5 takeaways after Braves build 2-0 NLCS lead over Dodgers

Braves leftfielder Eddie Rosario hits the walk-off single that scored shortstop Dansby Swanson in the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. The Braves won 5-4 to take a 2-0 series lead. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Braves leftfielder Eddie Rosario hits the walk-off single that scored shortstop Dansby Swanson in the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. The Braves won 5-4 to take a 2-0 series lead. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

The Braves walked off the Dodgers for the second consecutive night Sunday 5-4 to take a 2-0 lead in the National League Championship Series. The NLCS now shifts to Los Angeles, where the pressure is fully on the Dodgers as the Braves sit two victories away from the NL pennant.

Since MLB adopted the best-of-seven format in 1985, the team that wins Game 2 of the NLCS has advanced to the World Series 22 times in 35 series (63%).

Here are five takeaways from Sunday:

1. Third baseman Austin Riley had the walk-off hit in Game 1. Outfielder Eddie Rosario was the star of Game 2, smoking a ball that bounced off infielder Corey Seager’s glove and into the outfield, allowing baserunner Dansby Swanson to score the game-ending run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

Rosario, bumped into the leadoff spot due to Jorge Soler’s absence, had four hits. In the eighth, Rosario scored the Braves’ third run with a slick slide a home.

“I did a good job on the slide,” he said. “I did a really good job.”

Even going back to Game 1, Rosario singled, stole second, advanced then scored on a wild pitch. He’s impacted the series in a variety of ways.

Braves leftfielder Eddie Rosario slides into home plate to score a run ahead of the tag by Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Will Smith during the eighth inning of Game 2 of the NLCS Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

2. The Braves’ defining trait in recent seasons is their resiliency. They’ve shown it in the NLCS, rallying for two unlikely win against the giant of all giants. The Dodgers have the most talent, the highest payroll and a brain trust that’s rarely outclassed. The Braves have bested them in every category on back-to-back nights.

Braves starter Ian Anderson lasted only three innings. The Braves had to audible, as manager Brian Snitker explained, and rely heavily on their bullpen. It worked beautifully: The group surrendered just one hit in six innings.

“We just had to start audibling and looking, kind of fast-forwarding matchup-type scenarios that we had talked about prior to the game,” Snitker said. “Everything got pushed up about three innings, quite honestly. And the guys did a great job of handing the ball off to each other.”

3. “Joctober” worked against the Dodgers for the first time Sunday. Outfielder Joc Pederson, who spent seven years with Los Angeles and was part of the Dodgers club that upended the Braves a year ago, smacked a mammoth 454-foot homer off Dodgers starter Max Scherzer in the fourth inning to erase a two-run deficit.

It was Pederson’s third homer of the postseason. He and Rosario, two of the team’s July newcomers, combined for five hits, three RBIs and two runs scored. Pederson has homered in four consecutive postseason series.

“We got big hits,” Snitker said. “I mean, all of them, (Rosario), Joc, Austin (Riley, who doubled home the tying run in the eighth). That’s what it takes to win these games, and I mean, they’re hard games to win.”

Braves rightfielder Joc Pederson celebrates hitting a two-run home run with teammate Austin Riley (27)  during the fourth inning of Game 2 of the NLCS Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

4. The Braves have made life miserable for a Dodgers offense that’s left a lot on the field. The Dodgers are 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position in two games. The Braves are 3-for-8 in those situations.

While they’re up 2-0, it’s not as though the Braves have played flawlessly. Perhaps that’s the most encouraging aspect of the past two nights. The Braves haven’t hit their stride, yet they maintained homefield advantage and need just two wins in five more chances to advance.

“I think just the momentum that we’ve built,” Riley said when asked how this 2-0 lead differs from the one the Braves held a year ago in the NLCS. “We were up on them 2-0 last year, so it’s like one of those things where you can’t stop now, you got to continue to apply the pressure and come out every day and get after it.”

5. It’s been an unbelievably poor series for Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman thus far. He struck out in his first seven at-bats, tying a career high, and is 0-for-8. Freeman’s last hit was his homer that pushed the Braves past the Brewers in the NL Division Series.

Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman reacts after striking out in the third inning of Game 2 of the NLCS Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

Yet the Braves have won both games, another reason for optimism as they board the four-hour flight to the Tinseltown. Freeman likely won’t slump for the entirety of the NLCS.

“I think that we still have so much respect for him and he can get hot at any moment,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I think we’ve done a great job of containing him, but some other guys we’ve got to sort of figure out.”

Stat to know

2 (The Dodgers started 2-for-2 in building a two-run lead in the first inning. They had only two more hits the remainder of the game.)

Quotable

“It’s a new person every day and that’s what makes it special.” – Pederson on the Braves’ knack for comebacks

Up next

The series shifts to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Tuesday. The Braves can bury the Dodgers in a near insurmountable hole with a victory – only once has a team overcome an 0-3 deficit (Red Sox, 2004) to win a best-of-seven series. The Braves will start battle-tested veteran Charlie Morton against Dodgers righty Walker Buehler.

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