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Braves denied in G5 as bullpen plan falters

Dodgers force Game 6 after winning battle of Will Smiths
@mlbbowman
October 17, 2020

As the Braves attempted to bullpen their way to the World Series, the top free-agent addition to their relief corps allowed yet another homer and gave the Dodgers life in the National League Championship Series.

As the Braves attempted to bullpen their way to the World Series, the top free-agent addition to their relief corps allowed yet another homer and gave the Dodgers life in the National League Championship Series.

Long after A.J. Minter provided a dominant performance as an opener, Will Smith was asked to preserve a one-run, sixth-inning lead. He lost the battle against the other Will Smith, who drilled a three-run homer that sent the Braves to a 7-3 loss in Game 5 on Friday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington.

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

“It’s part of the game,” Smith said. “It just wasn’t my night tonight.”

The Braves remain a win away from the World Series as they still have a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven series. Minus bringing Max Fried back on short rest, they had no choice but to go with a bullpen game in Game 5.

But now that it didn’t work, there’s reason to wonder what might be the lingering effects over potentially two more games this series. Of course, those concerns could be erased by an effective and lengthy start by Fried in Game 6 on Saturday afternoon.

Having Fried and Ian Anderson available to start the final two games is encouraging for Atlanta. But the Braves will enter Saturday afternoon with a slightly taxed bullpen. Minter and Huascar Ynoa will not be available, and Shane Greene would likely not be used for a fourth straight day unless necessary. Tyler Matzek and Smith have worked the past two days.

“Guys have to play, they’ve got to pitch,” manager Brian Snitker said. “They may have to go four in a row. It’s just where we are in the season.”

Other than Corey Seager's homer (his first of two in Game 5) off Matzek in the fourth and Marcell Ozuna leaving third base early while attempting to tag up in the third, everything seemed to be going well for the Braves through five innings.

Minter struck out seven of the 10 batters faced and completed three scoreless innings while making his first start since college. Freddie Freeman’s double led to a run in the first, and Cristian Pache’s single plated another run in the second.

But after damaging Dustin May over the first two innings, the Braves were unable to create any further room for error.

This proved costly when Smith entered with two outs and a runner on second in the sixth. He promptly walked Max Muncy and then surrendered the go-ahead three-run shot.

The left-hander signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Braves last offseason, and in some ways Smith has continued to look like one of the game’s top relievers. Opponents hit just .190 against him during the regular season. But seven of the 11 hits he surrendered were home runs. He’s also allowed hits to just two of the 24 batters faced during the playoffs.

But the damage created by the latest of these two hits will make it hard to forget if the Braves do not end up advancing to the World Series for the first time since 1999.

“I’ve got every bit of confidence in him,” Snitker said. “He’s been so good and so reliable. He wants the ball. It happens. It’s baseball.”

As Smith addressed the media after the game, he seemed uplifted by the 30-minute conversation he had just shared with other members of the pitching staff. He explained his mindset and approach with the decisive pitch, and gladly listened to feedback from supportive teammates.

“We’re just being baseball players and having the baseball conversations,” Smith said. “It’s a hard game. Any help you can get is helpful.”

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.