Opinion: For battered, once-mighty Dodgers, talk is cheap against Atlanta with season on brink
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers tried to say the right things Wednesday night.
They tried to sound optimistic.
They tried to convey hope that their season will stay alive.
Sorry, not a soul fell for the act.
The Dodgers won 106 games in the regular season, won the wild-card game against the St. Louis Cardinals in dramatic fashion and outlasted the San Francisco Giants in a grueling National League Division Series. But it will come to a screeching halt Thursday night at Dodger Stadium.
They know it.
You know it.
And Atlanta sure knows it.
The Dodgers, after suffering an embarrassing 9-2 loss Wednesday night to Atlanta in front of a subdued crowd of 53,025 at Dodger Stadium, are on the brink of elimination in the National League Championship Series, trailing Atlanta 3-1, and they aren’t coming back.
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Sure, they recovered from the same deficit a year ago to Atlanta, but that was playing in a bubble in Texas, not with Atlanta ace Max Fried on the mound in Game 5, with the series returning to Atlanta if there is a Game 6.
“I would love to go to Atlanta," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “You never want to have your back against the wall, but we have a very resilient team, a very tough team, and it's not going to get much tougher than facing Max Fried in an elimination game.
“But we've done it before. I really believe we're equipped to win [Thursday’s] ball game."
Well, we’re all equipped to win the lottery, stumble upon a treasure chest while walking along the beach and have Amazon founder Jeff Bezos feel guilty about his wealth and cut a $1 billion check out of the kindness of his heart, too.
The Dodgers may have a $270 million payroll — about $120 million more than Atlanta —but they aren’t equipped to play with the hottest team in baseball.
“We've been playing a .630, .640 win-percentage baseball," said first baseman Freddie Freeman, who has seven hits the last two games, including a double and homer on Wednesday night. “So, this isn't anything new to us. We've been a really good team for a really long time, so we've just been playing really good baseball lately."
The Braves have lost two games in the past two weeks, including Game 4 after Cody Bellinger’s miraculous three-run home run tied it in the bottom of the eighth inning. Their pitching staff is yielding only two-and-a-half runs a game. Their offense is averaging more than four runs per game.
And, oh, yeah, they have Fried on the mound for their clincher, the same guy who has posted a 1.55 ERA in his last 14 starts.
If the Dodgers can muster only four hits when Atlanta was pitching a bullpen game, with Jesse Chavez as the starter, what in the world do you think they’re going to possibly do against one of the finest pitchers in the game?
“I'm sure he's pumped about it," said Drew Smyly, Atlanta's winning pitcher. “I think Max lives for these type of games. He loves to take the ball and have the moment.
Said Roberts: “Fried isn't going to feel sorry for us. He's going to go for the jugular."
The Dodgers are not in good shape. They have starters who are being used as relievers, relievers being used as starters and All-Star position players who suddenly forgot to hit.
They were shut out twice in the NLDS, and they have scored two runs twice in four games of the NLCS.
“I don't have an answer," Roberts said. “Every time I write the lineup out I feel very good about our club and how we match up, and what we're going to do that particular night. It just hasn't been as consistent as anyone expected.
“I wish I had an answer, believe me, I do."
Certainly, the dynamic Turner duo (second baseman Trea and third baseman Justin) have played a significant factor in the offensive collapse. They’re hitting .154 this postseason with just one homer and two RBI.
Atlanta left fielder Eddie Rosario is hitting .467 himself with two homers and six RBI this series, after his 4-for-5, two-homer, four-RBI performance Wednesday. He became the first player in postseason history with two homers, a triple and a single in one game.
Now, one-half of the Turner duo is done for the season with Justin suffering a Grade 2 hamstring strain trying to beat out a double-play grounder. He will be officially placed on the injured list Thursday, Roberts said, making him ineligible even if the Dodgers miraculously found their way to the World Series.
The Dodgers resorted to a little psychological warfare after the game, reminding everyone about their history. They not only recovered from their 3-1 deficit to Atlanta a year ago, but have won six consecutive elimination games.
“No one needs to really tell anyone that we can do it," Dodgers outfielder A.J. Pollock said. “We've done it. We've been here. Obviously, we got to grind [Thursday], but we win, we're not in a bad spot.
“We got to regroup. We got to get after it. Anything can happen if we win [Thursday].’’
Sorry, but times are different.
They don’t have Clayton Kershaw, whose strained forearm sidelined him before the start of the playoffs.
They don't have All-Star first baseman Max Muncy, who dislocated his elbow on the last day of the regular season.
They don’t have $102 million man Trevor Bauer, who is on indefinite administrative leave for sexual assault allegations.
They don’t have Justin Turner.
They don’t have a healthy three-time Cy Young winner in Max Scherzer, who revealed after his last start that he has a dead arm.
They don’t have a fresh Walker Buehler, whose velocity has diminished the past few starts.
And they don’t have the same 20-game winner in Julio Urias, who has pitched four times in the last 12 days, and gave up three homers to the first 11 batters he faced Wednesday.
Urias refused to make excuses or say that he’s fatigued, believing his woes are simply a matter of Atlanta’s offensive prowess.
“I felt like I gave it 100% of everything I could do and it just didn't work out," Urias said. “Obviously they're playing with a lot of confidence. We have another game. We have a great team here. And we have a great opportunity to do something special."
It’s just not going to happen this year.
This is Atlanta’s time, and now that they’ve grasped this opportunity to reach the World Series for the first time since 1999, they’re not about to let go.
A new World Series champion is coming.
The Dodgers can only helplessly watch.
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