LOS ANGELES — This is baseball, right? It’s not an early September non-conference football game featuring Alabama and Nowhere Tech. It’s the big leagues and one thing we know about this sport is that from the perspective of a single game or two, there is no such thing as an upset. It takes dozens and dozens of games to really know the true difference between teams.
Nevertheless, it very much feels like the Los Angeles Dodgers are playing Alabama to the Atlanta Braves‘ Nowhere Tech. It’s not just that after two games of their National League Division Series the Braves remain scoreless. It’s not that the Dodgers have outscored them 9-0 after Friday’s 3-0 victory in Game 2. It’s not that the Dodgers have hit 1,999 feet of home runs in two nights to Atlanta’s zero. No, what it feels like is that hitter for hitter and pitcher for pitcher, this series is an utter mismatch.
“You know, it’s just not one guy,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said after Game 2. “It’s a complete team thing right now, as far as the lack of offense. You can’t blame any one person. I mean it’s just our whole lineup is having a hard time, struggling offensively right now.”
This is what happens when a team doesn’t hit. It creates an illusion of a mismatch, an exaggeration that the gap between two teams is greater than it really is. Both Dodgers starting pitchers in the series — Hyun-Jin Ryu on Thursday and Clayton Kershaw on Friday — carved up Atlanta’s lineup in a fashion that looked effortless, though we know that plenty of effort was being expended.
“Like I say, collectively we’re not swinging the bats well, and on top of that we faced two guys that they just didn’t miss,” Snitker said. “They didn’t miss. They didn’t miss locations. They didn’t make any mistakes for two games, for 18 innings. It was two guys that were about as pinpoint as you could be.”
It’s a fair point, but teams have gone up against hot starters in the postseason many times over the years, even teams that had more than one hot pitcher going at once. But no team has done what the Braves have done — or not done, might be the better way to put it — the past two nights. Well one team has: According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Atlanta became the second team to start a postseason series on the wrong end of back-to-back shutouts. The other was the 1921 New York Giants.
L.A.’s domination of the Braves’ offense has been thorough. Atlanta has struck out 15 times in the series and drawn zero walks. The Braves didn’t get a batter past second base in Game 1. They at least got two baserunners to third in Game 2. Sort of — Ronald Acuna Jr. provided Atlanta’s offensive highlight of the series by doubling into the left-center-field gap on Kershaw’s first pitch of the night. He was stranded at third when Kershaw dropped a 1-2 hook that froze Nick Markakis in his tracks.
The Braves’ other runner to reach third did so in the ninth against closer Kenley Jansen. They’ll probably leave that sequence out of the Braves’ season highlight reel. Acuna lined a sharp single to reach base, then reached third on back-to-back defensive indifference plays. You don’t see that every day. Anyway, Friday’s shutout marked the seventh straight game in which the Braves have scored zero or one run.
On the other side of the ledger, all that Dodgers home run mileage has come on five bombs. They’ve drawn 12 walks. They’ve scored first-inning runs both nights, so L.A. has had the lead at the end of all 18 innings in the series. You can see why the Alabama vs. Nowhere Tech mismatches come to mind.
But, again, this is baseball. You’re only as good as your next starter, right? Well, for Atlanta, that too is a problem. The Braves will have righty Kevin Gausman on the hill, and he has been terrific since Atlanta acquired him midseason from Baltimore. The Braves will get a boost from the home crown at SunTrust Park. One win, and it starts to get better.
However, the Dodgers will be sending Walker Buehler to the mound against Gausman. The scary thing for the rest of the teams in the postseason, much less the Braves, is that as good as Ryu and Kershaw have been, Buehler may be the Dodgers’ ace right now. Plus, as a power righty with a ridiculously diverse repertoire, it’s not like the Braves can take forward many lessons from the first two games and apply them to Buehler.
“Obviously, Kershaw was unbelievable tonight and kind of vintage Clayton,” Buehler said. “But at the same time, we throw with different hands, and we throw a little bit different. He’s awesome to watch, but there’s not a whole lot that I really take from him or Ryu, just because the differences are pretty stark.”
The series is not over. It’s baseball. One game does not bleed into the next. Talent levels vary from team to team, but the better team loses a lot of the time. It’s one of the great things about the game. Nevertheless, when you step back and look, player by player, at where the Dodgers’ stars have been, and weigh it against where the Braves’ young standouts might be going, the present looks awfully tilted toward the Pacific Ocean.
If that’s the way this all ends up, then perhaps what we’re watching is a kind of final lesson for the emergent Braves organization. In other words, the Dodgers are showing the Braves what they want to be when they grow up.
One win, just one good night, could flip this narrative. It happens all the time in the postseason, where a series looks lopsided right up until it doesn’t. But the Braves aren’t just seeking their first win. They are seeking their first run, and the potential ignominy of becoming the first club to ever go scoreless in a postseason series.
If Atlanta is going to turn this around, they’ll do so with the same players who have been flailing for more than a week. One of the chief differences between the Dodgers and Braves is depth, as in Atlanta has none. There are no magic levers for Snitker to pull.
“I’ll probably move some guys around,” Snitker said. “But the same guys are going to be out there. I mean, again, we are what we are. And we’re a pretty set lineup because we’re not deep on our bench. We haven’t been all year.”
Then, sitting at the podium after the game, Snitker seemed to change his mind midstream, realizing just how limited his options really are.
“So we just gotta hope that — you know, and I don’t know that moving guys around, giving them different looks in the lineup when you’re swinging the bats like we are, is even the answer. But we’ll try something a little different on Sunday.”