Brad Brach had replaced Fried with one out, Kiké Hernandez hit the Dodgers' third homer of the game to make it 5-0. Dave Roberts used three relievers to pitch the final two innings, with only Alex Wood a front-line pitcher among them, while the Dodgers added an insurance run, which was unearned, in the 8th. In any case, the game had been decided long before as the Dodgers' 6-0 win was never in doubt after the 2nd inning.
Game 2 @ Dodger Stadium
|WP: Clayton Kershaw (1-0); LP: Anibal Sanchez (0-1); SV: Kenley Jansen (1)|
|Home Runs: LA - Manny Machado (1), Yasmani Grandal (1)|
- Attendance: 54,452
For the Dodgers, Game 2 was pretty much a repeat of Game 1. They once again got a great performance from their starting pitcher, in this case Clayton Kershaw, and scored early by using the home run. Conversely, the Braves were still unable to solve the mystery of the Dodgers' pitching and were shut out for the second straight game.
Kershaw had a bit of a reputation for not delivering the goods during the postseason, but it was definitely not the case today. He was as good as ever, limiting the Braves to just 2 hits over 8 innings, with no walks, and needed just 89 pitches to do so. Yet Ronald Acuna had managed to start off the game with a double off him and immediately moved to third on a ground out by Johan Camargo, but Kershaw then retired Freddie Freeman on a grounder and struck out Nick Markakis, and without knowing it, the Braves had just wasted their best scoring opportunity of the game. In the bottom of the inning, the Dodgers made them pay for their lack of timely hitting. Joc Pederson led off with a double off Freeman's glove against the re-born Anibal Sanchez, then after two outs, Manny Machado launched a pitch beyond the center field fence and it was 2-0.
Kershaw retired 14 straight batters from the 1st to the 5th before Ender Inciarte singled with two outs. Meanwhile, Sanchez was pretty good too, helped by a tremendous sliding catch by Acuna robbing Cody Bellinger of a hit in the 4th. After the Braves had stranded Inciarte in the 5th, however, Yasmani Grandal homered to lead off the bottom of the inning to make the score 3-0. Sanchez gave way to Max Fried after two outs in that inning and the Braves' relievers were very solid as Fried, rookie Touki Toussaint and Arodys Vizcaino would not give up a hit over the final 3 1/3 innings. Kershaw came out to start the 9th, but when Brian Snitker announced Tyler Flowers as a pinch-hitter for Vizcaino, Dave Roberts replied by bringing in his closer, Kenley Jansen. He allowed a single to Acuna with one out but nothing else as he saved the 3-0 win.
Game 3 @ SunTrust Park
|WP: Touki Toussaint (1-0); LP: Alex Wood (0-1); SV: Arodys Vizcaino (1)|
|Home Runs: ATL - Ronald Acuna (1), Freddie Freeman (1); LA - Chris Taylor (1), Max Muncy (1)|
- Attendance: 42,385
Facing elimination, the Braves decided to change plans before Game 3, scratching scheduled starter Kevin Gausman in favor of Sean Newcomb. Newcomb had pitched a couple of scoreless innings in relief of Mike Foltynewicz in Game 1, and more importantly, had come within one out of no-hitting the Dodgers back on July 24th. It was Brian Snitker's hope that Newcomb would be able to mystify the Dodgers' hitters again, although he wasn't prepared to stick with him long if things did not work out, as everyone on the pitching staff except for Foltynewicz was available to pitch. For the Dodgers, rookie Walker Buehler, who had himself been part of a combined no-hitter earlier in the year and who had been excellent in the one-game playoff against the Colorado Rockies, got the nod from manager Dave Roberts. Roberts also designed a line-up heavy in righthanded batters against the Braves' young lefty. It was the first postseason game to be played at SunTrust Park, which had opened a year earlier.
The Braves finally broke their scoring drought in the 2nd, after Newcomb had induced a couple of double play ground balls in the Dodgers' first two turns at bat. Nick Markakis led off the inning with a walk and after the next two batters struck out against Buehler, Ozzie Albies singled and both runners took an extra base on an error by CF Cody Bellinger. Roberts decided to issue an intentional walk to Charlie Culberson to load the bases with Newcomb coming up, but Buehler then walked his opposite number unintentionally and it was 1-0. Next up was super rookie Ronald Acuna who launched a ball beyond the center field fence for a grand slam. Suddenly, the Braves were up, 5-0. At 20, Acuna was the youngest player in postseason history to hit a grand slam, displacing Mickey Mantle. The Dodgers were not going to take this lying down though. They immediately replied as Newcomb walked Kiké Hernandez to lead off the 3rd, then after Yasmani Grandal made an out, Buehler bunted him over to second. Newcomb then walked Chris Taylor and Snitker decided to call on Gausman there and then. However, Justin Turner followed with a single to left, and it was now Acuna's turn to commit an error, and as a result both runners scored and Turner ended up on second. With the lefthander gone, Roberts sent Max Muncy to pinch-hit for 1B David Freese, and Muncy drew another walk, the sixth in the last two half innings. However, Gausman got Manny Machado on strikes, but Atlanta's lead was down to 5-2.
Both Buehler and Gausman did not give up anything else until the top of the 5th, when the Dodgers went at it again. Once again, things started with a lead-off walk, this one to Grandal. Buehler struck out but Taylor followed with a two-run homer to bring the Dodgers within one. After an out by Turner, Snitker made another pitching change, bringing in lefty Max Fried to face the lefthanded-hitting Muncy. The strategy did not work, though, as Muncy hit a ball to deep center for another homer, tying up the score. The Braves' five-run lead had not even lasted three innings. Fried was due up first in the 5th, and he was replaced by pinch-hitter Ryan Flaherty, as Snitker' prediction that everyone would get a chance to pitch today found more confirmation. It was another youngster, Touki Toussaint, who took over on the mound in the 6th, and he immediately put himself in trouble by allowing a double to Matt Kemp, who moved to third on a grounder by Bellinger. Then, in one of the key plays of the game, Hernandez hit another ground ball, this one to SS Culberson. Kemp was running on contact, but Culberson's perfect throw to C Kurt Suzuki cut him down, preventing the Dodgers from taking the lead. Grandal then drew another walk, putting a second runner on, and Buehler was due up next. Roberts sent Yasiel Puig to pinch-hit and he drew another walk to load the bases. Taylor was up next with a chance to do serious damage, but he hit a soft grounder to Johan Camargo at third, and the inning ended with the score still tied at 5. Alex Wood came in to pitch the bottom of the 6th, with Puig staying in the game in right field. Wood tried to get ahead in the count against Freddie Freeman with a fastball down the middle, but the first baseman got all of it, pulling it into the right field stands for a homer. It would take another pitcher, Ryan Madson, to finish the inning.
The Braves now had a 6-5 lead, and surprisingly, given all the runs scored in the first few innings, it held until the end of the game. Another rookie, Chad Sobotka, made a nice outing for Atlanta, retiring the Dodgers in order in the top of the 7th. Pedro Baez did the same in the bottom of the inning, allowing just a walk. With six outs left to record, Snitker sent A.J. Minter to pitch, and he was greeted by a single from pinch-hitter Brian Dozier. However, Minter retired the next two batters, then made things more interesting with a wild pitch and yet another walk to Grandal. This brought up Puig, but true to his rare reverse platoon splits, he grounded out against the lefthander to end the inning. Scott Alexander retired the Braves in order in the bottom of the 8th, and closer Arodys Vizcaino was given the ball to nail down the win with a one-run lead. Joc Pederson batted for Taylor and he grinded out a superb at-bat, fouling pitch after pitch before lining an absolute laser into the right field corner. It would normally have been a double, but it was hit so hard that it caromed off the wall straight into RF Markakis awaiting hand, and he rifled a throw to second, forcing Pederson to stop at first. Vizcaino got another full count on Turner, but ended up walking him to put a second runner on. The tension was now at its highest, and Vizcaino did not help things out by missing on his first three pitches to Muncy. With a 3-1 count, he threw one well outside, but Muncy lunged at it and fouled it off for strike two. Muncy was visibly mad, since had he held up, it would have been ball four, and had he missed the pitch altogether, there was no way Suzuki would have caught it. Vizcaino then got him to swing at his next pitch, and Suzuki held on to the foul tip for the first out. That seemed to boost Vizcaino's confidence, as his pitches to Machado were much sharper, and he got him out swinging, although Suzuki could not hold on to the final strike, allowing the two runners to advance one base. Now a single would give the Dodgers the lead, and it was up to Dozier. However, Vizcaino continued with his new-found heat and got him to swing and miss on a 1-2 count, ending the game as over 40,000 fans breathed a sigh of relief. It had definitely not been easy, but the Braves had forced a Game 4.
Game 4 @ SunTrust Park
|WP: Ryan Madson (1-0); LP: Jonny Venters (0-1)|
|Home Runs: LA - Manny Machado (2)|
- Attendance: 39,586
The Braves managed to give the Dodgers a run for their money in Game 4, before the more experienced team broke through in the late innings and eventually secured a rather comfortable victory. Mike Foltynewicz was back on the mound for Atlanta after his disappointing performance in Game 1, which a well-rested Rich Hill started for the Dodgers. Los Angeles started off well as Max Muncy drew a two-out walk in the 1st then scored on a double to left by Manny Machado. However, Foltynewicz settled down after that and only gave up one other hit over the next three innings, keeping the Dodgers from adding to their tally.
For his part, Hill cruised through the first three innings with relatively little trouble, until hitting a bump in the 4th. He started off by walking Johan Camargo and Tyler Flowers back to back, and Ender Inciarte bunted them over. Next up was Charlie Culberson, who hit a grounder to third on which the runners could not advance. Foltynewicz was due up next and manager Brian Snitker decided to pinch-hit for him with Kurt Suzuki. It was the right decision as Suzuki lined a single to left, scoring both runners and putting Atlanta in the lead, 2-1. However, that meant Snitker would need a long stint out of his bullpen. Jonny Venters gave him a solid 5th inning and in the bottom of the frame, Dave Roberts replaced Hill with Ryan Madson after he had loaded the bases with one out. The Braves had a chance to do some significant damage, but Flowers popped out to the catcher and Inciarte popped out to the infield and the score was still 2-1.
The Dodgers went to work in the 6th. Kiké Hernandez singled with one out but was forced out by Cody Bellinger. Yasiel Puig then hit a single, moving Bellinger to third. Snitker removed Venters and replaced him with Brad Brach as David Freese batted for Madson. Puig stole second base and Freese hit a single to center, and suddenly the Dodgers were in the lead, 3-2. They would not relinquish it. Pedro Baez retired the Braves in order in the bottom of the 6th and rookie Chad Sobotka came to pitch the 7th. He had done well the night before, but this time he allowed a single to Justin Turner and waked Muncy to put himself in serious trouble, then allowed a long homer to Machado that was good for three runs and broke the Braves' backs. Julio Teheran eventually recorded the final out of the frame. The Dodgers just needed to keep the Braves from making a big comeback, and pitchers Baez, Caleb Ferguson, Kenta Maeda and Kenley Jansen did just that over the final three innings. The Braves did place a couple of runners on with two outs in the 8th, but pinch-hitter Lucas Duda flied out to center and in the 9th they were retired in order by Jansen. Clearly, the better team had prevailed, both over the game and the series, but the Braves could look to the future with confidence. after putting up a good fight in the last two games.
- Mark Bowman and Ken Gurnick: "Braves-Dodgers: Lineups, matchups, FAQs", mlb.com, October 4, 2018. 
- Ken Gurnick: "Dodgers oust Braves, to meet Crew in NLCS", mlb.com, October 8, 2018. 
- Dan Wolken: "Braves missing handful of pieces needed to solve postseason puzzle", USA Today, October 9, 2018. 
|Major League Baseball National League Division Series