Mike Check

Michael Cunningham’s ramblings from the world of sports

Braves weren’t ready for Dodgers


The Braves didn’t look ready for this. Certainly not starter Mike Foltynewicz, who lasted two innings. Maybe not manager Brian Snitker, whose decision to go with a short bench already came into play. 

Braves hitters were so inept against left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu that he ended up on a list with Don Drysdale, Orel Hershiser and Sandy Koufax. Those are the only other Dodgers to strike out at least eight with no runs allowed in a playoff game. 

The Dodgers didn’t break a sweat while winning 6-0 in Game 1 of the NLDS. For Game 2 on Friday the Braves will rely on rejuvenated veteran Anibal Sanchez and the pluck that’s defined their season. The Dodgers will counter with Clayton Kershaw and whichever lineup of mashers manager Dave Roberts decides on that day. 

There’s no escaping them. The Dodgers’ first batter of the series, Joc Pederson, homered against Foltynewicz. Max Muncy smacked a three-run shot in the second inning. The Braves were down 4-0 before their No. 8 hitter got to the plate. 

The numbers say playoff experience doesn’t matter much, but it was hard to square that data with watching the Braves wilt. 

They don’t strike out much and hit left-handers well, but they whiffed 11 times in Game 1 and managed four singles through seven against Ryu. Foltynewicz’s troubles against left-handed batters, seemingly solved this season, resurfaced. Rookie phenom Ronald Acuna missed a sign and ran into a big out, scuttling one of the few scoring chances against Ryu. 

The Braves appeared overwhelmed by the moment. I figured the Braves would reject that line of thinking. Instead, they leaned into it, citing it as a reason why things will be different in Game 2. 

“I think they’ll come back with a little more sense of what we’re in for,” Snitker said. 

“Try not to make the moment bigger than it is,” said Charlie Culberson, who went to the last World Series with the Dodgers.

Snitker included Foltynewicz among the Braves who were too keyed up for their first playoff game. Foltynewicz didn’t include himself. 

“The feelings were just like a regular start, really,” he said. 

The results were his worst of the season, at the worst time. 

Foltynewicz threw Pederson an 0-2 fastball through the top of the strike zone and the lefty sent it just over the wall in right-center. Justin Turner doubled and Muncy walked before Foltynewicz struck out two batters, walked Cody Bellinger, and then struck out Yasiel Puig with his 28th pitch. 

Somehow, Foltynewicz had escaped with just the one run allowed. He did a little triumphant hop after he retired Puig, and looked to be back in control after recording two quick outs in the second inning. 

Then Foltynewicz hit Pederson with his 38th pitch, also with an 0-2 count. Foltynewicz walked the next batter, Turner, and the four pitches called balls weren’t close. 

Muncy, another lefty, pounded Foltynewicz’s 1-0 fastball for a home run to right field. This was the year Foltynewicz had learned to avoid giving in when he’s close to getting through, but he couldn’t do it against the Dodgers.

“I’ve been thinking about that all night, especially (with) years past,” Foltynewicz said. “Two strikes and two outs, for all of that to unwind like that really takes the cake.” 

That was pretty much a wrap for the Braves, who had few openings against Ryu. 

Acuna’s base-running blunder closed one of them. He reached on an error to begin the sixth, but that chance ended with a strike ‘em out (Johan Camargo), throw ‘em out double play. 

Outs are precious against Ryu, and Acuna gave one away by missing a hold sign

with a 2-2 count to Camargo. 

“It happens.” Snitker said. “That wasn’t by any stretch anything that cost us the game. It was just a kid that was out there thinking his teammate’s going to put that ball in play and he’s going to try to make something happen.” 

Nothing much was happening offensively for the Braves. Snitker’s decision to carry a light-hitting third catcher, Rene Rivera, cost them a pinch-hit chance in the third inning. 

Snitker sent Foltynewicz up to bat with one out and the bases empty. Foltynewicz struck out, then Snitker replaced him with lefty Sean Newcomb to pitch the third. 

“I didn’t want to burn a player there,” Snitker said. 

A sixth bench guy, or a fifth that Snitker would actually use to hit, could have come in handy there. Then again, that made little difference during a game in which the Braves just didn’t look ready.


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About the Author

Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.