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National League Division Series presented by Doosan

What we learned from Dodgers' NLDS win

LA's depth, healthy Jansen, sturdy rotation are key, but two big questions remain
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- The Dodgers took their first step toward a second straight World Series trip on Monday night at SunTrust Park. Now it gets tougher.

The 6-2 victory against the Braves in Game 4 to close out the National League Division Series means the reigning National League champs will be back in the NL Championship Series for the third year in a row, this time against the Brewers.

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ATLANTA -- The Dodgers took their first step toward a second straight World Series trip on Monday night at SunTrust Park. Now it gets tougher.

The 6-2 victory against the Braves in Game 4 to close out the National League Division Series means the reigning National League champs will be back in the NL Championship Series for the third year in a row, this time against the Brewers.

View Full Game Coverage

:: NLCS schedule and results ::

Their success shocks no one. The six-time defending NL West champions were built for October. Their midseason acquisitions of David Freese and Manny Machado -- who both played big roles in Monday's win -- only cemented their place as one of the top teams in baseball and a force in October.

Add the star power and playoff experience, and it's no surprise Dodgers were the favorites against a talented young Braves team.

Dress for NLCS: Get Dodgers postseason gear

But how far the Dodgers will advance in the playoffs is to be determined. The four games against the Braves did answer a few questions. It also raised a few others.

Here are three things we learned about the Dodgers as they advance to the NLCS and two things we still may not know after one round.

Depth matters
We all knew coming into the NLDS that the Dodgers' depth had the potential to create matchup problems for the Braves. And it did. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had the luxury of basically putting together two separate lineups depending on Atlanta's starting pitcher and he was never short a player on the bench.

On Monday, it was Freese who came off the bench with the game-winning hit. We were also reminded that despite struggling with runners in scoring position, the Dodgers' ability to hit the long ball -- they hit eight homers in the four games -- always keeps them within striking distance.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Freese plates 2 on pinch-hit single

"Within a month, we can win the World Series and that's our mindset," Freese said. "We will do whatever it takes. We understand the talent on this roster. We all want to be out there playing and we know our time will come up at some point in game and some point in the series."

Jansen is fine
It appears the reports of the closer's demise have been extremely exaggerated.

Kenley Jansen allowed one hit and struck out one batter in one inning to earn the save in the 3-0 victory in Game 2 in Los Angeles. On Monday, he struck out two batters in the ninth inning to close out the victory in Game 4 in Atlanta.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Jansen seals win to send Dodgers to NLCS

Nine of his 12 pitches in Monday's outing were cut-fastballs that hovered in the 93-mph range. His four-seam fastball topped out at 96 mph.

"This is who I am," Jansen said. "Obviously, everybody is going to have their ups and downs. This season I had some downs and I was still great. I'll take that. We are going to the NLCS again and that's all that matters."

The starting pitching is coming together
The Dodgers have never entered the postseason during the last six seasons with their entire starting rotation clicking on all cylinders until this year. Hyun-Jin Ryu was dominant in his seven innings of work in Game 1 and Clayton Kershaw allowed two hits in eight innings in Game 2. Walker Buehler allowed only two hits in five innings in Game 3 -- though he endured one very ugly inning -- and Rich Hill gave up two runs on four hits in 4 1/3 innings Monday.

"Hyun-Jin did unbelievable and after Walker took his lump in that one inning, he came back and threw really well, which was huge for him moving forward," Kershaw said. "Rich kept us in the game. We got some depth there, which is great."

As for two things we are still waiting to learn…

How will the Dodgers' offense respond against a formidable pitching staff with a lockdown bullpen?
Atlanta's starting pitching averaged only 3 1/3 innings per start in the four games of the NLDS. It will be interesting to see how the Dodgers' offense fares against a Milwaukee staff that limited the Rockies to two runs in Game 1 and shut out Colorado in Game 2 and Game 3.

Pay close attention to how Cody Bellinger responds to the challenge. The center fielder walked four times, stole two bases and scored a run in the series, but he is hitless in 11 at-bats with four strikeouts so far in the postseason.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Bellinger hustles to beat throw at first

"Obviously, you want to hit, but at the end of the day, it's about the team winning," Bellinger said. "For me, if I'm not hitting, I know I can help defensively, and I know I can help stealing bases. I want to hit better than I am, but I am not really worried about it because I know I'm going to start hitting."

How will Buehler respond in the next round?
Much has been made about Buehler's confidence. His electric fastball is worthy of all of the accolades. But Buehler proved to be fallible in the 6-5 loss in Game 3. He gave up only two hits, but he was erratic at times, and was charged with five runs, including a second-inning grand slam to Ronald Acuna Jr.

He'll get another chance to shine soon.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm3: Buehler on disappointing NLDS outing

Kershaw is expected to pitch Game 1 in Milwaukee on Friday and Buehler could follow him in Game 2 on Saturday. That leaves Ryu for Game 3 in Los Angeles and Hill for Game 4.

"Anytime you can get more familiar with the situation, you are going to be better off," Buehler said. "I'll just take it as a learning experience and trust the talent in this room to back me up. We are just very happy to go to the next round."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Kershaw to start NLCS Game 1 on extra rest

MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Clayton Kershaw's going to get his extra rest after all.

Before the Dodgers clinched the National League Division Series with a 6-2 victory over Atlanta on Monday night, manager Dave Roberts announced Kershaw would take the ball for a potential Game 5.

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ATLANTA -- Clayton Kershaw's going to get his extra rest after all.

Before the Dodgers clinched the National League Division Series with a 6-2 victory over Atlanta on Monday night, manager Dave Roberts announced Kershaw would take the ball for a potential Game 5.

View Full Game Coverage

Of course, there won't be a Game 5, and Kershaw is instead scheduled to start Friday, when the Dodgers and Brewers open their best-of-seven NL Championship Series.

Dress for NLCS: Get Dodgers postseason gear

:: NLDS schedule and results ::

Kershaw and fellow left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu were both excellent in the first two games against Atlanta, with Ryu pitching seven scoreless frames on Thursday, and Kershaw following with eight more on Friday. The Dodgers became the first team in Division Series history to record shutouts in the first two games.

Ryu's Game 1 start marked the first time Kershaw wasn't on the hill to open a Dodgers postseason since 2009. The club chalked up that decision to the importance of giving Kershaw an extra day of rest between starts. He would've been pitching with four days of rest for Game 5 on Wednesday. Instead, it'll be six on Friday.

"It was pretty simple," Roberts said. "We had our reasons why we decided on Game 1 versus Game 2. But if there's a potential Game 5, we feel very confident that Clayton should be the guy taking the baseball."

Kershaw posted a 2.73 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP in 26 regular-season outings -- a stellar year for anyone else, but a down year for arguably the best pitcher of his generation. But if Los Angeles had any concerns about sending Kershaw to the mound for a decisive Game 5, he allayed those fears with his two-hit start on Friday night.

Video: ATL@LAD Gm2: Kershaw K's 3 over 8 scoreless frames

As for Ryu, the Dodgers could push his next start to Game 3 of the NLCS, the first at Dodger Stadium. Ryu owns a 1.02 ERA in 10 home starts this season, including the playoffs. The Dodgers also have Rich Hill and Walker Buehler as options to start Game 2 with normal rest.

Fix for Stripling?
Ross Stripling, left off the NLDS roster after a disappointing September, believes he's been tipping his pitches and made an adjustment during a simulated game on Sunday.

Who pointed it out to Stripling?

"Everybody knows," he said. "Just look at the numbers after the first time through the order."

OK, here they are: Hitters facing Stripling for the first time in a game have a slash line of .225/.268/.367. The second time through, the slash line is .321/.349/.481.

Roberts said Stripling will be considered for the NLCS roster against Milwaukee.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw

Mannywood sequel: Machado's HR secures G4

MLB.com

ATLANTA -- The Dodgers acquired Manny Machado in July so he could be a difference maker in October.

In four National League Division Series games, Machado certainly played the part.

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ATLANTA -- The Dodgers acquired Manny Machado in July so he could be a difference maker in October.

In four National League Division Series games, Machado certainly played the part.

View Full Game Coverage

The Dodgers shortstop got the fastball he was looking for from Braves reliever Chad Sobotka in a one-run game Monday evening. He pulverized it into the first row beyond the left-field bullpen, giving Los Angeles its final 6-2 margin in the seventh inning of Game 4.

:: NLDS schedule and results ::

All at once, the air came out of a once-raucous SunTrust Park. The Dodgers' win sent them to their third straight NL Championship Series. They'll face the Brewers in Game 1 on Friday night.

"There's not a better feeling," Machado said of the home run. "I didn't feel anything. I knew I hit it, I knew it was out. There's just not a better feeling than that."

Machado posted otherworldly numbers during the first half of the season, which he spent in Baltimore as the sport's foremost trade candidate. A day after playing in his fourth All-Star Game, he was dealt to Los Angeles, a replacement for injured shortstop Corey Seager.

His numbers dipped some after that, though they were plenty solid. Machado's OPS was 138 points lower with the Dodgers. They didn't care, of course, so long as he came through in the postseason. And he's done exactly that.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Machado on clutch 3-run HR in Game 4 win

Never mind his 1-for-12 start to the series. That one was a two-run homer to put the Dodgers on top in Game 2. In the first inning of Game 4, Machado lined a two-out double down the right-field line, giving Los Angeles a 1-0 lead.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm3: Machado rips RBI double to left

"I've been locked in all series," Machado said. "Obviously the results haven't shown, but you try to stick with the same approach and not try to change anything. I think you put yourself in bad situations when you try to change. Today, I was just able to make hard contact and not miss two balls that were a big key to our win today."

Dress for NLCS: Get Dodgers postseason gear

"Hard contact" is quite the understatement. Machado's seventh-inning homer left his bat at 110 mph and traveled a projected 393 feet, according to Statcast™. His first-inning double had an exit velocity of 112 mph. Even the two outs he made were clocked at 111 and 105 mph, respectively.

"He's just unflappable," Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi said. "... To come up in that situation and essentially put the game away after having some frustrating at-bats in the interim, just shows he's just playing for the next at-bat. That's how you need to approach it."

Machado leaps Braves mascot, hits RBI double

The game still hung in the balance when Machado strode to the plate in the top of the seventh inning with two aboard. Sobotka threw him nothing but fastballs. Machado watched the first three go by, falling into a 1-2 hole. He fouled off the next two.

"How many fastballs did he throw me? Of course, I was looking fastball," Machado said afterward.

He was ready for the sixth one. It quickly became his second homer in four days, double his postseason total from his time in Baltimore.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Machado on facing the Brewers in NLCS

After the season, Machado is destined for free agency and a huge payday. That almost certainly won't come with the Dodgers, with Seager destined to return. But no matter how it ends, Machado is going to remember his time with Los Angeles fondly.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Machado on joining the Dodgers in 2018

"Coming over from Baltimore midway through the season, new ballclub, new atmosphere, new teammates, new coaching staff, new front office, I mean, it's always a bit of an adjustment. But they've been nothing but amazing."

On Monday night, he helped assure himself of at least a few more games in Dodger blue. A busy offseason surely awaits. He doesn't want to think about that yet.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Machado on simplifying at-bats in Game 4

"I'm just sitting here enjoying everything," Machado said. "Just enjoying the ride."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Manny Machado

Freese adds to playoff legacy with key pinch-hit

Veteran drives in two in the 6th with go-ahead single as Dodgers advance to NLCS
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Yet another October stage beckoned David Freese at SunTrust Park on Monday night. The Dodgers trailed by a run in the sixth inning of Game 4, and Freese had been tasked with pinch-hitting and changing the trajectory of the National League Division Series.

"That's just where I want to be," Freese would say. "I think about this all the time."

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ATLANTA -- Yet another October stage beckoned David Freese at SunTrust Park on Monday night. The Dodgers trailed by a run in the sixth inning of Game 4, and Freese had been tasked with pinch-hitting and changing the trajectory of the National League Division Series.

"That's just where I want to be," Freese would say. "I think about this all the time."

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So Freese strode into the batter's box, a lifetime's worth of postseason accolades already on his resume. And, at 35, he added one more.

Freese worked the count full against Braves right-hander Brad Brach, then he smashed a 96-mph fastball back through the middle. Shortstop Charlie Culberson dove for it but had no chance. Two men scored, the Dodgers had the lead, and they never looked back en route to a 6-2 victory and a third straight trip to the NL Championship Series.

Dress for the NLCS: Get Dodgers postseason gear

Freese wasn't a part of the first two. He didn't arrive in Los Angeles until August 31, when a trade with Pittsburgh landed the Dodgers another integral piece in their strategic super-platoon.

:: NLDS schedule and results ::

Freese would serve as a middle-of-the-order threat against left-handed pitching and a useful pinch-hitter otherwise. In 19 regular-season games with Los Angeles, he batted .385 and slugged .641. But more than anything, the Dodgers had October in mind.

"There are certain types of players that can really succeed in that setting," said Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi. "... That was a huge part of our thought process in acquiring him."

This, of course, isn't Freese's first foray into the NLCS. It's not even his first NLCS against the Brewers. In 2011, his first trip to the postseason, Freese batted .545 with three homers, as the Cardinals dispatched the Brewers in six games and Freese was named series MVP.

"A lot's happened since the last time I played Milwaukee in the postseason, huh?" he said.

No kidding.

Freese followed with a World Series MVP and two of the biggest hits in Cardinals history -- a game-tying triple in the ninth inning of Game 6, and a walk-off home run two innings later. He returned to the playoffs in each of the next three seasons, and he continued to thrive.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Freese on being clutch in October

It had been three years since Freese's last trip to the postseason when the Dodgers came calling. He's marked his return in a big way. In Game 1, he added an insurance run with a late sacrifice fly. The moment was bigger in Game 4.

The Braves had loaded the bases with one out in the previous half-inning, only for righty reliever Ryan Madson to induce a pair of weak popups on the infield. The momentum swung.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Madson bails Dodgers out of a huge jam

Enrique Hernandez and Yasiel Puig singled in the sixth, then Puig stole second. With Freese coming up, the Braves called for Brach. Manager Dave Roberts was just fine leaving Freese in the game to face a righty.

This was Freese's stage, after all.

"Putting him in a spot in a big moment, you just can bet on the pulse," said Roberts. "He's obviously come up with some big hits for us in such a short period of time. But obviously this is probably the biggest one. We're lucky to have him."

That feeling is clearly mutual for Freese.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Machado, Freese, bullpen key series win

"You never know if you're going to get back," said Freese, temporarily ducking out of yet another champagne-soaked celebration he played an integral role in creating. "Obviously, my career is winding down. I expected to be in Pittsburgh on August 31 after the [deadline].

"We were here actually. The game is over and I'm like, 'Man, half-hour until September 1st. I think I'm sticking around.' I get off the bus and get the phone call. Next thing you know, I'm on the plane at 5 a.m. going to L.A. to hang out with these guys.

"It's crazy. You never know what this game is going to give you, what opportunities arise for you. You just gotta be ready."

Freese, it seems, always is.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Freese on emotions after advancing

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

Los Angeles Dodgers, David Freese

Dodgers oust Braves, to meet Crew in NLCS

MLB.com

ATLANTA -- The Dodgers added Manny Machado and David Freese late in the season thinking clutch October knocks and champagne corks popping, and the plan was right on point Monday.

Freese's two-run, pinch-hit single turned the game around and Machado's three-run homer iced it as the Dodgers advanced to their third consecutive National League Championship Series with a 6-2 Game 4 victory over Atlanta that clinched the best-of-five NL Division Series at SunTrust Park.

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ATLANTA -- The Dodgers added Manny Machado and David Freese late in the season thinking clutch October knocks and champagne corks popping, and the plan was right on point Monday.

Freese's two-run, pinch-hit single turned the game around and Machado's three-run homer iced it as the Dodgers advanced to their third consecutive National League Championship Series with a 6-2 Game 4 victory over Atlanta that clinched the best-of-five NL Division Series at SunTrust Park.

View Full Game Coverage

:: NLDS schedule and results ::

"Tonight was actually pretty cool, to see a lot of those guys we've acquired over the last few months of the season come through," said general manager Farhan Zaidi.

Checking off another vital box on the path back to the World Series, the Dodgers dispatched the Braves in been-there, done-that fashion, overcoming rookie Walker Buehler's five-run speed bump in Game 3 that prevented a series sweep.

"We let that one get away, and we weren't going to let this one get away," said Justin Turner.

The Dodgers have reached the NLCS in four of the last six years. But they haven't won a World Series since 1988 and last year's Game 7 loss to the Astros still stings, from the owner to the usher.

"Just gotta stay hungry. We remember that big disappointment at the end of last year. We want to get back there again," closer Kenley Jansen said of the Dodgers' World Series loss.

"That's the focus you see with the hunger this team has. They play every single out. This year wasn't easy for us. We were talking about probably having the worst record at some point in April, and now here we are going to the NLCS for the third year in a row."

Dress for NLCS: Get Dodgers postseason gear

The best-of-seven NLCS opens Friday in Milwaukee with Clayton Kershaw starting Game 1 on extra rest. The Dodgers were 4-3 against the Brewers this season.

"This is a special team and I can't wait for the next series," said Kershaw, who started Game 2 after Hyun-Jin Ryu got the Game 1 nod this series. "Contributions all the way around."

Dodgers-Brewers G1: Lineups, matchups, FAQs

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Dodgers advance to 3rd straight NLCS

To secure this year's trip to the NLCS, the Dodgers shrugged off a 4 1/3-inning start from Rich Hill by getting 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief from the bullpen.

"This game was a microcosm of our season," said Hill.

The Dodgers slugged eight homers in the series, accounting for 14 of their 20 runs.

"They're a very powerful team," said Braves manager Brian Snitker. "It's what they've done all year, hit home runs."

What we learned from Dodgers' NLDS win

Freese, who hit .385 after being acquired by the Dodgers for payday moments like this, lashed a two-run, two-out single off Brad Brach in the top of the sixth inning to put the Dodgers back on top, 3-2. Freese has 33 RBIs in 176 postseason at-bats. He was NLCS and World Series MVP for the Cardinals in 2011.

"It's more special than I can even honestly say, because I didn't expect this," said Freese, who was acquired from the Pirates on Aug. 31. "I expected to finish in fifth and ride out this year, but to end up with not only a playoff contender but an organization like this is incredible. You get to be around these beasts in an organization that wants to go after it. It's a lot of fun."

Freese adds to playoff legacy with key pinch-hit

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Freese plates 2 on pinch-hit single

One inning later, Machado, who came into the game 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts in the NLDS, lashed a laser into the left-field seats off Chad Sobotka after Turner's single and Max Muncy's walk.

"I faced him the day before, so I had his slider in the back of my mind as well," said Machado, who popped out against Sobotka in Game 3. "At that point I'm trying to drive in at least one run, and I was able to get one up in the air on a good pitch that he made and drive in three."

Machado, who was acquired from the Orioles in a July 18 blockbuster trade, got the Dodgers' scoring started in the first inning with an RBI double after a Muncy walk, finishing the game with four RBIs and the series with a team-high six. The six RBIs tied James Loney (2008) and Hanley Ramirez (2013) for the Dodgers' NLDS record. Machado also homered to help win Game 2.

"You look back at this series, his two homers essentially led us to two wins," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. "We have a lot of good players, but I can't say enough about his focus and preparedness."

Machado's homer a perfect Mannywood moment

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Machado crushes a 3-run jack in the 7th

As they did in Game 1 at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers got to Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz quickly, this time again in the first inning on a two-out, four-pitch walk to Muncy and an RBI double inside third base by Machado.

Machado leaps Braves mascot, hits RBI double

Video: LAD@ATL Gm3: Machado rips RBI double to left

Frustrated by home-plate umpire Tom Hallion's strike zone, Hill followed Buehler's uneven Game 3 start and couldn't close the deal, either. He walked five in 4 1/3 innings, two of them scoring on a fourth-inning single by Kurt Suzuki, who was batting for Foltynewicz.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Suzuki rips a go-ahead 2-run single

But the Dodgers' bullpen locked it down behind Ryan Madson, Pedro Baez (10 consecutive scoreless outings), Caleb Ferguson, Kenta Maeda and Jansen.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Maeda retires Duda after long foul ball

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Trailing, 2-1, in the fifth inning, Dodgers infielders Turner and Machado couldn't handle bouncers by Freddie Freeman and Johan Camargo, and Hill was removed with one out and the bases loaded. Madson, another late-season acquisition, took over the bases-loaded jam and got Tyler Flowers and Ender Inciarte to pop out. The Dodgers scored five runs in the next two innings.

"Madson coming in, you know, holding down the fort, not allowing any runs, giving us the opportunity to go into the next day, to the next inning," said Machado. "I mean, give us the opportunity for Freese, one of the most clutch hitters in the game to come in and give us the opportunity to give us the lead.

"So at that point of the game, everything changes. Momentum goes on us. That leads to my home run, leads to the pitcher to walk two guys, walk a guy, get a hit, get to that situation of the game. And we get the home run. So there's a lot that leads to the situation of the games that people don't see."

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Madson bails Dodgers out of a huge jam

SOUND SMART
The Dodgers hit only .210 in the NLDS, but the pitching staff had a 2.06 ERA and the bullpen allowed one run in 10 2/3 innings.

HE SAID IT
"We know more and more the preparation teams make, the advanced scouting. There are certain types of players that can really succeed in that setting. The at-bat quality that he's brought to this team over the last month of the season and into today -- that was a huge part of our thought process in acquiring him." -- Zaidi on Freese

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Machado, Freese, bullpen key series win

UP NEXT
The Dodgers will fly home Monday night, work out at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday and fly to Milwaukee on Thursday to work out at Miller Park ahead of Game 1 on Friday.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.

Los Angeles Dodgers, David Freese, Manny Machado

Missed opportunities halt Braves' surprising run

2018 surpasses expectations, ends in NLDS after offense stalls
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Though overmatched by the powerful Dodgers during this year's National League Division Series, the Braves hope to benefit from the experience if they are fortunate enough to live up to their expectation to be annual postseason participants over the next few years.

"We look at this as a learning experience," Braves reliever A.J. Minter said. "You can say we weren't supposed to be here this year. But we had an awesome ballclub. It's unfortunate we came up short. We are disappointed. But I think we're all ready for Spring Training because we got a taste of it, and we want to be back here."

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ATLANTA -- Though overmatched by the powerful Dodgers during this year's National League Division Series, the Braves hope to benefit from the experience if they are fortunate enough to live up to their expectation to be annual postseason participants over the next few years.

"We look at this as a learning experience," Braves reliever A.J. Minter said. "You can say we weren't supposed to be here this year. But we had an awesome ballclub. It's unfortunate we came up short. We are disappointed. But I think we're all ready for Spring Training because we got a taste of it, and we want to be back here."

View Full Game Coverage

Atlanta's 6-2 loss in Game 4 of the National League Division Series put the Dodgers one step away from a second consecutive trip to the World Series. The Braves, meanwhile, head into the offseason hoping their 14 players who made postseason debuts during this series understand what it takes to take that next step.

"We just didn't hit in the playoffs," Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "We walked a lot of guys. We didn't hit. I think we left like 10 or 12 guys on base today. I felt like we had that game right there. We just didn't capitalize on a lot of opportunities. But a lot of people got to experience their first full season. So hopefully we can build off of that."

Freeman delivered the decisive home run in Atlanta's Game 3 victory, which was highlighted by Ronald Acuna Jr.'s grand slam. Those two homers accounted for five of the eight runs the Braves totaled over 36 innings.

Video: Must C Classic: Acuna youngest to hit postseason slam

Pressed to the brink of elimination on Monday, the Braves went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and finished the series 2-for-15 in this category.

With two on and two outs in the first inning, Johan Camargo followed a walk by popping out against Rich Hill's first-pitch fastball in the heart of the strike zone. The same situation presented itself in the third when Nick Markakis popped out against a first-pitch slider that also found the middle of the plate.

Kurt Suzuki provided the Braves a 2-1 lead in Game 4 when he delivered a two-run, pinch-hit single off Hill in the fourth inning. The veteran catcher was pressed into this situation because the Braves had not yet provided support to Mike Foltynewicz, whose exit after just four innings placed more stress on a suspect bullpen.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Suzuki rips a go-ahead 2-run single

But after loading the bases and chasing Hill with one out in the fifth inning, the Braves blew a prime opportunity to blow the game open. Right-handed reliever Ryan Madson got Tyler Flowers to pop out behind the plate and then ended the threat with Ender Inciarte's lazy fly that Manny Machado gloved in shallow left field.

"We left a lot of opportunities out there today," Freeman said. "That's the frustrating part. I felt like this was our game to win right there. It just didn't happen for us."

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

Atlanta Braves, Kurt Suzuki

Braves' ahead-of-schedule run ends in Gm 4

Unable to corral Dodgers, young ballclub looks to bright future
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- These past five days did not erase all of the optimism and excitement created during the previous six months. But they did provide a clear indication the Braves haven't quite reached the point where they are capable of competing for a World Series title.

A memorable season that exceeded all expectations concluded Monday evening when the Braves lost, 6-2, to the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. The exchange of hugs and goodbyes came earlier than desired and later than anyone expected when this season began with moderate expectations.

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ATLANTA -- These past five days did not erase all of the optimism and excitement created during the previous six months. But they did provide a clear indication the Braves haven't quite reached the point where they are capable of competing for a World Series title.

A memorable season that exceeded all expectations concluded Monday evening when the Braves lost, 6-2, to the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. The exchange of hugs and goodbyes came earlier than desired and later than anyone expected when this season began with moderate expectations.

View Full Game Coverage

:: NLDS schedule and results ::

"The only thing that will make me happy is winning the World Series," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "That's all you've got to do. I'll take this as a start, winning the division in 2018. But we need to do more next year."

Though the ouster from the postseason brought sadness, Nick Markakis addressed his Braves teammates after the game and expressed how proud he was to have been part of this team. Markakis and Freeman were present for the three consecutive 90-loss seasons that made this year's accomplishments seem improbable.

"Not many guys get to play in the postseason their first year in the big leagues," Markakis said. "They've got experience. They know what it's about now. The experience will pay off in the long run for them."

One of the benefactors of this postseason run could be Mike Foltynewicz, who blossomed into an All-Star this season and then was humbled while lasting just two innings in Game 1. He was given a chance to redeem himself in this final game and walked away satisfied with a four-inning effort that was abbreviated by the need for a pinch-hitter.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Foltynewicz on Braves' loss, elimination

The lone run he surrendered came courtesy of a Manny Machado RBI double that followed Max Muncy drawing a walk --- one of 27 free passes Atlanta's pitchers issued over 34 innings.

Conversely, the Dodgers' pitching staff issued just nine walks while limiting the Braves to a .154 batting average and .218 on-base percentage.

"We have the right team here," Foltynewicz said. "We just walked a few too many people and gave up a few too many bases. That hurt us, especially against that kind of lineup where one through nine can put it out of the park or put it in the gap."

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Snitker on gaining playoff experience

Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos deserves to be lauded for his first year on the job. Limited financially and wary of being overly aggressive at this stage of the rebuild, he upgraded the pitching staff with the in-season acquisitions of Kevin Gausman, Jonny Venters and Brad Brach. The deep-pocket Dodgers added Machado and David Freese to a lineup that already included Justin Turner and breakout sensation Muncy.

After Gausman was used as a reliever in Atlanta's Game 3 victory, Brach surrendered the series' decisive hit -- Freese's two-run single that eluded diving shortstop Charlie Culberson, who was pressed into a starting role when Dansby Swanson tore a ligament in his left hand during the regular season's final week.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Freese plates 2 on pinch-hit single

Culberson understood what it felt like to be on the other side. He helped the Dodgers reach the World Series last year while filling in for the injured Corey Seager.

"I hope everyone understands what it feels like to get here and also what it feels like to lose," Culberson said. "Sitting on the bench after the game watching [the Dodgers] somewhat celebrate, they didn't really do a whole lot of celebrating because I feel like they knew they were going to beat us and they played better baseball than us."

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Freeman on Braves' elimination, future

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Working with a bullpen fatigued during Sunday night's win and dealing with the consequences of successfully pinch-hitting for Foltynewicz in the fourth, the Braves wanted Venters to complete two innings for the first time in more than six years. The aggressive plan might have worked had Ozzie Albies made a more aggressive effort to get to Yasiel Puig's blooper that fell in shallow right field in the sixth.

"The ball fell, we couldn't do anything," Albies said. "[Markakis] went for it and I went for it. We didn't get to it. That's it."

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Puig skies a bloop single to right field

Puig's two-out bloop single set the stage for Freese to follow with a go-ahead two-run single off Brach, who was the last reliever placed on Atlanta's NLDS roster. Freese entered 2-for-6 with two homers against Brach. Had the pitcher's spot not been due up second in the bottom half of the inning, the decision might have been to call upon rookie Chad Sobotka, who was humbled in the seventh by Machado's three-run homer.

"Ozzie was coming out and the way [Puig] hit it, it was slicing and it just kept pushing away from me," Markakis said. "I knew it was going to be in that area. It was just a matter of one of us getting there."

Markakis had to go 119 feet and had just a 1 percent catch probability. Albies would have had to travel 80 feet to get it.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Acuna Jr. on Braves' loss, elimination

BRIEF LEAD
Foltynewicz yielded Machado's first-inning RBI double, then pitched around potential trouble in each of the three innings that followed. The decision to limit him to four innings was made after Rich Hill walked Johan Camargo and Tyler Flowers to begin the bottom of the fourth.

Ender Inciarte followed with a sacrifice bunt. After Culberson was unable to score Camargo with his one-out grounder against a drawn-in infield, Foltynewicz was replaced by pinch-hitter Kurt Suzuki, who gave the Braves a 2-1 lead with a single to left.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Suzuki rips a go-ahead 2-run single

"Kurt got a big hit there, and we knew it was going to be tough to cover all the innings today with the guys that we had," Snitker said. "But just felt like we did a good job giving ourselves a chance."

RISP ISSUES
Suzuki's single was one of the two hits the Braves recorded in 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position during the series. The Braves stranded two runners in the first and third innings and then left the bases loaded in the process of chasing Hill in the fifth.

With out out and the bases loaded, the Dodgers called upon Ryan Madson, who quieted the threat by getting Flowers to pop up in foul territory down the third-base line. Inciarte then hit a lazy fly that Machado gloved in shallow left.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Madson bails Dodgers out of a huge jam

HE SAID IT
"That is a powerhouse over there. They have a lot more money. But I feel like our guys with zero to two [years of experience] are ready to take the next step, and we'll be winning titles here." -- Freeman, comparing the Dodgers to the Braves

"When you experience the postseason, it's a bit of a shell-shocking experience, especially starting on the road. What these guys have learned from this year, they'll be able to use next year for sure. I see this team making the playoffs for many, many years in a row. They're only going to get better." -- Braves veteran reliever Peter Moylan

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

Atlanta Braves, Ozzie Albies, Charlie Culberson, Mike Foltynewicz, Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, Kurt Suzuki, Jonny Venters

Anibal likely to start if Braves force Game 5

Snitker: 'All hands on deck' for Game 4, so potential finale plans not definite
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Veteran starter Anibal Sanchez is on track to start Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers in Los Angeles if the Braves can get there, but the club stopped short of making the move official in the hours leading up to the start of Game 4.

The Braves, who trail the Dodgers, 2-1, in the NLDS, need to win Game 4 on Monday to extend the series and will use all available pitchers, including starters, if necessary.

View Full Game Coverage

ATLANTA -- Veteran starter Anibal Sanchez is on track to start Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers in Los Angeles if the Braves can get there, but the club stopped short of making the move official in the hours leading up to the start of Game 4.

The Braves, who trail the Dodgers, 2-1, in the NLDS, need to win Game 4 on Monday to extend the series and will use all available pitchers, including starters, if necessary.

View Full Game Coverage

"It's all hands on deck again," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "If we ran through all the starters [Monday] or something happened [or] we got locked up in extra innings, that first couple of guys that pitched [Sunday] could come back and then do the same thing pretty much in Game 5, if need be."

:: NLDS schedule and results ::

The "first couple of guys" from Sunday's 6-5 victory are Sean Newcomb and Kevin Gausman. Newcomb started Game 3 and threw 43 pitches in 2 2/3 innings. Gausman followed with 49 pitches in two innings of work.

If the Braves appear to be careful in their approach to a Game 5 starter on Wednesday, it's because they are. Monday's starter Mike Foltynewicz was pulled out of Game 1 after giving up four runs on three hits in two innings, and while Atlanta is hoping for the best, the club is preparing for the worst-case scenario.

With that in mind, it's worth noting that Max Fried made his third consecutive appearance Sunday and figures to match up again against the Dodgers in Game 4. Touki Toussaint, Chad Sobotka, A.J. Minter and Arodys Vizcaino each pitched an inning in Game 3 and should all be available, though Toussaint might be a stretch.

Brad Brach, who has not pitched since throwing 31 pitches in relief in the 6-0 loss in Game 1, is another option for Snitker. Julio Teheran, who has made five consecutive Opening Day starts for the Braves, has not appeared in the series, and it's uncertain if he will see any action the NLDS.

"The reason [Teheran] was here is for length, extra innings, things like that pretty much," Snitker said. "I mean, we may have to go to him [Monday] sooner than normal in these situations. But that's just kind of where he was. We had mulled over him making a start, and [we] liked the matchups better with the other guys."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.

Atlanta Braves, Anibal Sanchez

LA shows clout, but missed chances stand out

Dodgers homer twice, finish 1-for-9 with RISP in Game 3 loss
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- A home run would've sufficed, too. The 2018 Dodgers hit those in bunches, after all, and they've continued that trend into the National League Division Series, where they have six through three games, accounting for 11 of their 14 runs.

But with Joc Pederson and Justin Turner aboard in the ninth inning on Sunday -- having shaken Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino with two expert at-bats to lead off the frame -- all the Dodgers really needed was a single.

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ATLANTA -- A home run would've sufficed, too. The 2018 Dodgers hit those in bunches, after all, and they've continued that trend into the National League Division Series, where they have six through three games, accounting for 11 of their 14 runs.

But with Joc Pederson and Justin Turner aboard in the ninth inning on Sunday -- having shaken Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino with two expert at-bats to lead off the frame -- all the Dodgers really needed was a single.

View Full Game Coverage

:: NLDS schedule and results ::

A measly single could've sent Los Angeles to a Game 3 victory and a third straight appearance in the NL Championship Series, rather than a 6-5 loss and an unwanted Game 4 in the NLDS.

That single, that home run, that clutch hit of any kind -- it never came.

Indeed, the top half of the ninth inning served to exacerbate a worrying trend for the Dodgers, as Atlanta clawed its way back into the series with a 6-5 victory. Los Angeles, which now holds a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five, stranded nine runners and finished 1-for-9 with men in scoring position.

"To take us over the top and take the lead again, we just couldn't get that one extra hit," said manager Dave Roberts.

On the whole, the Dodgers' offense has been plenty effective this series. On Sunday, they battled back from an early five-run deficit, using fifth-inning homers from Chris Taylor and Max Muncy to tie the score.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm3: Muncy's solo home run ties game at 5

But -- for as much as a team can be wasteful while outscoring its opponent, 14-6 -- the Dodgers have been wasteful this series. There's no other way to put it. With men in scoring position, they're 3-for-22, a .136 average. And those struggles were never more apparent than they were in the ninth inning of Game 3.

Pederson had worked a brilliant at-bat against Vizcaino, lining the 10th pitch he saw into the right-field corner. He was held to a single, but he advanced to second when Turner grinded his way through a seven-pitch walk.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm3: Pederson singles after 10-pitch at-bat

A raucous SunTrust Park fell to a hush. Vizcaino followed with three straight balls to Muncy, and that hush turned to a chorus of palpable frustration. Facing elimination, the Braves were on the ropes.

"We had our chances," Roberts said. "Those guys made some pitches and got out of some traffic. But our guys stressed them, got on base, and gave ourselves an opportunity."

Opportunity is only half the battle. Vizcaino worked his way back from a 3-0 count and whiffed Muncy. Then he did the same to Manny Machado -- but strike three bounced to the backstop, and suddenly the tying and go-ahead runs were both in scoring position.

Brian Dozier struck out on four pitches.

After the game, the Dodgers weren't willing to concede that their struggles with men in scoring position were representative of any sort of larger trend.

"It's only been three games," said Taylor. "We'll be fine. We've had a couple hard-hit balls that just haven't fallen."

Video: LAD@ATL Gm3: Taylor belts a 2-run jack to deep left

Thing is: There's evidence to suggest this is merely the 2018 Dodgers at work. They slug. They walk. And they don't always hit with men in scoring position. During the regular season, Los Angeles led the National League in homers and walks, but finished eighth in OPS and seventh in average with RISP.

And, sometimes, living by the long ball works just fine. The Dodgers are hitting just .198 in this series. Yet they won Games 1 and 2 handily, and they nearly mounted a wild comeback in Game 3.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm3: Dodgers discuss Game 3 loss to Atlanta

"We scored five runs," Turner said. "We've scored runs. It's just that a couple times we didn't get it done."

And on Sunday night, they paid for it.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Max Muncy, Chris Taylor

Snitker prepared to call on Vizcaino in Game 4

Braves closer turns away Dodgers to pick up save in Game 3
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Arodys Vizcaino managed to escape potential ninth-inning disaster while helping the Braves claim a 6-5 win over the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Sunday night at SunTrust Park.

Now, the question is whether he'll be physically capable of handling his role as closer if the Braves need to call upon him in Monday afternoon's Game 4.

View Full Game Coverage

ATLANTA -- Arodys Vizcaino managed to escape potential ninth-inning disaster while helping the Braves claim a 6-5 win over the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Sunday night at SunTrust Park.

Now, the question is whether he'll be physically capable of handling his role as closer if the Braves need to call upon him in Monday afternoon's Game 4.

View Full Game Coverage

:: NLDS schedule and results ::

"I'll check with him first," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He'll have the next day off [on Tuesday]. If he feels good, I'm going to go with him."

Somewhat indicative of where they have been all season with their bullpen, the Braves entered the postseason with Vizcaino as their most comfortable option to use as a closer. That's even though the veteran right-hander missed nearly three months because of an inflamed right shoulder and before mid-September, it was uncertain whether he would return.

Showing his mettle and arm strength, Vizcaino escaped a jam he after the ninth inning began with Joc Pederson singling off the right-field wall to cap a 10-pitch at-bat. Justin Turner followed with a walk. The closer then responded by recording consecutive strikeouts of Max Muncy and Manny Machado.

Pederson and Machado advanced when Kurt Suzuki could not handle the 1-2 slider that missed Machado's bat, putting the potential tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position. But they were left stranded when another slider concluded Brian Dozier's game-ending strikeout.

"There was a little pressure, but thank God we were able to get out of that inning," Vizcaino said. "That's what we expect from ourselves, it's what the manager expects and that's why he gives me that trust."

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

Atlanta Braves, Arodys Vizcaino

Freeman's HR powers Braves to Game 3 win

MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Given all he has endured over the past few years, it was fitting that Freddie Freeman delivered the decisive blow to preserve the efforts of the many Braves who contributed to the season-extending 6-5 win over the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.

Once closer Arodys Vizcaino had escaped potential disaster in the ninth inning of Sunday night's "must win" game, the Braves could enjoy Ronald Acuna Jr.'s jaw-dropping grand slam and celebrate Freeman's timely contribution, a go-ahead homer off former teammate Alex Wood in the sixth inning.

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ATLANTA -- Given all he has endured over the past few years, it was fitting that Freddie Freeman delivered the decisive blow to preserve the efforts of the many Braves who contributed to the season-extending 6-5 win over the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.

Once closer Arodys Vizcaino had escaped potential disaster in the ninth inning of Sunday night's "must win" game, the Braves could enjoy Ronald Acuna Jr.'s jaw-dropping grand slam and celebrate Freeman's timely contribution, a go-ahead homer off former teammate Alex Wood in the sixth inning.

View Full Game Coverage

"Somebody asked me today before the game who [I would pick to deliver in a big situation]," manager Brian Snitker said. "I was like, 'Freddie.' I mean, it's always him. He's the guy that we count on."

:: NLDS schedule and results ::

Freeman established himself as a mainstay during Chipper Jones' final years, then was chosen to be the franchise cornerstone during the recent massive rebuild. The experiences he had while being part of a 90-loss team each of the past three years have added to the sweetness of this season, which was extended courtesy of what stands as his finest postseason moment.

So when Freeman jumped on Wood's first-pitch curveball and watched his first career postseason homer sail into the right-field seats, he certainly had reason to break free from his usually composed demeanor. He pumped his fists while looking toward his teammates, who certainly understood the gravity of the moment.

"I don't really know what happened," Freeman said. "They showed me the replay after the game, and I guess I was pretty excited after I hit it. That was a big moment that put us ahead. So kind of emotions took over."

In the history of best-of-five series with the 2-2-1 format, 27 teams have lost the first two games on the road. Of the 11 teams to force a Game 4, four won a second straight time at home to set up a winner-take-all Game 5 on the road, and three came all the way back to win the series.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm3: Freeman belts a go-ahead homer

So the odds are against the Braves, just as they were when nobody picked them to win the NL East before the season. Or when Sunday's five-run lead was erased by the fifth inning. Or when Vizcaino put two on before recording the first out of his scoreless ninth. It's dicey, but it's doable.

Video: Must C Conclusion: Vizcaino holds off Dodgers in 9th

"The biggest game of our lives was tonight, and obviously seeing the [5-0] lead go away was not ideal, but we held at 5-5, so we knew we had a chance," Freeman said. "This team's been doing it all year. When we get down, we come back."

Video: LAD@ATL Gm3: Snitker, Freeman and Acuna Jr. on win

This underdog team seems to thrive on the youthful innocence that was apparent yet again after the game, when Acuna admitted that he had never heard of Mickey Mantle. The 20-year-old phenom was asked about the Yankee legend because a few hours earlier, he supplanted Mantle (21 years old in the 1953 World Series) as the youngest player to hit a grand slam in a postseason game.

Video: Must C Classic: Acuna youngest to hit postseason slam

"He continues to amaze," Freeman said of Acuna. "I don't think we needed or wanted anybody else in that situation."

Video: LAD@ATL Gm3: Acuna on not knowing Mickey Mantle

Acuna found himself in that situation because Dodgers rookie starter Walker Buehler momentarily lost his command. Nick Markakis drew a four-pitch walk to begin the second, and the usually aggressive Ozzie Albies looked at two pitches out of the zone before delivering a two-out single that center fielder Cody Bellinger fumbled, allowing the Braves to put runners at second and third.

After Charlie Culberson was intentionally walked, Sean Newcomb looked at four straight pitches out of the zone. That bases-loaded walk drawn by a pitcher who owns three career hits ended the Braves' 19-inning scoreless drought to begin this NLDS. Acuna then looked at three balls before hitting his slam on a 3-1 count; Freeman later drilled Wood's first pitch of the night into the lasting memory of countless fans.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm3: Newcomb plates Markakis on RBI walk

It was just one of those nights for the Braves. Consequently, this memorable season will consist of at least one more day.

"We approached this game like there may be no tomorrow," Snitker said. "We gotta play it like that."

Video: LAD@ATL Gm3: Snitker on Braves' 6-5 win over Dodgers

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
After jumping out to a five-run lead, the Braves stuck to their plan to keep a short leash on Newcomb, who was lifted after walking two batters in the third. Justin Turner made those walks costly when he greeted Kevin Gausman with an RBI single, and an additional run scored on the play when the ball got behind Acuna.

Gausman's entry prompted the Dodgers to insert left-handed slugger Max Muncy into their lineup in the third inning. After Chris Taylor hit a two-run homer in the fifth, Muncy greeted southpaw Max Fried with a game-tying solo home run -- his fifth homer within a span of 24 at-bats against Atlanta.

"Max hung a breaking ball, but other than that, yeah, it was just a hard-fought game, man," Snitker said. "That was a playoff game there."

SOUND SMART
Touki Toussaint became the first Braves rookie to earn a postseason win since John Rocker in Game 5 of the 1998 NLDS.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm3: Toussaint escapes bases-loaded jam

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Culberson added to his list of big postseason moments when he produced one of the game's top defensive plays to deny the Dodgers a run. Former Brave Matt Kemp opened the sixth with a double, but after advancing to third on a groundout, he made the mistake of trying to score against a drawn-in Culberson, who snared Enrique Hernandez's sharp grounder and fired a strike to Kurt Suzuki, who applied the tag.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm3: Culberson throws out Kemp at home

HE SAID IT
"When we're seeing all their pitchers take the line for the intros and all of them are spiked up, not one of them are turfed up, so he's probably going to be quick, make sure you're ready." -- Muncy, on the fact that most of the Braves' relievers were wearing spikes, indicating Newcomb would not pitch more than a few innings

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

Atlanta Braves