LOS ANGELES -- As much as the Braves might not want to hear the narrative again, it will grow stronger unless they avoid becoming yet another Atlanta professional team to blow a comfortable playoff lead.
Thoughts of another ugly collapse were unavoidable when the Braves suffered an 11-2 loss to the Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium.
“That’s going to be the narrative,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “Every day it’s brought up. So I don’t think we have a choice until we kill that narrative. We’re up 3-2 going home. It’s a great position to be in.”
Atlanta still has a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven series, and Game 6 on Saturday and Game 7 on Sunday (if necessary) will both be played at Truist Park. That’s comforting, except when you account for the fact comfort is seemingly not available to Atlanta-area teams.
Among the city’s most recent collapses: the Falcons’ 28-3 Super Bowl LI lead squandered against the Patriots and the University of Georgia blowing a 13-0 halftime lead to Alabama in the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship. And of course, there’s the 3-1 lead the Braves had before losing three straight in last year’s NLCS to the Dodgers.
Entering this postseason, the Braves had won just two of their previous 12 potential clinch games from 2002-20.
The Dodgers have now won seven consecutive elimination games, the third-longest such streak in MLB history. Still, Braves manager Brian Snitker knows his team is in a much better position than most could have expected against the defending World Series champs.
“We’ve got to win one of two games,” Snitker said. “If we can’t, then we don’t deserve to go to the next [round]. I like our chances.”
This is a different year and a different team. But the script seemed to be going in a similar direction on Thursday night, when Max Fried stumbled and the Dodgers won despite getting only two outs from their opener in a bullpen game.
Everything seemed to be in the Braves’ favor when Freeman hit a two-run homer in the first and Dodgers opener Joe Kelly left after two outs with right biceps tightness. But that was before Chris Taylor became the first player to hit three home runs in a postseason game against the Braves.
Fried worked a scoreless first and then allowed homers to AJ Pollock and Taylor before recording his first out in the second. It marked the first time he allowed two home runs in an inning since Corey Seager and Justin Turner homered off him in the first frame of Game 6 of last year’s NLCS.
“Physically, I felt great,” Fried said. “It was just a really good aggressive lineup. They hit some pitches over the middle. I wasn't executing on the corners like I normally do, and when you leave the balls over the middle, normally damage happens.”
Three consecutive one-out singles in the third led to another Dodgers run, and Taylor hit his second two-run homer in the fifth, this time off reliever Chris Martin. Taylor's third homer came off lefty Dylan Lee in the seventh.
There’s reason for the Braves to feel good about sending Ian Anderson to the mound for Game 6 and then going with Charlie Morton for a potential Game 7.
Anderson has experienced just one full big league season. But he understands Atlanta’s sports history and looks forward to the chance to alter it.
“I think it's something we know about, but it's something that we're definitely on a mission to kind of dispel,” Anderson said. “So, yeah, I mean, we're still in a good spot. The vibes are still good and we're going to hop on a flight, head home and be ready to play Saturday.”
The Dodgers are trying to become the 15th team to win a best-of-seven series after trailing 3-1 and the fifth to do so after trailing both 2-0 and 3-1. They became the fourth club to do that when they defeated the Braves in last year’s NLCS.
Of the 45 previous teams to have won Game 5 after trailing a best-of-seven series 3-1, 20 then forced a Game 7 (44%). Of those 20, 14 (70%) completed the comeback and won the series.