NLCS Game 6 Deep Dive: There Will Be A Game 7 Deep Dive

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Dodgers

What a stressful nine innings we watched Saturday afternoon, right? Well, it’s only about to get even more stressful when the Dodgers and Braves clash in Sunday’s winner-take-all Game Seven of the NLCS.

The small reprieve to celebrate the accomplishments of Game Six is well-deserved for Dodger fans and there was a lot to be excited about. The momentum the Braves built, going up 3-1 in the series after Game Four, has swung back in the Dodgers’ favor as they’ve won the last two.

You could make the case the Dodgers still have the momentum going into Game Seven, but I think Game Sevens are far too unpredictable. The momentum will be created within the game itself as both teams’ backs are up against their own walls.

So before we have to sweat through three shirts Sunday night, let’s take a deep dive into Game Six, shall we?

Walker “Big Game” Buehler

That’s not what they’re officially calling him, but that’s what they ought to be referring to Walker Buehler as. The Dodgers have found their big game man and that’s exactly why Buehler has earned the right to pitch Game One in any given series. Not only can he start you off on the right foot in a series, he also pitches well in elimination games.

Once again, Buehler showed up in the biggest moment of the season, with his team nine innings away from going home, to pitch six scoreless innings while navigating some tough terrain along the way.

One moment in particular, which set the tone for the rest of Buehler’s outing, happened in the top of the second inning. The Dodgers quickly grabbed the 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first and Buehler opened the next frame giving up three consecutive singles. The bases were loaded with nobody out and Buelher got Austin Riley to strike out on three pitches, struck out Nick Markakis after a six-pitch battle and then got Cristian Pache to ground out to Corey Seager to end the threat.

The ability to kill a rally like that without giving up a run sent a clear message to the other dugout, which was: runs will not come cheaply. It also killed the Braves’ spirit and momentum so much so that the only other rally they had against Buehler was in the top of the fourth with two on and one out. He got out of that one unscathed as well.

His final line was six innings, no runs, seven hits and six strikeouts while only throwing 89 pitches.

Mookie Betts’ Catch Of The Series

For a second consecutive night, Mookie Betts made a game-altering play and they both involved Marcell Ozuna. The dazzling shoestring catch he made in Game Five saved a run because Ozuna made the mistake of leaving third base too early and he was eventually doubled-off following the replay review. In Game Six, Betts robbed Ozuna of an extra base hit and a possible RBI with an acrobatic catch up against the right field wall.

Perhaps even more wonderful than keeping the 3-0 lead intact was Betts’ million-dollar smile, screaming and running back to his dugout in excitement after making the play. For the third time that afternoon, Buehler was able to escape certain death and, this time, it was something completely out of his control. Time and time again Betts finds his moment and capitalizes on it in the biggest way possible.

Roberts’ Use Of The Bullpen

Also, for the second consecutive game, Dave Roberts used his bullpen to near perfection. This is hopefully good news for Dodger fans heading into Game Seven. I am praying they lock Clayton Kershaw in his hotel room so Roberts isn’t tempted to bring him in. If Roberts is surgical like he was in Games Five and Six, then there will be no need for Kershaw. I imagine Tony Gonsolin will get the start, or at least the bulk of the innings, and they’ll use a combination of Julio Urías, Dustin May, Brusdar Graterol and Victor Gonzalez, who all should be fairly rested.

Back to Game Six. At first, I was upset Roberts removed Walker Buehler after six innings, but after having time to think about it, I agree with the move. Buehler hasn’t gone deep into games in a while (a number of his postseason outings have been under five innings), his velocity was down in the sixth and it looked like he may have been tiring. Good recognition by Roberts to know Buehler gave the Dodgers exactly what they needed and Buehler would potentially be facing the top of the Braves order again. (Now, why he can’t apply that same logic with Kershaw, ever, is beyond me, but that’s for a different column entirely).

I liked the decision to go to Blake Treinen despite him giving up a run, and Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen were nails for the second straight night by both pitching scoreless innings. For Jansen, that was only his second save of the postseason and it’s a great sign that in both back-to-back appearances he retired the side in order. I don’t know what former Dodger pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and former pitcher Charlie Hough said to Jansen, but if he can continue to pitch like that, I have no qualms with reinstating him as the closer.

Where Does The Offense Go?

I don’t know why, but the Dodgers’ offense has acted a lot like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland in this NLCS. One minute they appear, hit like crazy, and the next minute, they disappear for multiple innings.

It happened in Game Six where the Dodgers jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first with back-to-back home runs by Corey Seager and Justin Turner followed by an RBI single from Cody Bellinger a few batters later. The Dodgers would not score another run for the rest of the game. It’s not like they didn’t have chances either; they left 10 runners on base and went 1-for-6 with RISP.

The positive takeaway from this is that they scored early, which is key in Game Seven because you want that lead early to gain control of the game from the start. The problem is the Dodgers need to step on the gas a little harder Sunday night. They must capitalize on scoring opportunities whenever they are created and not allow Atlanta to feel like they’re within striking distance at any point.

Of course, that’s a lot easier said than done, but I also think if the offense isn’t stringing together a bunch of hits they need to force the issue. There were a couple of times during the game where I felt they should steal with Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger on first base. I know stealing isn’t a part of the new way of baseball, but you’re telling me the Dodgers can’t outrun the arm of catcher Travis d’Arnaud? That dude is known for his bat, not necessarily his defense. The point is, we gotta make the Braves feel uncomfortable the whole game and a great way to do that is to run on them. Hell, they run on us a lot!

Final Thoughts

I am very proud of this team for not throwing in the towel after Game Four and fighting their way back into this series. This is probably the greatest Dodgers team ever assembled in my lifetime and in Game Seven it’s time to prove it, advance to the World Series and crush the Tampa Bay Rays!

Lastly, I believe no matter what, Corey Seager should be crowned the NLCS MVP. Obviously that’ll be a lot easier if the Dodgers win, but he’s so far and away the best player in this series and it’s not particularly close. By the way, his six postseason homers are the most by a Dodgers player in franchise history.

 

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