Braves still confident they can put away Dodgers in NLCS, avoid 2020 repeat

LOS ANGELES — Freddie Freeman seemed to know the question was coming after the Atlanta Braves failed in their first chance – their fourth chance, really – to bury the Dodgers.

“That’s going to be the narrative,” the Braves’ veteran first baseman said. “I don’t think we have a choice until we kill that narrative.”

The Braves were one win away from the World Series on Thursday night, but they came up woefully short in an 11-2 loss to the Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.

Although the Braves still have a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series heading home to Atlanta, they also will carry with them the history of blowing a 3-1 lead to the Dodgers in the NLCS a year ago.

Braves manager Brian Snitker, choosing not to look at 2020, instead considered the math.

If you’d have told him before the series that they would have a 3-2 lead?

“I’ll take it,” Snitker said. “We’ve got to win one of two games. I like our chances. We’ve got two starting pitchers that are well-rested.”

The Braves now have Ian Anderson and Charlie Morton left to start Games 6 and 7 in Atlanta.

Anderson, a 23-year-old right-hander, posted a 3.58 ERA in his first full major-league season in 2021. While Anderson didn’t allow any runs in five innings in his first playoff start against the Milwaukee Brewers this month, the Dodgers knocked him out after three innings in Game 2. He gave up two runs on three hits in a game the Braves came from behind to win.

“It’s something that we’re definitely on a mission to dispel,” Anderson said of the Braves’ history against the Dodgers. “We’re still in a good spot. The vibes are still good. We’re going to hop on a flight, head home and be ready to play on Saturday.”

Morton, a 37-year-old right-hander, bounced back from a terrible start in Game 3. He walked four in the first inning and gave up two runs, but then he didn’t give up another run through five innings. Morton left with a lead that was erased on Cody Bellinger’s homer in the Dodgers’ dramatic victory.

Morton also faced the Dodgers in last year’s World Series, while pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Dodgers tagged him for five runs in their Game 3 victory.

The Braves feel good about those pitchers, but they also felt good about Max Fried, who got the ball for Game 5.

Fried, a product of Harvard-Westlake High, had been the Braves’ best pitcher over the past few months. He finished the season, posting a 1.74 ERA over his final 14 starts in the regular season. He’d then allowed just two runs in 12 innings in his first two postseason starts, including six innings in a Game 1 start against the Dodgers.

Even better for the Braves, Fried had a two-run lead before he threw his first pitch, thanks to a two-run homer by Freeman in the top of the first inning. The reigning MVP, and product of El Modena High, had quieted Dodger Stadium.

Fried, though, did not have it on Thursday night, at least not during a couple of costly sequences.

In the second inning, he threw a couple of pitches over the middle of the plate, and the Dodgers made him pay. AJ Pollock got a thigh-high fastball that he hit over the left field fence. Fried then threw a center-cut fastball to Chris Taylor, who blasted a two-run homer.

In the third Fried gave up three straight hits to Pollock, Albert Pujols and Taylor, although only one of them was a poorly located pitch.

The five runs Fried allowed in 4-2/3 innings were his most in a game since July 5.

“It’s location,” Snitker said. “It’s one of those days where he couldn’t get the ball where he wanted.”

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