The Atlanta Braves have made history this postseason, and not the good kind. Atlanta was shut out in Game 1 (LAD 6, ATL 0) and Game 2 (LAD 3, ATL 0) of the NLDS by the Dodgers, becoming only the second team in history to be shut out in the first two games of a postseason series. The Giants were shut out in Games 1 and 2 of the 1921 World Series by the Yankees.
The good news? The Giants came back to win that 1921 World Series. Not all hope is lost, Braves fans! The bad news? That was a best-of-nine series, so the Giants had plenty of time to come back. The 2018 Braves aren’t so lucky. The NLDS is a best-of-five series. One more loss, shutout or otherwise, and the Braves are going home.
Seventy-eight times in MLB history a team has fallen behind 2-0 in a best-of-five postseason series. Forty-six of those 78 series ended in a sweep. Only 10 of those 78 teams came back from down 2-0 to win the series. The most recent? The 2017 Yankees. They came back from down 2-0 to beat the Indians in last year’s ALDS.
The Braves are facing an uphill battle, undoubtedly, but the series isn’t over yet. The NLDS shifts to SunTrust Park for Game 3 on Sunday, so Atlanta will have their home crowd behind them.
There are three things the Braves must do to have a shot at coming back against the Dodgers in the NLDS.
1. Get a dominant start in Game 3
As noted by Alex Speier of the Boston Globe last year, just about every team that has come back from down 2-0 to win a best-of-five postseason series received a dominant start in Game 3. Not a good start, a dominant start. That includes the Yankees last year. Masahiro Tanaka went out and fired seven shutout innings in New York’s 1-0 win in Game 3 against the Indians.
The Braves have not yet officially announced their Game 3 starter but it is expected to be right-hander Kevin Gausman. “If everything goes where it is, he’ll be the Game 3 starter,” said manager Brian Snitker prior to Game 2, referring to whether Gausman could be used in relief Saturday. He did not pitch in Game 2. Gausman should get the ball in Game 3 on Sunday.
After joining the Braves at the trade deadline, Gausman made 10 starts and threw 59 2/3 innings with a 2.87 ERA (142 ERA+). Six times in those 10 starts Gausman allowed no more than two earned runs. The potential for dominance is there.
The Dodgers are no walk in the park. They’re a great team with a powerful offense. Winning the World Series — winning a postseason series — is not easy though. You have to beat good teams, and for the Braves to make the NLDS interesting, Gausman will need to come out with a strong start in Game 3.
2. Show some patience
One number from the first two games of the NLDS really sticks out: 0. That’s the number of walks the Braves have drawn. Zero. Not one. They’ve struck out 15 times in the two games, which is not a crazy high amount, but zero walks? Hard to win like that.
For what it’s worth, the Braves were one of the least patient teams in baseball during the regular season. Freddie Freeman is a stud who will take his walks. The rest of the team? Not really. Here are Atlanta’s regular season numbers:
- Walk rate: 8.2 percent (10th lowest in MLB)
- Chase rate: 32.3 percent (third highest)
- Pitches per plate appearance: 3.83 (fifth lowest)
Hyun-Jin Ryu and especially Clayton Kershaw thrive by getting hitters to chase out of the strike zone. They get a lot of swings and misses and a lot of weak contact that way. The Braves fell into the trap in Games 1 and 2 and, well, that’s how you get shut out in back-to-back postseason games.
It’s not easy, but more discipline at the plate is imperative. It’s not just taking walks either. It’s about getting into favorable counts and getting a pitch to drive. Walks are a byproduct of plate discipline, not the endgame.
3. Get a little lucky
The Braves need a break. They need a ball to bloop in just fair, a borderline 3-2 pitch to go their way, someone on the Dodgers to boot a ground ball or throw a ball into the stands. Something like that. They need a lucky break.
Beating the Dodgers talent vs. talent is tough enough as it is. Coming back from down 2-0 against that roster is going to require some luck. And, when the Braves get that break, they have to capitalize. Wasting opportunities is no way to win in October.
I suppose the good news is the Braves can only go up from here. It can’t get any worse than getting shut out in back-to-back postseason games, right? Gausman has to set the tone in Game 3. He has to shut the Dodgers down and give the offense a chance to finally get on the board. More plate discipline is required and, at some point, a lucky break would be welcome. The Braves need all the help they can get right now.