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Dodgers Get New Life in Uphill NLCS Battle with Season-Saving Game 5 Win

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Los Angeles Dodgers' Corey Seager celebrates his two-run home run against the Atlanta Braves during the seventh inning in Game 5 of a baseball National League Championship Series Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Eric Gay/Associated Press

There will be a Game 6 in the National League Championship Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers ensured it with a 7-3 win over Atlanta in Game 5 that was powered by one likely hero and one less likely hero.

The former was star shortstop Corey Seager, who cranked two home runs and drove in three. The latter was young catcher Will Smith, whose three-run homer off Atlanta left-hander Will Smith (plenty of intrigue, but no relation) in the sixth inning shifted the tide in Los Angeles’ favor.

Atlanta still has a 3-2 lead in the series, which will continue on Saturday afternoon at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

The Dodgers, though, can hope that their triumph in Friday’s Game 5 will give them the momentum they need to complete a comeback and return to the World Series.

Notable Players of the Game

Three for the Dodgers:

  • C Will Smith: 1-for-4, HR, 3 RBI. According to FanGraphs, his go-ahead blast off Smith lowered Atlanta’s win probability from 66.7 to 25.9 percent. And yes, it was the first-ever matchup between a hitter and pitcher with the same name in MLB playoff history.
  • SS Corey Seager: 2-for-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI. His first homer got the Dodgers on the board, while his second broke the game open. He now has four home runs and 10 RBI for the NLCS, the latter of which is already a club record for a single postseason series.
  • RF Mookie Betts: 2-for-4, 1 RBI. Betts had as many hits in Game 5 as he’d had in the first four games of the series combined. More importantly, he snuffed out a third-inning rally with a nifty shoestring catch.

Three for Atlanta:

  • LHP A.J. Minter: 3.0 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 7 K. They may not have mattered in the end, but those are darn impressive numbers for a career reliever who became the first pitcher to ever make his debut as a starter in a playoff game.
  • LHP Will Smith: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 R. Before he lost a literal battle of Wills, he ruined a perfectly good left-on-left matchup by walking Max Muncy upon entering with two outs in the third.
  • DH Marcell Ozuna1-for-3, 1 BB. After homering twice and driving in four in Game 4, Ozuna hurt his team in Game 5 by leaving third base early and getting called out upon review after Betts made his nifty catch.

Where the NLCS Stands

– Atlanta leads 3-2, with the series set to resume with Game 6 at Globe Life Field on Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for 4:38 p.m. ET.

– After starting for the Dodgers and Atlanta, respectively, in Game 1 on Monday, right-hander Walker Buehler and left-hander Max Fried are slated to start Game 6 on regular rest.

– If the Dodgers force a Game 7, it will be played Sunday.

The Dodgers Have New Life, But Not Necessarily Momentum

After winning 43 of 60 games during the regular season, it would have been shocking to see the Dodgers bow out in only five games in the National League Championship Series.

From this perspective, the Dodgers at least managed to dignify their involvement in the NLCS by winning Game 5. Now they just have to hope that the momentum that didn’t materialize after their big win in Game 3 will actually show up this time around.

The Dodgers can and should have renewed confidence in their offense. It led MLB in scoring and home runs during the regular season and has thus far put up 32 runs to Atlanta’s 29 in the NLCS.

Seager has obviously been the big star, but it’s telling that Smith became the seventh different Dodger to go deep in the series when he took his fellow Smith yard Friday.

MLB @MLB

Will Smith vs. Will Smith.

Advantage, Will Smith. 😱 https://t.co/RxjuhY5hek

For his part, it wasn’t Buehler’s fault that the Dodgers lost Game 1. He walked five batters yet allowed only three hits and one run in five innings. The Dodgers will gladly take more of that in Game 6.

In the event that the Dodgers indeed earn a win and even the series, it’ll be all hands on deck for Game 7. Though Tony Gonsolin would likely start, veteran ace Clayton Kershaw could get a shot at redemption following his latest October misadventure in Game 4.

Here’s the thing, though: Even as good as it looks, the Dodgers’ path forward actually looks less inviting than the one that was in front of them after Game 3.

They rode an 11-run first inning to a 15-3 win in that one, which followed a seven-run outburst in the last three innings of Game 2. Between their offensive surge and a seemingly lopsided pitching matchup—Kershaw vs. Bryse Wilson—for Game 4, the Dodgers seemed well on their way to erasing Atlanta’s initial 2-0 advantage in the series.

Instead, Wilson came through with six outstanding innings, and Atlanta’s offense took it from there in a 10-2 blowout. So much for Los Angeles’ apparent momentum.

With Fried on the mound for Game 6, Atlanta stands a good chance of once again thwarting the Dodgers’ attempt at a comeback. The ace lefty pitched to a 2.25 ERA in the regular season, and his six one-run innings in Game 1 lowered his ERA for the postseason to 2.65.

In spite of their deficit in the run column, there’s also little question at this point that Atlanta’s bats can hang with those of the Dodgers.

Atlanta ranked second to the Dodgers in both runs and homers in the regular season and has generally had the more consistent offense of the two clubs in the NLCS. To wit, the Dodgers have scored only 10 runs outside of the last three innings of Game 2 and the first three innings of Game 3.

Should Atlanta fail to close out the series Saturday, it’ll still arguably be in better shape than the Dodgers for Game 7. After all, the prospect of starting young right-hander Ian Anderson—who has yet to be scored on in three playoff starts—sounds better than the Dodgers’ presumed “Johnny Wholestaff” plan.

There’s a lot on the line for both teams. Atlanta hasn’t been to the World Series since 1999. The Dodgers were there in 2017 and 2018, but the club’s last actual championship was all the way back in 1988.

But regardless of who wants it more, this series will ultimately be decided by the same thing that decides every playoff series: Whoever plays better baseball.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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