The Braves are facing down the possibility of blowing a 3-1 lead to the Dodgers in the NLCS for the second year in a row after an 11-2 rout in Los Angeles last night. As they head back home to Atlanta, the Braves’ offense prepares to face Max Scherzer in Game 6 — a sentence that’s not as daunting as it was a week ago.
Scherzer, 37, left Game 2 earlier than expected this past Sunday, citing fatigue and a “dead arm” as the issues, after throwing only 79 pitches and allowing two runs on four hits. After allowing a runner on base in the fifth inning, left-hander Alex Vesia stepped in to close out the inning, but the Dodgers went on to drop the game after a walk-off single in the 9th from Eddie Rosario in a game chock-full with risky baserunning from the Braves that ended up paying off.
To list Scherzer’s many accolades and accomplishments is practically unnecessary (but for the sake of the readers who aren’t aware — four-time Cy Young Award winner, eight-time MLB All-Star, four-time wins leader, and the list goes on). The future Hall of Famer went 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA after the Dodgers acquired him on July 30. He’s a formidable opponent for any batter in the league to go up against. But after his Game 2 performance, Scherzer’s name on the starting lineup in an elimination game suddenly seems a whole lot more questionable.
It’s not a serious injury. No tendons or ligaments are torn, no muscle has been strained. He was just… tired. He’s had nearly a week to rest up, and — lest we forget — he did strike out seven batters in that Game 2 start. He was pitching on only three days rest from his NLDS save against the Giants, which he pitched on only two days rest after starting against San Francisco in Game 3. Tired is understandable, even expected, after a schedule like that — it’s just the worst possible time for this to happen for the Dodgers.
Scherzer is still a weapon for Los Angeles, but as the Braves head back to home field advantage and need only a single W to close it out and head to the Series — well, let’s just say that the L.A. bullpen should be prepared. If Mad Max isn’t able to bounce back from that fatigue — he is, after all, staring down forty with 15 seasons under his belt in the league — the Braves may have the chance to end it all in Game 6. It’s a long season and postseason for a pitcher, and Scherzer has had issues with that duration before, as neck spasms with the Nationals in 2019 kept him from reaching his full potential in the World Series that year.
The notoriously unhittable right-hander is suddenly not such a sure thing for the Dodgers at this point in the season, especially as he allowed five earned runs in back-to-back starts in September against the Padres and the Rockies. It’s difficult not to draw the conclusion that he’s losing steam as the postseason drags out, and while it would be ill-informed to count him out entirely, this matchup against Scherzer might unexpectedly be the Braves’ best chance to make the Series.
Ian Anderson will take the mound for Atlanta in Game 6, and if the Dodgers are able to even it up tomorrow afternoon, Charlie Morton and Walker Buehler will likely face off in a rematch of Game 3, unless Dave Roberts decides to call an audible and use an opener.