The Braves are hampered with injuries and, by all accounts, face an uphill climb to unseat the Dodgers in the National League.
But the biggest difference between last year’s Braves and this edition might be at third base. Josh Donaldson’s presence was felt Saturday, when he and Adam Duvall dispensed back-to-back homers in the sixth, guiding the Braves to a 4-3 win over the Dodgers.
And it wasn’t just the two sluggers. It was a total effort, from a lock-down bullpen to a few defensive gems to timely hitting. The win gave them a chance to take only their second series over Los Angeles in the last six years.
“This was a timely one,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Especially after yesterday. We’d lost a couple in a row against this team. They’re all big, they’re all good. It’s tough. But it gives us an opportunity to win a series tomorrow. That’s the big thing. You shake off a tough loss yesterday, win today and put yourself in position to win a series.”
Mike Foltynewicz and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who opposed each other in Game 1 of last year’s NLDS, rematched before a crowd of 43,619, the largest in SunTrust Park’s history. Foltynewicz persisted through 4-2/3 innings, holding the Dodgers to two runs despite requiring 107 pitches.
The heroics came from the oft-criticized relief core. The Braves bullpen held the Dodgers to one run the remainder of the night, limiting them to two hits. The ensemble included deadline acquisitions Shane Greene and Mark Melancon, who pitched a pair of scoreless frames in the eighth and ninth.
“Their stuff was really good,” Snitker said. “They’re settling in to what we expected.”
Greene is showing signs of recovering his form with Detroit, where he converted 22 of 25 saves and earned All-Star honors. He’s retired six consecutive hitters and struck out the side on Saturday.
Luke Jackson and Sean Newcomb, who was hit hard the night before, helped the Braves to the finish line. It was the exact performance the team needs from that unit against upper-echelon foes like the Dodgers.
The bullpen’s handiwork guarded a lead provided by Donaldson and Duvall. Both homered off Ryu in the sixth, an appropriate answer to the Dodgers’ home run frenzy on Friday. It was especially sweet for Duvall, who’d been optioned to Triple-A on Friday but returned when Ender Inciarte suffered a hamstring strain.
“That’s just the business we work in,” Duvall said. “You’re here one day, gone the next, you’re back. Just have to be ready. I faced Ryu in the past so I knew a game plan, so it wasn’t too hectic. I feel like I saw the ball well tonight. He doesn’t give you too much over the middle of the plate to hit. He’s one of the better pitchers around. But I thought we put together some good at-bats against him and scraped across enough runs to get by.”
The energy percolating through SunTrust Park was that of a postseason environment, Braves players said. Such was expected with the two best teams in the National League squaring off. But the crowd played a role in the Braves collecting their first win over Los Angeles in five tries, according to the team.
“It was wild and rightly so,” Snitker said. “There was a great atmosphere out there. This is a great place to play. There was a lot of energy here. Fans were into it. It was a good win.”
Foltynewicz added: “When you go out there a couple minutes before first pitch and there’s already 30, 40,000 people out there just sitting there waiting – especially when you walk up from the bullpen and all those seats are jam-packed – it’s a good feeling. We know we’ve got the best fans in baseball. It gets you a little pumped up but at the same time you have to control yourself because it can get you a little too fired up out there.”
Left-hander Max Fried, a Los Angeles area native, will face Tony Gonsolin, fresh up from Triple-A, on Sunday. Rookie Dustin May was initially slated to start but the Dodgers moved him to the bullpen, opening a spot for Gonsolin.