Sports Pulse: The MLB postseason has two losing teams. There was only one regular season of 60 games. Does the 2020 World Series champion require an asterisk? Our MLB experts argue.
Their paths crossed on a windswept Thursday evening at Globe Life Field, and little Kershaw could have imagined that his October nightmares would be extended by such an unlikely opponent.
Making only his eighth Major League start and first playoff appearance, Wilson cooled down a Dodgers line-up that scored 15 points the night before, keeping them one-shot in six innings and allowing the Braves to wait for the inevitable October. .
He eventually made it to the bottom of sixth, when a harmless helicopter on the pitch kicked off Kershaw’s latest playoff mishap. It finished six runs later with the Braves on the brink of an NL pennant and the Dodgers, the game’s deepest and most talented team, pondering another winter much longer than they would have preferred.
The Braves’ 10-2 win, fueled by Marcell Ozuna’s two home runs, four hits and four RBIs, put them to a 3-1 lead in this NLCS wondering how many handfuls of house money they could claim. On Friday night, they’ll likely be leaning on a group of pitchers to put together nine innings in a match 5 that could send them to the World Series.
The Dodgers will do the same, starting with rookie Dustin May and a more rested bullpen to save their season. Apparently, the Dodgers would have had the advantage.
Marcell Ozuna went 4 for 5 in NLCS Game 4 against the Dodgers. (Photo: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports)
Yet things looked great to them too on paper in Game 4. Wilson brought a career ERA of 5.91 to the game and, over the course of three seasons, only completed six innings once. While manager Brian Snitker said he had faith in Wilson, he confessed after Race 4 that the level was suitably low.
“If he had gone four innings, I would have been happy, to be honest,” says Snitker. “A kid like this who hadn’t thrown in three weeks … Six was an incredible advantage.
“It was just incredible work.”
Especially considering that the Dodgers set a post-season record with their 11 runs in the first inning of Game 3 and set an NLCS record with 15 runs in the saving season. They batted for 32 minutes in that record-breaking first inning.
On Thursday night, Wilson retired from the team on nine pitches.
And he set out on his unlikely adventure, hitting five Dodgers, only getting Edwin Rios’ third home run, aided by a stiff breeze blowing from the center of the pitch that knocked down more than one ball that could have been extra bases.
“Honestly, I don’t think he was too upset in front of Kershaw,” says Chris Martin, the Braves rescuer. “He’s a great arm over there, but he focused on what he needed.”
Then there was Kershaw.
His numerous October wounds are occasionally circumstantial, often self-inflicted, usually aided and encouraged by questionable managerial moves and wrongdoing behind him.
GAME 3 REWIND:The Dodgers set the post-season record with 11 runs in the first inning
In game 4, all of the above applied.
Kershaw’s only flaw in five innings was a thunderous equalizer home run to Marcell Ozuna in the fourth inning. His cursor was biting just enough and his curveball is usually taut, both of which sufficiently keep Atlanta’s powerful lineup from his fastball which, at the age of 32, barely hits 90 mph.
And then, poof.
The sixth began with Ronald Acuña Jr. slashing a ball behind the mound that lazily bounced past Kershaw’s extended glove. Kiké Hernandez was unable to play the do-or-die game and his throwing error gave the green light to the second.
Ozuna had to go up third, but Dodgers manager Dave Roberts didn’t feel the urge to field a right-hander for him. Brusdar Graterol, clad in a sweatshirt, did a few dry flips from a bullpen mound, but that’s about it.
Also, Freddie Freeman, the likely NL MVP, was next, and that was Kershaw’s boyfriend. Freeman, however, won this lefty versus southpaw battle, hitting a brace on the left line to drive to Acuña.
By now, Graterol was throwing, but Kershaw would face Ozuna. It was still a 2-1 match; a little proactive bullpen management for a left handed starter with a fade fastball may have been the move.
Instead, Ozuna set fire to a double RBI, finishing Kershaw but only starting the damage.
Graterol gave up on three consecutive hits, including a double from Dansby Swanson and an RBI single from Austin Riley, and was ripped off. At the end of the inning, it was 7-1.
By the end of the night, Kershaw would have a post-season career record of 11-12. His overall 2020 line – a record 2-1, 3.32 ERA, 23 strikeouts on two walks – doesn’t look all that bad.
It won’t do any good to erase October’s annual image of him on the bench after a first hook or a precipitous fall, bewildered and miserable.
The brave ones? They are waiting for the coronation, a win away from their first World Series since 1999 and aces Max Fried and Ian Anderson are ready if Race 5 fails.
Wilson put them in that position, starting his day with his girlfriend by noticing how quiet he was, relaxing once he entered the cocoon of his teammates’ clubhouse, and finally, at the end of the night, sharing the glory with his parents.
He was the third consecutive Braves rookie to start this series, following 2016 peers Anderson and Kyle Wright, a 2017 selection who was on the wrong side of the Dodgers’ 15-run inning in Game 3.
It does not matter. Wilson replicated Wright’s game plan and attacked the Dodgers, but masterfully commanded his throws. The rookie trio is now upon us to form the centerpiece of a World Series rotation.
“It means so much,” says Wilson, “especially us who come together in the minor leagues, it means we can do it together with the world.”
They are just starting. Kershaw might advise them to seize the moment, as the years pass quickly and the hill only gets steeper.