The last time the Braves took the field in Los Angeles, they lost Game 2 of the National League Division Series, eventually getting eliminated in five games.
Monday’s return didn’t go much better. The Dodgers pounced on the Braves early, scoring in each of the first three innings and closing it out, 5-3. After sweeping Miami, the Braves’ bats were largely ineffective against Walker Buehler while their own starter couldn’t contain one of the league’s best offenses.
It began with Kevin Gausman, who hasn’t looked like the same pitcher he was upon joining the Braves last July. He started the game despite receiving a five-game suspension earlier in the day due to throwing at Marlins starter Jose Urena. Gausman appealed MLB’s decision, allowing him to go Monday.
He allowed five runs (three earned) in 4-1/3 innings. He allowed seven hits and walked four in the lackluster evening.
“It seemed like wherever the pitch was, that’s the direction they hit it,” Gausman said. “They did a really good job of staying in on fastballs in. Fastballs away, they hit them the opposite way. It was a little sporadic with the zone too, so I just wasn’t very good tonight. I got beat. I threw a lot of really good pitches but too many walks, too many guys on base.”
The Dodgers struck in each of the first two innings. They plated two in the third thanks to Justin Turner’s double and two walks, which set up Chris Taylor’s RBI-single and Alex Verdugo’s sacrifice fly.
Following a perfect fourth, Gausman again couldn’t hit his mark. Corey Seager singled, Max Muncy walked and Taylor doubled, ending the righty’s forgettable night.
“It’s hard to walk guys against a lineup like this,” manager Brian Snitker said. “You can’t give them free outs. It’s way too dangerous.”
Buehler, meanwhile, carved the Braves up – a distant showing from their last meeting, when Ronald Acuna hit his famed grand slam off Buehler in Game 3. Instead it was the Vanderbilt product who had the last laugh this time, striking out seven Braves through three frames and maintaining control throughout the night.
“He didn’t leave anything over the middle of the plate,” Snitker said. “He was just hitting spots. That was really, really good. Really good. We hit some balls hard. We just couldn’t find the gap. But he was tough.”
The Braves showed some life against Buehler in the later innings. Freddie Freeman hit his seventh homer, a two-run shot in the sixth, with Nick Markakis adding a solo blast in the seventh to pull the Braves within 5-3. They couldn’t even the tally against Pedro Baez and Julio Urias.
Gausman, who’s usually pitched better in second halves, outperformed expectations after the Braves bought low on him at last season’s trade deadline. The right-hander made 10 starts, posting a 2.87 ERA with a 44:18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 59-2/3 innings.
Despite Max Fried and Mike Soroka displaying immense promise, the Braves’ rotation looks a bit feebler when Gausman struggles. The team is banking on him as a middle-of-the-staff innings eater, but his inefficiencies thus far — a 5.00 ERA with a walk rate trending upwards – is a bad sign for even fourth-or-fifth starter expectations.
Among the few positives was Sean Newcomb, who pitched two scoreless innings out of the bullpen. He was on the attack and didn’t issue any walks. It was his first appearance since returning from Triple-A, where the Braves optioned him to work on his command.
“I think I got into a zone personally these last few weeks and I just kept it rolling,” said Newcomb, who added he’s happy as a starter or reliever. “I was able to be aggressive with the first guy, get into a groove and keep it going.”
Fried starts for the Braves on Tuesday, taking the mound against his hometown team. Hyun-Jin Ryu, who pitched seven scoreless against the Braves last postseason, will start for Los Angeles.
The Braves are 6-19 in their last 25 games at Dodger Stadium, dating back to 2013. That includes four postseason losses.
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