There’s plenty of drama awaiting as the National League Championship Series returns to Atlanta for at least one game at Truist Park this weekend. The Braves are seeking to return to the World Series for the first time since 1999, while the Dodgers are hoping for one more championship with their current core.
MLB.com reporters gathered to discuss those storylines and more ahead of Game 6:
Jenifer Langosch, editor/moderator: Well, guys, we’re back in Atlanta ahead of Game 6 on Saturday and a possible Game 7 on Sunday. And what a series it’s been already! Two walk-offs, three one-run games, and, on Thursday night, a three-home run performance from Chris Taylor.
But let’s get straight to the elephant in the room -- which is whether we’re about to watch the Braves, for a second straight season, squander series leads of 2-0 and 3-1 against the Dodgers. So Mark, let’s start with you. Is there reason to believe this year will be different?
Mark Bowman, Braves beat reporter: Yeah, there's no doubt this year can be different. The Dodgers have reason to feel good about having Max Scherzer and Walker Buehler on regular rest. But with Ian Anderson and Charlie Morton, Atlanta will counter with two starters who are more than capable of handling the big stage. Last year, the Braves collapsed while playing in a relatively empty ballpark in Texas. This weekend, they will have a raucous crowd supporting them at Truist Park.
Langosch: The Dodgers, though, have been incredible in elimination games the last two years, winning seven straight now. What is it about this team, Juan, that makes it so hard to land the knockout punch?
Juan Toribio, Dodgers beat reporter: Yeah, it is pretty remarkable how they just seem to love having their backs against the wall. I think they just simplify things whenever they're behind. They cut down their swings, and they're a really tough out, even with two strikes. And we've talked about this for a little while, that if the Dodgers lose at any point this weekend, this could be it for this core of players. Maybe there's just something to be said about the fact that they aren't ready to have that come to an end.
Like Mark said, though, it won't be easy for them to complete this comeback. I covered the Rays the last few years and Charlie Morton really does turn into a different guy when his team needs him the most.
Bowman: While the Dodgers have been so good at elimination games, the Braves have made a habit of squandering match points lately. They blew a 2-1 lead over the Cardinals in the 2019 NLDS and the 3-1 lead over the Dodgers in last year's NLCS.
Bowman: With Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor providing timely power this week, the Dodgers were able to overcome the absences of Max Muncy and Justin Turner. That Dodgers lineup is still quite formidable, but it's less intimidating without the presences of Muncy and Turner.
Toribio: They still have a good lineup, but they won't win this series if their stars don't show up consistently. Trea Turner has really struggled in the series, and Corey Seager hasn't gotten much outside of those two first-inning homers. Having AJ Pollock, Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor contribute is definitely a boost, but they need those guys at the top to lead the way.
They definitely don't have Eddie Rosario, who is the best hitter alive these days.
Bowman: We'll get a feel for how tomorrow's game might go just by looking at how the Dodgers react to Ian Anderson's great changeup. Anderson tortured the Brewers with that pitch, but wasn't as effective with it against the Dodgers in Game 2. The key for Anderson will be getting ahead in the count with the hope of making the Dodgers more aggressive.
I wonder if that Rosario statue will be completed before the players arrive for Saturday's game.
Langosch: Perhaps the Chris Taylor one is going up at Dodger Stadium right now.
Speaking of which, do you think the way in which the Dodgers won Game 5 – scoring 11 runs on 17 hits -- will have any carryover effect? Momentum has meant zilch in this series, but seeing the Dodgers offense break out has to be at least a little bit of a scary sight for the Braves, right?
Toribio: Definitely scary. This is a team that led the NL in runs and has All-Stars at every turn, even without Muncy and Justin Turner. But I think the first two innings will tell us everything we need to know. If they start chasing at that Anderson changeup, like Bowman mentioned, it's going to be a long day.
I also think it's going to be so interesting seeing how Max Scherzer bounces back. He ended the regular season fighting some mechanics and really hasn't had a dominant outing so far in the postseason. Last time we saw him, he was talking about having a dead arm. His first 30-40 pitches will be huge.
Bowman: I love the Freddie Freeman-Max Scherzer battles. Scherzer said Freeman is the best hitter he has faced and Freeman has always spoken glowingly of the former Nationals ace. That first-inning battle on Saturday will be must-see TV.
My expectation is that Freeman will remain in a Braves uniform beyond this year. But the fact is that I don't know and Freddie doesn't know what may happen once he enters the free-agent market for the first time. I don't think he'll be burdened by the possibility this could be his final weekend of playing for the Braves in Atlanta. But having covered him for more than a decade, I do think he could produce yet another big moment, similar to the homer he hit off Josh Hader to decide the NLDS against the Brewers.
Langosch: It's interesting that you brought up Scherzer, Juan. All month we’ve been watching clubs lean heavily on their bullpen and utilizing pitchers in unfamiliar roles. So I think it’s particularly notable that here we are, heading into Games 6 and 7 with the prospect of starting pitching determining who advances to the World Series. Do you expect both managers to treat these games more traditionally when it comes to deploying their pitchers?
Toribio: If the Dodgers go out, it'll be with Max Scherzer on the mound. This is why they traded for him. They also might not have a choice. Their bullpen has been used a ton recently and they just lost Joe Kelly for the rest of the postseason. Justin Bruihl, who has been really good against the Braves' top left-handed bats, might also be unavailable. Scherzer gives them the best chance to win. Now they just need him to be locked in.
Bowman: Based on how the changeup works, I could see Anderson being pulled after he goes through the lineup a second time. If the Braves have a lead or are at least within a run or two of the Dodgers, I think you will see Atlanta manager Brian Snitker lean heavily on his top two lefty relievers, A.J. Minter and Tyler Matzek. We know Minter can go at least two innings and Matzek can get more than three outs if necessary. This isn't a time to worry about rest. The Braves will be aggressive as they attempt to avoid a Game 7.
Langosch: It will be interesting to see if Dave Roberts goes back to Julio Urías in relief at some point this weekend as well.
Toribio: I would be shocked if he doesn't.
Bowman: Roberts' decision to use Urías to pitch the eighth inning of Game 2 is a key reason the Braves have the series lead. The young lefty was brought in because the inning began with him facing two left-handed hitters in Rosario and Freeman. Rosario started with a single and scored when Ozzie Albies gladly had the opportunity to hit from the right side. Putting Urías in an unfamiliar relief role proved even more ineffective when Austin Riley followed with an RBI double. That short relief outing also significantly affected Urías in his ugly Game 4 start.
Langosch: Let's finish this off with a few quick hitters, starting with: If there's one concern for your team this weekend, what is it?
Toribio: The inconsistency of the offense. We saw how good a Dodgers lineup can be in Game 5. But they haven't been able to put back-to-back games together. It's now or never.
Bowman: The Braves' primary concern will be handling Scherzer and Buehler. With Rosario red-hot and Freeman surging over the past few days, Atlanta has a lineup that is capable of matching up against these two front-line starters. This is the postseason. These are the kinds of matchups you look forward to seeing. If the Braves handle the challenge these two present, they can at least avenge what they experienced against Johnson/Schilling in 2001 and Prior/Wood in 2003.
Langosch: The biggest decision your manager is going to make in Game 6 will be...
Toribio: When to pull Scherzer and go to the bullpen. Whenever it happens, I'm sure Scherzer will fight to stay in.
Bowman: When to pull Anderson. While the Braves have room for error, they need to make every effort to avoid Game 7. If that means dipping into the bullpen in the third inning to kill a rally, then that's what Snitker should do. This isn't a time to worry about how much a specific reliever has been used or whether using him in Game 6 will affect availability in Game 7. If Anderson cruises through the first few innings, the Braves might be in good shape. But if he falters even slightly, Snitker has to make a quick hook.
Langosch: Aside from the starting pitchers, who do you think is the biggest X-factor for Game 6?
Toribio: It's gotta be Trea Turner for the Dodgers. He led the league in batting average this season, but he still hasn't delivered a moment. I have a feeling it'll come this weekend.
Bowman: Joc Pederson. There's nothing more Pederson would like than to eliminate his former team. If Pederson homers this weekend, you'll see pearls all over the stadium and think you are looking at a live shot of New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
Toribio: Can you wear one too?
Bowman: Anything is possible in Joctober.
Langosch: So are we going to see a Game 7 at Truist Park this weekend?
Bowman: Nothing comes easy in Atlanta. We'll definitely see a Game 7.
Toribio: Baseball will be played on Sunday.