Mike Check

Michael Cunningham’s ramblings from the world of sports

The Braves can’t score a run in NLDS, so who knows if they’ll win a game 


The Braves left Los Angeles without scoring even one measly run. That’s 18 innings and 63 batters with no tallies. Heck, the Braves got runners to second base just four times and to third base only twice--and they got two of those bases because the Dodgers gave it to them. 

The Dodgers aren’t allowing the Braves anything else in the NLDS. The Braves lost 3-0 in Game 2 on Friday after they dropped lost 6-0 in Game 1. They face elimination on Sunday at SunTrust Park, which in its second year can join the long Braves tradition of hosting opponents who clinch.

Look, I know the Dodgers are really good. Lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu’s was effective in Game 1, and Clayton Kershaw was great in Game 2. The Dodgers have bashed a bunch of homers — that’s their thing — but did I mention the Braves haven’t scored one bleepin’ run? 

“The pitching has been fine,” Braves shortstop Charlie Culberson said. “Offensively we’ve just got to put some stuff together.” 

It’s not clear the Braves can do it. Their offense leaked oil in September. It’s seized up in October. 

The Dodgers will send out rookie right-hander Walker Buehler for Game 3. He’s been at least as good as Ryu and Kershaw, and maybe better. Braves manager Brian Snitker said he might shuffle the lineup order, which is likely to have zero effect, but might as well I guess. 

“We are who we are,” Snitker said. “We are not deep in our lineup, and we haven’t been all year.” 

The warts the Braves showed all season, and some that popped up in September, have been exposed by the Dodgers. 

Braves pitchers have issued walks too often and their batters haven’t walked once. All-Stars Nick Markakis and Ozzie Albies have carried their late-season funk into October. The same goes for Culberson, who’s been pressed into action because Dansby Swanson is hurt. 

To that list of familiar woes, the Braves have added the struggles of their best hitter, Freddie Freeman. He’s 1-for-8 with two strikeouts. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect any of this. 

Freeman was down on himself for not driving home Ronald Acuna Jr. after the rookie doubled off Kershaw to begin Game 2. 

“Me not getting the job done changed the game,” he said. 

Freeman isn’t alone. Acuna was 2-for-4 in Game 2. The rest of the Braves were 1-for-25. The Braves, a pretty good power-hitting team during the season, have one extra-base hit in this series. 

Another new wrinkle for the Braves: a bevy of home runs served up by their pitchers. That wasn’t a problem during the season. It can happen against the Dodgers, who are deep with power hitters. Five of their 10 hits in the series have been homers. 

The surprise, though, is the lack of response by Braves hitters. It wasn’t going to be easy against Kershaw and Ryu in a playoff series but, come on, zero runs over 18 innings? 

It’s difficult to envision the Braves scoring many runs against Buehler. It’s nearly impossible to see them generating enough offense to win three in a row against the Dodgers.

“We’ve shocked a lot of people already and we can do it again,” Braves center fielder Ender Incarte said. “I’m not ready to go home.”

Inciarte is being optimistic, and I get it, but ... well, you know. The Braves can’t score. It’s too bad because the pitching has been passable, save for Mike Foltynewicz’s two-inning start in Game 1. 

Game 2 starter Anibal Sanchez made it 4 2/3 innings. The Dodgers hit two of Sanchez’s pitches hard in the air, and both balls cleared the fence. Manny Machado’s first-inning homer staked Kershaw to a 2-0 lead, and Yasmani Grandal’s shot in the fifth made it 3-0. 

Sanchez fell behind 3-0 in the count to Machado. The fourth pitch, a cut fastball low and outside, was pretty good. But it caught part of the plate. Machado extended his arms and muscled the ball out to left field. 

Snitker said he assumed Sanchez would walk Machado. 

“That’s my fault,” Snitker said. “The pitch he hit most guys don’t get that. But I could have took it out of (Sanchez’s) hands.” 

Sanchez’s pitch to Grandal was a big mistake. He had him down 0-2 in the count but left a sinker over the plate. Grandal hammered it 419 feet into the right-field seats. 

Yet a few bad pitches are hardly the point for the Braves who — sorry, I can’t get over it — still haven’t scored a run in the NLDS. The Braves struck out 11 times in Game 1. They pounded a bunch of Kershaw’s pitches into the dirt. 

After the Dodgers waylaid the Braves early in Game 1, Acuna’s double was a sign that the visitors might return the favor. They didn’t. They couldn’t. 

Freeman said the game plan, informed by analytics, called for swinging early in the count because that’s when Kershaw almost always throws fastballs. That’s what Kershaw threw on the first pitch of the game to Acuna, and on the first pitch to No. 2 hitter Johan Camargo. 

“Then the analytics went out the door because he started throwing a lot of sliders,” Freeman said. 

That’s the pitch he used to get Freeman to ground out for the second out in the first. Kershaw stranded Acuna by striking out Markakis with one of his swooping curveballs 

After Acuna’s double, Kershaw retired 14 batters in a row. Inciarte’s line drive hit him in the leg for an infield hit with two outs in the fifth. It would have been a lucky break for the Braves if that liner knocked Kershaw out of the game. 

It didn’t. It couldn’t. Kershaw in command, determined to wash away the stain of spotty starts in past postseasons. 

Kershaw hit Lane Adams with a pitch to begin the sixth inning. Then Acuna reached on a fielder’s choice and Camargo grounded into a double play. Kershaw retired the Braves in order in the seventh and eighth before Kenley Jansen finished them off.

The Braves say they aren’t done yet.

“We’ve got to go back home, regroup and try to win a game,” Snitker said.

Sounds good but, to do that, the Braves need to score at least one run. Please?


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About the Author

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