ATLANTA – Clayton Kershaw has allowed more runs than he had in his previous 14 starts against Atlanta and Ozzie Albies extended his streak of extra hits in a timely manner. But it was the work of a more than capable reliever box that proved to be the most encouraging development in the Braves’ 6-4 win over the Dodgers on Saturday night at Truist Park.
A Braves box, which has gone from strength to handicap since last season, provided four scoreless innings after Charlie Morton managed to limit damage over five innings. Solid relief work supported the two-point doubles Albies and Dansby Swanson netted a five-point third against Kershaw.
“We know what’s in us and we showed it tonight which was fun,” said Will Smith, closest to the Braves.
Kershaw’s struggles in the third period saw Atlanta beat Los Angeles for the first time since losing a 3-1 lead in last year’s National League Championship series.
As the Dodgers have recovered from faltering for a few weeks this season, the Braves have struggled to start and their enclosure has played a key role in the squad’s inconsistencies. This victory improves them to 23-5 as they lead after six innings. They were 27-0 in such games last year and 76-6 in the 2019 season.
Unlike the past two seasons, no lead has felt secure. But after Friday’s horrific loss to open the series, the Braves saw the potential of their reliever box, as AJ Minter, Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek, Chris Martin and Smith combined to allow only only one hit in the last four innings.
“This is baseball we have grown used to,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker. “They all passed on and did a really good job.”
Albies ‘brace gave him an extra hit in five straight games and, more importantly, sparked the uprising that overcame the Dodgers’ fourth of three runs against Morton. But the last four innings are what mattered most for a team that came on Saturday with a National League top of 14 losses and eight missed saves.
“I feel like we have a good team in the clubhouse,” Morton said. “I feel like the guys are supporting each other. So it’s been really frustrating to see guys wrestling that way. It really comes down to just keeping on grinding and trying to gain momentum, because I know it’s going to come. I just hope sooner rather than later.
Here’s a look at how the Braves’ paddock did it.
Sixth round: A one-point lead was given to Minter, who was pitching for the first time since Yan Gomes surrendered the home run in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s loss to the Nationals. The left-hander encountered some brief rough spots. But as he ended that appearance with consecutive strikeouts from Albert Pujols and Austin Barnes, he looked more like the guy who recorded seven strikeouts in three innings against the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLCS of the last year.
“A night like tonight can start that fire and get the boys rolling,” Jackson said.
Seventh round: Jackson rebounded from last year’s ugly season to post a 1.25 ERA in his first 24 appearances. Jackson might have pulled off a perfect seventh place if Austin Riley hadn’t sloppy a Mookie Betts ground player. He was replaced by Matzek, who was brought in to face left-handed slugger Cody Bellinger. Matzek walked Bellinger, but then only needed three pitches to take out right-hitter Chris Taylor.
Matzek didn’t pitch as effectively as last year. But Snitker is hoping the outing will prove to be a boost for the southpaw, whose strikeout rate at least mirrored the 35.5% he produced last year.
“[Matzek] was never a match guy last year, ”Snitker said. “His business is a two-way street and it is alive. His command was not the greatest and so on. But the guy never gives in and that was great. It should be a bullet in the arm for him.
Eighth round: After Abraham Almonte created a two-run lead with a home run from Blake Treinen, Martin hit AJ Pollock to open the eighth, then put out the next three hitters. Martin missed most of the first month of the season with a shoulder problem. But he is again a key part of a reliever pen that Shane Greene could add in the coming days.
Ninth round: Smith capped the reliever box’s best team effort of the season with his most dominant performance of the year. The closest southpaw only needed 14 shots to take out Los Angeles’ Will Smith, Betts and Justin Turner in a perfect ninth.
The Smith vs. Smith game was the first since the Dodgers wide receiver hit the home run in the sixth inning of last year’s NLCS Game 5.
“They don’t just hand out ‘W’s in the big leagues,” Smith said. “You have to earn them. I think we earned it tonight for sure. So yes, it feels good. We’ll listen to some music tonight, come home, sleep, and start over tomorrow.