The National League Championship Series shifts to Dodger Stadium Tuesday with the Los Angeles Dodgers facing what for all intents and purposes is a must-win game.
The Dodgers trail the Atlanta Braves two games to none in the best-of-seven series. Only once in baseball history has a team overcome a three games to none deficit — the 2004 Boston Red Sox, spurred on by a ninth-inning steal of second base in Game 4 by Dave Roberts, now the Dodgers manager.
The Dodgers also trailed the Braves two games to none in the 2020 NLCS, then won Game 3, lost Game 4, then won each of the last three to advance to the World Series, where they defeated the Tampa Bay Rays.
Walker Buehler will pitch for the Dodgers while Atlanta will counter will fellow right-hander Charlie Morton.
“If the baseball sayings are right, you’re only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher and so we got Walk going on the mound and we definitely believe we can win with him,” said Max Scherzer, the Dodgers’ starting pitcher in Sunday’s 5-4 loss.
“So that will be our mindset … just win the next game.”
The 27-year-old Buehler had MLB’s second-best winning percentage, .800 on a 16-4 record, third-best ERA (2.47), and was tied for third in victories in the regular season. Opposing batters hit .199 against him, the second-lowest average in MLB.
Buehler had a no-decision in his lone 2021 regular-season appearance against the Braves, allowing two runs and four hits in seven innings, striking out five and walking two in a 3-2 victory Aug. 31.
The Dodgers were 22-10 in the regular season in Buehler’s starts and are 1-1 in the postseason.
Buehler was the losing pitcher in the Dodgers’ 4-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants in Game 1 of a National League Division Series Oct. 8, allowing three runs on six hits in 6 1/3 innings. He had a no-decision in Game 4 of the NLDS, pitching on three days rest for the first time in his career, allowing one run on three hits in 4 1/3 innings in a 7-2 victory last Tuesday.
The 37-year-old Morton tied for 10th in MLB in winning percentage, .700 on a 14-6 record, was ninth with 216 strikeouts and 17th with a 3.34 ERA. Opposing batters hit .203 against him, the fifth-lowest average in MLB.
Morton faced the Dodgers twice in the 2021 regular season. He was the winning pitcher in a 6-4 victory June 5, allowing four runs, two earned, and four hits in a 6-4 victory June 5, striking out five and walking one. Morton had no decision in the Aug. 31 game Buehler also started, allowing one run and three hits in six innings, striking out eight and walking two.
The Braves were 17-16 in the regular season in Morton’s starts and are 1-1 in the postseason.
Morton was the losing pitcher in Atlanta’s 2-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 1 of an NLDS Oct. 8, allowing two runs and three hits in a 2-1 loss. Morton had no decision in the Braves’ 5-4 victory in Game 4 last Tuesday, allowing two runs and four hits in 3 1/3 innings.
This will be fourth time Morton has pitched against the Dodgers in the postseason since 2017.
Morton was the losing pitcher in Game 3 of the 2020 World Series, allowing five runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings for Tampa Bay. He had no decision in the Game 4 of the 2017 World Series, allowing one run and three hits in 6 1/3 innings in the Houston Astros’ 6-2 loss, and the winning pitcher in Game 7, allowing one run and two hits over four innings in a 5-1 victory.
Another reason for optimism is the Dodgers recent record-setting success at Dodger Stadium, where they have won 17 of their last 18 games. The run began with a three-game sweep of Atlanta, Aug. 30-Sept. 1, the start of a franchise-record 15-game home winning streak.
The Braves have lost their last nine games at Dodger Stadium, including two postseason contests in 2018.
A key reason for the Dodgers’ losses in the first two games of the series was their inability to get hits with runners in scoring position. They were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position in Saturday’s 3-2 loss in Game 1 and 1-for-10 Sunday.
“We’ve got to kind of lock in more in the strike zone, and when we do that we’ll have more success,” Roberts said.
Roberts said he expects Justin Turner to return the starting lineup after being limited to a pinch-hitting appearance Sunday after failing to recover enough from a neck stinger suffered during batting practice prior to Game 1 Saturday.
The injury ended Turner’s streak of 77 consecutive postseason starts.