Both Championship Series games last night were competitive for quite a period of time, only for the victorious teams to pile on late against lesser arms. As a result, both the Astros and Braves are a win away from going to the 2021 World Series. The American League is off today, but suddenly, both series could very well be wrapped up by tomorrow night.
What happened last night?
ALCS Game 5
(Astros lead 3-2)
The ALCS tables have truly turned since the late stages of Game 4 on Tuesday night. Boston was ahead 2-1 and six outs from taking a commanding 3-1 lead with a chance to win the pennant at Fenway in Game 5. Then, Jose Altuve homered to tie the game, Jason Castro put the Astros in front with a two-out RBI single an inning later, and the Houston offense lit up Martín Pérez to blow it open, tying the series with a 9-2 win.
Game 5 last night was a nail-biter through the first five innings as well. The good news for the Red Sox was that Chris Sale finally seemed to rediscover his nasty form for the first time this postseason. The bad news was that on the other side, Framber Valdez did so as well ... and he was even better. As the sixth inning began, the game’s only score was a solo shot off the bat of Yordan Alvarez.
Sale’s leadoff walk in the sixth came back to bite him, though his defense betrayed him as well. Inexperienced first baseman Kyle Schwarber dropped a throw from Rafael Devers to put runners on the corners with no one out on the error. Alvarez made it hurt with a two-run double to make it 3-0, Houston.
In came Ryan Brasier from the bullpen and off the train went from the rails in Boston. Carlos Correa struck out, but an infield single, a double, and a bloop hit from Jose Siri ran the score up to 6-0. That was pretty much the ballgame, other than a few tack-on runs and a solo homer by Devers to avoid the shutout. Valdez was incredible, saving the exhausted Houston bullpen with eight innings of three-hit, one-run ball — positively Deadball Era-esque in this day and age.
The two teams are off today as they travel back to Houston. The Astros can advance to the World Series and win their third AL pennant in five years with a victory on Friday or Saturday.
NLCS Game 4
(Braves lead, 3-1)
The Braves knew that they were in for a tough task in Game 4 since without a legitimate fourth starter, they had to turn to Huascar Ynoa leading a bullpen game. However, it only got more difficult hours before first pitch, when he was removed from the playoff roster with shoulder tightness. That forced Atlanta to lean even further into the Johnny Wholestaff strategy with Jesse Chavez as the opener even though he’d pitched the previous two games.
As it turned out, it worked like gangbusters, with a big assist from midseason addition Eddie Rosario. The former Twin went deep twice and notched his second four-hit effort of the series, moving his triple slash across the four games to .588/.632/1.059 (10-for-17). Julio Urías and his fellow Dodger pitchers had no answer for Rosario, who only missed his second cycle of 2021 because his long fly in the eighth sailed over the wall for a homer instead of hitting it for a double. Eddie will take the trade.
Make no mistake, though — this was a tight ballgame until the ninth. Led by solo shots from Rosario, Adam Duvall, and Freddie Freeman, Atlanta jumped out to a 5-0 lead by top of the fifth, but a two-run single by A.J. Pollock in the home half immediately cut the deficit to three. Against that dangerous Dodger offense with only weary relievers, it felt quite precarious, especially since Atlanta had already benefitted from a great play by Duvall in center to keep L.A. off the scoreboard.
Undeterred, Atlanta’s pitching staff quieted the Dodger Stadium crowd and gave the home lineup fits, allowing just four hits in the entire game. Chavez threw a scoreless first, the two Pollock-engineered runs were charged to Drew Smyly, who still spun 3.1 innings of solid relief. Chris Martin got the last two outs of the fifth, paving the way for A.J. Minter’s two shutout innings. Albert Pujols’ pinch-hit single off Minter in the seventh was L.A.’s last baserunner of the night, and his pinch-runner was quickly erased on a double play. Tyler Matzek and Will Smith threw perfect frames to seal the deal.
What’s on deck?
NLCS Game 5
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves
(Joe Kelly vs. Max Fried)
Time: 8:08 pm ET
Venue: Dodger Stadium
The Dodgers are forced to turn to a bullpen game to save their season. Since it’s win-or-go-home though, expect basically all hands to be on deck. Max Scherzer and Walker Buehler could start a Game 6 or 7 back in Atlanta, but L.A. has to survive this one first. Both could be available in relief, but Scherzer’s probably out since he already looked pretty gassed in his recent start. Dave Roberts did not announce who would open for the Dodgers, though the smart money’s on Corey Knebel since he did so in the win-or-go-home NLDS Game 5 against the Giants.
As for who else might pitch? Take it away, Bailey:
Dodgers can use rested Vesia, Kelly, Knebel, Graterol, Treinen, and Jansen. If they get 6, even 7 innings from them, that still leaves outs for potentially gassed pitchers. Bruihl or Bickford for a 3rd day? Phillips after 34 pitches on Tuesday? SP? Braves will have to capitalize.— Foolish Baseball (@FoolishBB) October 21, 2021
Yeah, the Dodgers’ offense is probably going to need to wake up to force a Game 6 on Saturday. They’ll have to do so without longtime staple Justin Turner too, as he was hobbling on a late grounder and had to leave the game with a Grade 2 hamstring strain. He will not be back in 2021.
Atlanta has to feel a lot better entering Game 5 than they did in Game 4 (which, hey, they won). An actual starter, Max Fried, is expected to get the ball, and he’s allowed four runs in his last five starts combined. Manager Brian Snitker would love to get some length from him, much like what Valdez did for the Astros yesterday.
To recap: Good Braves pitcher, Atlanta offense humming along with scalding-hot NLCS MVP frontrunner, Dodgers forced to go bullpen game, and L.A. lineup without its top two homer hitters (due to Max Muncy’s absence as well) and Trea Turner absolutely ice-cold. The signs are all pointing in the Braves’ favor for their first World Series trip since 1999.
Of course, the Braves also had 2-0 and 3-1 NLCS leads last year, and people remember how that turned out. Atlanta sports fandom can be brutal, and despite the bad pitching matchup, remember that Game 4 wasn’t supposed to go well for the Braves, either. This Dodgers lineup is more than capable of cutting rivals’ good vibes down in a hurry. Even with Fried on the bump, it will be a long 27 outs if the Braves hope to clinch tonight.
Update: lol the Dodgers are going full sicko mode and starting Joe Kelly. Would be very Atlanta to lose anyway, but we’ll see.