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Braves' bottom of the order lacking spark

Riley, Markakis, Pache continue struggles with RISP
@jessicacamerato
October 17, 2020

An individual standout performance here and there can lift a team to postseason victories, but when it comes to a seven-game National League Championship Series with a World Series berth on the line, it takes a team effort.

An individual standout performance here and there can lift a team to postseason victories, but when it comes to a seven-game National League Championship Series with a World Series berth on the line, it takes a team effort.

The Braves will look for a boost from their entire lineup in Game 7 against the Dodgers on Sunday following a 3-1 loss in Game 6 on Saturday at Globe Life Field. After taking a 3-1 series lead, Atlanta is trying to prevent losing such a lead in a best-of-seven series for the second time in franchise history.

Even though the Dodgers jumped out to a three-run lead in the first inning of Game 6 off starter Max Fried, the Braves had chances to close that gap and pull ahead throughout the night.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 12 ATL 5, LAD 1 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 13 ATL 8, LAD 7 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 14 LAD 15, ATL 3 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 15 ATL 10, LAD 2 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 16 LAD 7, ATL 3 Watch
Gm 6 Oct. 17 LAD 3, ATL 1 Watch
Gm 7 Oct. 18 LAD 4, ATL 3 Watch

When the second half of the lineup found itself in potential comeback situations, though, it didn’t capitalize. Nos. 6-9 hitters Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley, Nick Markakis and Cristian Pache went a combined 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position in Game 6, bringing their NLCS cumulative total to 6-for-29 with RISP.

Take a look at the second inning of Game 6. The first three batters of the frame -- Travis d'Arnaud, Ozzie Albies and Swanson -- hit consecutive singles off Dodgers starter Walker Buehler to load the bases with no outs. Just like that, the Dodgers’ three-run lead didn’t seem so commanding.

But the early comeback attempt ended there. Riley struck out on three pitches, and Markakis was caught looking. The inning rested on the shoulders of the 21-year-old rookie Pache, who entered the game 4-for-17 with a homer this postseason, but he grounded out to short off an 0-2 slider from Buehler and stranded all three runners.

“It’s like he loaded the bases, and then he kind of elevated his game there,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Buehler. “Obviously, you’d like to get at least one out of that, but [we] couldn’t.”

The second half of the order had another chance just two frames later. d'Arnaud, once again, led off the inning with a single. After Albies struck out swinging, Swanson, who ended the game with three hits, singled to advance d'Arnaud to second. With two on and one out, Riley lined out to center field and Markakis sent a sharp groundout to the mound -- another pair of runners stranded.

As the Braves’ tried to heat up their bats against Buehler, the right-hander cooled them by calming himself down. He held Atlanta scoreless over six innings.

“It’s hard,” Buehler said. “You want to use the adrenaline in big games like this. Sometimes that can spin you out a little bit, even when you feel like you’re embracing it. So to be honest with you, I’ve never felt that calm in a baseball game, maybe in my career, especially in a spot like that [in the second inning]. [Catcher Austin] Barnes steered me though it, that’s really all there is to it.”

Markakis provided the Braves' lone run of the game in the seventh when he tripled and scored on a double by Ronald Acuña Jr.

The Braves had one last opportunity to avoid a winner-take-all Game 7. It was up to the second half of the order in the top of the ninth against Kenley Jansen, who has been looking to re-establish himself in the closer role. Could they stifle his recent progress?

Riley led off the inning with a well-struck lineout to Joc Pederson in left field, which had an expected batting average of .740. Markakis then jumped on the first pitch he saw from Jansen and flew out to center. Snitker pinch-hit playoff veteran Pablo Sandoval for Pache, but Sandoval also lined out to left field to end Game 7.

“You’ve got to give credit where credit’s due, and they’ve got really good pitchers over there,” Snitker said. “When you’re bringing guys out of the bullpen with a 100 mph sinker [in Blake Treinen], that’s kind of hard to get a hold of. They’ve got experienced guys. It’s baseball. It’s what happens.”

These players have had big moments in the NLCS, including Riley’s go-ahead homer in the ninth inning of a Game 1 win on Monday and Pache’s first career homer in a Game 3 loss on Wednesday. Now, it’s a matter of coming through in the deciding matchup.

“Sometimes you get on rolls, and you get in those situations and guys are finding holes or getting big hits, and sometimes they aren’t,” Snitker said. “I don’t think just because it’s the postseason that automatically it happens. The other night, we kind of handed the baton off and kept it going and mounted some runs. Tonight, we couldn’t.”

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.