NLCS Game 5 Deep Dive: Dodgers Not Dead Yet!

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Dodgers 

Timely hitting, lockdown pitching and good managing is a great recipe for success. The Dodgers had all of three of those aspects working together in this NLCS Game Five do-or-die contest.

Yeah, you heard me correctly. I said good managing! I’ll give credit where credit is due and Dave Roberts came through for his team. He put his pitchers in situations where they could thrive and they did just that.

I’ll be honest, though, given how the first three innings went, I wasn’t convinced the Dodgers even wanted to be there, let alone eventually having a chance to win this one.

This was a thrilling game to watch with some big moments to discuss so let’s take a deep dive, shall we?

Dustin May’s Start & Final Strikeout

Dustin May wasn’t as dominant as we’re accustomed to seeing, but he didn’t pitch poorly. The Dodgers’ defense also didn’t help matters. In the top of the first, Freddie Freeman doubled down the first base line, but Max Muncy should have been able to make that play, or least get enough glove on it, to stop it from going to the outfield. Then, Will Smith allowed a passed ball, Freeman advanced to third and was later brought home on a sacrifice fly.

In the second inning, Dansby Swanson foul-tipped a third-strike pitch into Smith’s glove, but the Dodgers’ catcher couldn’t hold onto it so the at-bat continued. May walked Swanson on the very next pitch and he would eventually come around to score to make it 2-0, Atlanta. (Despite his defensive blunders in the first two innings, Smith would eventually make up for it in a monumental way in the sixth. Stay tuned for that.)

The final out May recorded in the second turned out to be one of the biggest moments of the game because it stopped the bleeding early.  With runners on first and second and one out, May was able to get Ronald Acuña Jr. to fly out. Then, after a six-pitch battle with Freeman, May fanned the Braves’ slugger on a beautiful 92-mph cutter to end the threat. The Braves would only score one more run the rest of the game so, in my opinion, that was the biggest strikeout of the game.

Mookie Betts’ Shoestring Catch

Mookie Betts has been slow to get going in the NLCS, but tonight he showed up with the bat and in the third inning, with the glove.

Joe Kelly relieved Dustin May and immediately gave up back-t0-back singles. A ground-ball out would move the runners over to first and second, which brought up Dansby Swanson. Swanson sliced a shallow fly ball to right field, Betts charged, made the shoestring catch, stumbled and chucked an off-balance throw to the plate nearly nabbing Marcell Ozuna.

The reason Ozuna was able to make it to the plate safely was because he left third base too early. The replay review confirmed the colossal mistake and the Dodgers had themselves an unorthodox double-play and they were out of the inning.

Who knows what would have happened had that run scored. For one thing, the Dodgers would’ve been in a 3-0 hole and the inning would’ve continued allowing Atlanta to have another scoring opportunity. Instead, momentum swung in the Dodgers’ favor and Corey Seager (who had himself a night!) capitalized on it by cutting the lead in half with a solo shot in the next half-inning.

Will Smith vs. Will Smith

It was the matchup we’ve all been waiting for this entire series and it finally happened: Will Smith the pitcher vs. Will Smith the catcher.

It couldn’t have come at a more crucial point in the game too. It was the top of the sixth, the Dodgers were still trailing 2-1, they had runners on first and second with two outs. Smith (pitcher) had Smith (catcher) quickly down 0-and-2. Smith (c) battled back, took some tough pitches and worked the count full. The payoff pitch was a low fastball and Smith’s (c) hands were so quick to the baseball that he was able to lift up on it and drive it 404-feet over the left field wall for a three-run blast.

To come through like that in an elimination game, down by a run and with two outs is as clutch as it gets. Smith (c) who continually hits the ball hard is finally seeing his hits start to fall. The Dodgers took the lead 4-to-2 and never looked back.

A man named Will Smith was guaranteed to win that battle…I’m just glad it was the Smith wearing blue.

Dave Roberts, Master Lever-Puller

I didn’t take any pleasure in destroying Dave Roberts in my last “Deep Dive” article. In my opinion, he deserved every word that I wrote about him. Quite frankly, I would much rather write positively about the Dodgers’ manager so that’s exactly what I am about to do.

Outside of not letting Dustin May go a little longer and bringing Joe Kelly, I thought every other pitching decision Roberts made was perfect. You can rarely go wrong with Blake Treinen this year and he shoved, pitching two perfect innings.

Then Roberts turned to Pedro Baez in the sixth. Since Baez struggled in Game Two, he’s had two back-to-back scoreless outings. I actually liked the decision to bring Baez back out there to start the seventh and I especially loved the quick hook after he gave up a base hit. In came Victor Gonzalez who walked his first batter, but then got a double play and ended the seventh by retiring Ronald Acuña Jr.

Another good Roberts decision was keeping Gonzalez in to start the eighth to face Freddie Freeman to get the lefty-on-lefty matchup. Now, Gonzalez gave up a double to Freeman, but once again Roberts pulled the plug quickly and went to fireballer Brusdar Graterol. Despite Freeman eventually coming around to score on a fielder’s choice groundout, Graterol did what he could not do in Game Three, which was shut the door with little damage.

The grand finale was Kenley Jansen in the ninth. Nothing makes me more nervous these days then seeing Jansen coming in to retire the side with a slim lead, but with a four-run cushion and facing the bottom of the Braves’ order, I felt somewhat optimistic. Jansen was as good as he’s ever been, getting ahead of hitters, hitting 94-mph on the gun and striking out the side in order to secure the victory, 7-to-3.

Wow. I hope you enjoyed reading that section as much as I enjoyed writing it. Hopefully Roberts carries this momentum over into Game Six!

Final Thoughts

Where would the Dodgers be without Corey Seager this year? Holy cow, this guy doesn’t stop hitting. After going 2-for-4, with two bombs and three RBI in Game Five, he’s now slashing .342/.409/.842 with five homers, 14 RBI and a ridiculous OPS of 1.251 in this year’s playoffs.

His two-run homer in the seventh marked his fourth homer of the NLCS – a major league record for shortstops in a postseason series. Also, his 14 RBI are the most by any Dodger in a postseason series. We are witnessing greatness here in October for Seager and I truly hope the Dodgers can pull off a miracle, win this series and Seager can be crowned the NLCS MVP.

Jake Reiner is a writer and reporter for Dodgers-LowDown and co-host of The Incline Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @QualityJakes