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Braves must do 3 things to stay alive in NLDS

ATLANTA — The Braves know the situation.

Their offense has been shut out in the first two games of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers, and the club has scored just one run in the past 36 innings dating back to the regular season.


View Full Game Coverage

ATLANTA — The Braves know the situation.

Their offense has been shut out in the first two games of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers, and the club has scored just one run in the past 36 innings dating back to the regular season.


View Full Game Coverage

NLDS presented by Doosan, Game 3: Tonight, 8:07 p.m. ET/5:07 PT on FS1

One more loss means the start of the offseason. It’s a daunting task to win three in a row against the Dodgers, but that’s why they play the games.

:: NLDS schedule and results ::

Aside from a change or two to the lineup, and using Sean Newcomb for Game 3 tonight instead of Kevin Gausman, the Braves are sticking with the formula that propelled them to this point.

As Atlanta manager Brian Snikter has repeated this week, “We are who we are.”

But there are things the Braves have done all season and can do better in Game 3 if they want to extend the series two more games and make it back to Los Angeles for Game 5.

Here are the three things Atlanta has to do in order to extend the series:

Score, and score first
Sounds simple, right? It isn’t. Dodgers starters Hyun-Jin Ryu and Clayton Kershaw shut down the Atlanta offense in the first two games to set the tone for the series, but maybe there would have been a different outcome in Game 2 if the Braves had capitalized on Ronald Acuna Jr.‘s double to lead off the game Friday. It definitely would have relieved some of the pressure on the young club.

Atlanta went 63-23 when it scored first during the regular season. Overall, the teams that scored first won 67 percent of the time during the regular season. The trend has continued into this postseason, where teams that have scored first are 8-0.

“We just want to score,” Snikter said. “I mean, I think if we could come out early and put something on the board, it would be a big lift for all of us.”

Expect Ender Inciarte to hit second in the lineup behind Acuna and in front of Freddie Freeman to add more speed to the top of the lineup and generate early scoring opportunities.

Video: ATL@LAD Gm2: Acuna lines a leadoff double off Kershaw

Find a way to utilize Gausman
There was some talk Gausman would start Game 2 in Los Angeles before the club chose to go with Anibal Sanchez. Then, Gausman was tentatively scheduled to start Game 3.

Now, it appears his biggest contribution to the series will come in relief. And the right-hander could prove to be a real weapon out of the bullpen.

Here’s why: It’s a small sample size, but Gausman retired Max Muncy all three times he has faced him, limited Justin Turner to one hit in three at-bats and David Freese to two hits in eight tries. Brian Dozier has five hits, including a home run, in 22 at-bats, but most of Dodgers have not faced Gausman, and that unfamiliarity could work in his favor.

He has the ability to pitch in short spurts or provide the Braves length if needed. He’s also well-rested, having not pitched since the last game of the season Sept. 30 against the Phillies, and at this point of the series, it’s all-hands-on-deck.

Adjust on the fly
The Braves entered Friday’s matchup against Kershaw with an aggressive approach, as four of the first seven batters of the game swung at the first pitch. They targeted his fastballs, and the left-hander served up breaking balls to keep them off-balance.

Atlanta could take a similar approach against Dodgers Game 3 starter Walker Buehler, especially considering the rookie throws a first-pitch strike 63.6 percent of the time. It will also be important for the offense to adjust if or when Buehler does. Buehler throws his four-seam fastball 40 percent of the time and his two-seamer 20 percent of time, but he’s not afraid to change it up. In fact, he used his changeup 15.5 percent of the time during a start against the Braves in June, and 17.1 percent against the Cubs later in the month.

The usage is notable, especially when you consider he threw changeups only 3.8 percent of the time in 2018. His slider accounted for 16.5 percent of his pitches.

Video: Braves struggling to score against Dodgers in NLDS

A patient approach against the right-hander could prove valuable, especially when the goal is to work his pitch count and get to a Dodgers bullpen that is well-rested but sometimes vulnerable.

As much as anything, though, the Braves must be aware. If Buehler pounds the zone early in counts, they would be wise to remain aggressive. If, like Kershaw, Buehler adjusts his plan to take advantage of that aggressiveness, they must respond to that appropriately.

Pay close attention to Freeman and Ozzie Albies, who swing at 47.8 percent and 45.3 percent of first pitches, respectively. How they approach Buehler could give some insight into the game plan against him. It’s also worth noting how Buehler will harness the adrenaline of his first postseason start, and if it will impact his command in the strike zone.

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.



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