LOS ANGELES – The National League Championship Series is headed back to Atlanta, where the Braves need one win to secure a World Series spot - and avoid the same outcome as last season.

ExploreMichael Cunningham: The Dodgers strike back

The Braves couldn’t close the series in Los Angeles, losing Game 5 to the Dodgers 11-2 on Thursday. The Braves maintain a 3-2 advantage in the NLCS and will try to close it Saturday. If they can’t, they’ll host a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday.

“We got to win one of two games,” manager Brian Snitker said. “If we can’t, then we don’t deserve to (advance). But I like our chances. We have two starting pitchers that are well rested (Ian Anderson and Charlie Morton), so this is what this NLCS is about. There’s two really good ball clubs and you have to play, you have to execute and everything in order to get out of this. So I like where we’re at.”

Most of the series has favored the Braves. Before Thursday, they dominated, losing only one game, on an eighth-inning rally. This one was a clunker. The Braves took a first-inning lead when first baseman Freddie Freeman launched a two-run homer off Dodgers opener Joe Kelly, but it unraveled from there.

The Dodgers took the lead an inning later. AJ Pollock belted a solo shot off Braves ace Max Fried. Chris Taylor’s two-run blast put the home team ahead. Los Angeles added its fourth run in the third with a trio of singles off Fried.

Fried was far from sharp, giving up four runs on eight hits in 4-2/3 innings. He walked two and surrendered two homers, both on pitches left over the middle. Snitker removed Fried after he issued a two-out walk to Albert Pujols in the fifth, which marked the third time Pujols reached base against the southpaw.

“Physically, I felt great,” Fried said. “Just a really good aggressive lineup, hit some pitches over the middle. I wasn’t executing on the corners like I normally do and when you leave the balls over the middle, normally damage happens.”

Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman walks off of the field after grounding out during the ninth inning. Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com
Caption
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman walks off of the field after grounding out during the ninth inning. Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Veteran Chris Martin followed Fried and surrendered a homer to Taylor. The Dodgers scored 11 consecutive runs after Freeman’s blast. Their offense produced 10 hits over the first five innings after having four hits total against the Braves’ bullpen game Wednesday. They had 17 hits overall.

The game was thrown off by Fried’s struggles. Snitker hoped the lefty could cover seven innings on the heels of the Braves’ bullpen game Wednesday. Instead, the Braves fell into a hole that led Snitker to rest his key relievers. The Dodgers scored five runs off Dylan Lee and Jacob Webb, who wouldn’t be used in a more competitive game.

“When we got behind, I wasn’t going to pitch those other guys,” Snitker said. “We rode them really hard to get to where we’re at in this series and probably if we were one run down, I wasn’t going to fire up any of those guys that we’ve been using until we tied the score because we have been using them a lot. We need other - that’s why we have 26 guys, because we need everybody to play a part.”

Like outfielder Eddie Rosario’s herculean effort in Game 4, Taylor was remarkable in Game 5. His four-hit night included three homers, the last of which came off lefty Dylan Lee, who covered two innings for the Braves. Taylor and Pollock combined for five homers and 10 RBIs.

Per MLB statistician Sarah Langs: Taylor’s 13 total bases are the most by a player in an elimination game in postseason history. The previous high was 11, achieved by John Valentin in 1999.

Dodgers 11, Braves 2 (box score)

After Freeman’s home run, the Braves managed just three more hits, two of which came from Rosario. Dodgers reliever Brusdar Graterol required 14 pitches to record six outs in the middle of the contest. The Braves struck out nine times and didn’t draw a walk against seven Dodgers pitchers. Kelly left in the first inning with a biceps strain and will miss the remainder of the postseason, hurting the Dodgers’ bullpen moving forward.

Rosario’s two hits gave him 12 in the series, putting him two shy of Pujols’ record set in 2004. His 12 hits are tied for seventh-most all-time in any postseason series.

Slugger Jorge Soler was activated from the COVID-19 list before the game. He pinch hit in the eighth inning, striking out against Corey Knebel. Soler had been out since Game 4 of the NL Division Series.

While the Braves squandered their 3-1 advantage over the Dodgers during the 2020 NLCS, one of many distinct differences this time: The Braves will be playing at home for Game 6 and - if it reaches that point - Game 7. The Braves earned home-field advantage as a division champion, despite their 88 wins falling well short of the Dodgers’ 106 victories. The Giants won the NL West with 107 wins.

The homefield element looms large now. The Braves and Dodgers will play Game 6 on Saturday at Truist Park, where the Braves won Games 1 and 2. The Braves will have two chances to prevent another blown opportunity in Atlanta sports, a talking point of which the players are aware and want to silence. The last team to drop consecutive home games to lose a series it once led 3-1 was the 2016 Indians, who lost the World Series to the Cubs.

“It’s going to be the narrative it seems because every day it’s brought up the last couple days,” Freeman said. “So I don’t think we have a choice until we kill that narrative. We’re up 3-2 and we’re going home. That’s a great position to be in.”

In Game 6, Anderson will start against Dodgers co-ace Max Scherzer, who will be fully rested after having to carry a heavier load throughout the postseason. If a Game 7 is needed, it will be Charlie Morton vs. Walker Buehler on Sunday.

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