Due to the postseason schedule, both teams that lost the first game of their National League Division Series (and their fans) had the entire day off, over 24 hours, to sit and roast. And it just so happened that these two teams were the best in the NL all season long – the two best teams that were able to completely miss the Wild Card Series.
Will they be able to conquer this series? Here are the top stories for each team in Monday’s two NLDS games.
Phillies at Braves
The Phillies lead 1-0
Zack Wheeler vs. Max Fried
18:07 EST, coming soon
Phillies: Can Zack Wheeler keep the Braves bats quiet?
It was strange, to say the least, to see the Braves offense, legitimately one of the best in the last 25 years, completely destroyed by seven Phillies pitchers, none of whom were named “Wheeler” or “Nola.” Now they Down face these two guys.
Wheeler gets the starting lead for the Braves, and not only has he been fantastic in his last four starts – just six earned runs in 23 2/3 innings – but he has become the Phillies’ most reliable, even dominant, postseason starter during his time in Philadelphia. He has a career 2.55 ERA in seven playoff starts for the Phillies, although one of his losses came against the Braves in the second game last annual NLDS. He still performed well in this match, giving up three runs in six innings, which could be considered an acceptable total at this start. However, if he is as good as he was in the win over the Marlins in the Wild Card Series or in his last four starts, he could give the Phillies a really decisive lead in this series.
Braves: Is Max Fried ready for this?
Fried, who has been one of the best pitchers in baseball for well over half a decade, returned on Aug. 4 to start for the team for the first time in three months after going on the injured list with elbow problems. He was great and remained so for the next eight starts, clearly grooming himself to be the next Braves ace in front of their tenacious lineup. And then there was the problem with blisters. The blister on his left index finger expanded during a victory over the Nationals on September 21, and he has not pitched since. He played five innings of simulated play last Tuesday and said he was happy to “keep my shoulder in good shape and it made some guys feel like I was in a competitive environment and coming out healthy.”
It’s a positive change (and certainly better than the alternative), but still not quite as reassuring as the Braves would like ahead of a must-win Game 2 against a surging Phillies team. Fried’s potential return, both from an elbow problem and a blister problem, always seemed like a happy bonus for a team that is completely overloaded everywhere else. Now that we’re down 1-0 at home, Fried throwing like Peak Fried seems essential. That seems to be all that currently stands between the Braves and the brink of oblivion.
D-backs at Dodgers
Defenders D lead 1-0
Zac Gallen vs. Bobby Miller
21:07 EST, coming soon
D-backs: Can they take advantage of how perfect this has worked out for them?
Before Game 1, if you asked a D-backs fan what he wanted to happen, he would have said something like, “Knock out Clayton Kershaw early, force the Dodgers to use five relievers and not use any of our own relievers. – use your emergency medications and get ready for Zac Gallen to take us home in the second game.” We check, check, check and… well, the latter belongs to Gallen.
You could argue that there’s no postseason starter you’d rather have in that position than Gallen, who was a leading NL Cy Young Award contender before a few rough starts in September knocked him off course. However, he has been outstanding in his last three starts, including a successful Wild Card series win against Milwaukee. The schedule calls for him to play a decisive fifth game in the series if necessary. But given the Dodgers’ growing rotation problems, Gallen, the best pitcher on either team, could keep the D’s from worrying about Game 5… and instead start thinking about him pitching in Game 1 of the NLCS.
Dodgers: Can they stop this thing from getting away?
To be clear, let me say it right away: What the Dodgers have accomplished over the last decade has been amazing. They didn’t make the playoffs last time 2012, when Jamie Moyer was still pitching and would soon turn 61. This is a run of success that is the envy of baseball and should not be diminished in any way. APPROX? It’s clear? Good.
Because if the Dodgers appear in the NLDS for the second year in a row against a weaker NL West opponent – something they will be in serious the danger they face if they lose this game – fair or not, all of their regular season success will once again fade into the background and their team will be further cemented as the Dynasty that faded in October. (Their title for 2020 was probably harder win than a “normal” season title, but that doesn’t change the fact that history certainly won’t remember it that way.)
The first game was a disaster that rarely happens for the Dodgers, and it won’t be easy to fix, especially considering how many pitchers they used after pulling the completely ineffective Kershaw. Sophomore starter Bobby Miller was 13 when Los Angeles’ current postseason streak began. It’s not his fault the Dodgers are under tremendous pressure on Monday night. However, this does not mean that he will not feel it fully.
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