6 storylines to watch in NLCS Game 6

October 23rd, 2021

Do you like high stakes? Then you’ll like the baseball that's going to be played in Atlanta this weekend.

It's not merely that the Braves lead the Dodgers three games to two in a tightly contested National League Championship Series, which has seen three games decided in the final at-bat.

Consider the legacies on the line. Consider the Hall of Famers and All-Stars who can add to their October legend. Consider the narratives that will either be quashed or revisited over the next two nights.

Ahead of this weekend's dramatic conclusion to a thrilling 2021 NLCS, here are six major storylines in play.

1. How do the Dodgers get past losing Scherzer?

News broke Friday evening that Dodgers ace will not take the mound in Game 6, as originally scheduled, due to arm fatigue.

It was thought that the Dodgers would go to a bullpen game, but they announced on Saturday morning that 16-game Walker Buehler would start in Scherzer's stead. The Dodgers pitched Buehler on three days’ rest in the NLDS, but it was unknown whether they’d be comfortable doing so again after he started Game 3 on Tuesday. In what was his first career start on short rest, Buehler allowed one run over 4 1/3 innings against the Giants.

If Buehler can't go as far as usual, David Price, Tony Gonsolin and Evan Phillips are likely replacements to provide bulk innings. But the highest-leverage innings will ultimately go to Blake Treinen, Kenley Jansen and Brusdar Graterol.

It’s a starkly different path to 27 outs than the Dodgers had anticipated, as a healthy Scherzer would have been pushed as deep as possible. The Dodgers have leaned heavily on their bullpen all month. Now we’ll see if between Buehler -- the team's best pitcher much of the season -- and the relief corps, they can cobble together enough quality innings to keep their season alive.

2. Curse-breakers?

They play baseball in Atlanta, so, yes, they know the narrative. The Braves have spent years reaching the postseason without a World Series title to show for it since 1995. They’ve won only two of 12 potential clinch games in the playoffs across the past 20 years.

The narrative, of course, runs further than that. It’s state-wide. The Falcons blew a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI. The University of Georgia blew a 13-0 halftime lead at the 2018 National Championship game. The Braves had 2-0 and 3-1 leads in the NLCS a season ago (just like they did this year).

The Braves also know they now have the power to put an end to that discourse.

"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.”

3. A Dodgers dynasty in the balance?

Consider the range of outcomes for the reigning champion Dodgers.

They win the World Series for a second consecutive year, and we get to start asking the "dynasty" question. The Dodgers reached the postseason in nine straight years, and no team has repeated as champions since the Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000.

If Los Angeles loses, the response will be different. No one is trading in that 2020 title -- it was earned through unthinkable circumstances. But it came in a season that was, without question, different than any other in recent memory. On top of that, the Dodgers are staring down the upcoming free agency of Game 5 hero Chris Taylor, shortstop Corey Seager, closer Kenley Jansen and longtime ace Clayton Kershaw.

Yeah, there's a lot riding on this 2021 playoff run for Los Angeles.

4. Win it for Freddie

Twelve years is a remarkable number for any ballplayer, but don't remind Freeman how long he's been in the big leagues.

"I don't like hearing 12 years -- that's a long time," Freeman said with a laugh. "It means I'm getting toward the end. It would be nice [to reach the World Series]. We've been so close."

Freeman, who is in the final year of his contract, is a certifiable Braves legend. This is his sixth trip to the postseason with Atlanta. But he's never played on the sport's biggest stage.

"If you ask every player, it would mean a lot to them for us to get to the World Series for him," Braves third baseman Austin Riley said.

They're one win away.

5. Pujols' last hurrah?

What an October renaissance for Albert Pujols. No, he's not the same player who once mashed three homers in a 2011 World Series game. But he's an incredibly valuable piece on a team with World Series aspirations. Who saw that coming in 2021?

The Dodgers signed Pujols midseason after he was designated for assignment by the Angels. The plan was to use him as a platoon bat; Pujols would start against left-handers and serve as a valuable pinch-hitter when righties start.

In that role this postseason, Pujols has thrived. He's 5-for-15 and reached base three times in Thursday's Game 5 victory.

"I don't take anything for granted," said Pujols, who recorded his first postseason hit against Randy Johnson 20 years ago. "I take my at-bats like it's my last game of my career, and that’s been the same since Day 1, when I got the opportunity to wear a uniform with the Cardinals."

6. Dodgers revenge tour?

If the Dodgers can find a way to overturn yet another 3-1 deficit in the NLCS, they'll be headed to a revenge World Series against the Astros -- a series that should need absolutely no introduction.