So much for a last-minute, nail-biting finish to this division race. The Braves cemented their division title with a dominant 5-3 finish over the Phillies on Saturday, laying claim to the NL East title for the first time since 2013.
The Braves asserted themselves right off the bat after amassing a four-run lead from Johan Camargo and Freddie Freeman, both of whom cleared the bases with two-run singles in the first two innings. Ronald Acuna Jr., meanwhile, found another way to make his presence known after swiping his 15th stolen base of the year and joining Alex Rodriguez, Orlando Cepeda, and Mike Trout as one of the youngest players to collect at least 25 home runs and 15 stolen bags in major league history.
Not to be outdone, Atlanta right-hander Mike Foltynewicz delivered one of the strongest starts of his season to date. The righty set down six innings of no-hit ball against the Phillies, and, with just 62 pitches under his belt, looked ready to go the distance before he lost his bid on Odubel Herrera‘s leadoff single in the seventh.
Unfortunately for the Braves, the Phillies not only upended Foltynewicz’s no-hit attempt, but the shutout as well. In the eighth inning, Cesar Hernandez and Rhys Hoskins wrestled two RBI singles from Atlanta’s bullpen and brought Philadelphia within one run of tying the game. Hoskins was the last Phillies batter to reach base, however, as Jonny Venters and Arodys Vizcaino tossed a combined 1 2/3 scoreless innings (backed by a final RBI hit from Kurt Suzuki in the bottom of the eighth) to cap the Braves’ win — and the NL East title.
With the loss, the Phillies sit seven games back of a wild card spot in the National League. They’ll need to outpace the Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Cardinals in order to make 2018 their first postseason-qualifying year since 2011.
The book heading into the series was that the Dodgers’ starters needed to come up big for them due to questions in the bullpen and that the Brewers’ bullpen was going to dominate Dodgers batters, so they had best do what they can to score off of Milwaukee’s starters. So, of course, the Dodgers starters turned in performances of three and four and a third innings and eight of their nine runs the Brewers have given up have come from their relievers. I dunno, man. It’s baseball. It lends itself to anticipatory analysis worse than any other sport.
All I do know for sure is that this series has been as close as it gets so far, with each game being decided by a run and the outcome being determined late. The first two games have given me a sense that the teams are just feeling each other out and that the next three, in Los Angeles, will provide a bit more coherence to all of this. Not that there isn’t something a bit fun about incoherence when it comes to a playoff series.
Your viewing guide:
NLCS Game 3
Brewers vs. Dodgers
Ballpark: Dodger Stadium
Time: 7:39 PM Eastern
Pitchers: Jhoulys Chacin vs Walker Buehler
Jhoulys Chacin had an excellent NLDS start against the Colorado Rockies, turning in five scoreless innings. If he does something approaching that tonight the Brewers will be in pretty good shape given that Josh Hader — who pitched three shutdown innings in Game one — is available again tonight. To the extent Craig Counsell needs to dig more deeply into his reliever corps, however, things could get dicey. Corbin Burnes, Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel and Joakim Soria have combined to allow seven earned runs in four innings. Brandon Woodruff, who has been dominant thus far, throwing five scoreless innings, stands a good chance of being the opener for Game 4, so Counsell will likely try to keep him off the mound tonight. That puts a decent amount of pressure on Chacin to get the game to Hader with as few innings remaining as possible.
For Los Angeles, it’s Walker Buehler who, the grand slam he gave up to Ronald Acuña in the NLDS notwithstanding, was the Dodgers’ most dominant starter down the stretch. In keeping with the somewhat flipped script so far, however, the Los Angeles bullpen has been solid, allowing just two runs over their ten and two-thirds innings in Games 1 and 2. Not that Dave Roberts wouldn’t love to see Buehler go deep tonight too.