Will Acuna rake? May Kershaw pitch? Key questions for epic Braves-Dodgers Recreation 7

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As a result of the baseball gods are feeling beneficiant within the 2020 MLB playoffs, we get a second Recreation 7 this weekend, because the Dodgers and Braves play a win-or-go-home recreation for the Nationwide League pennant and a visit to the World Collection towards the AL champion Tampa Bay Rays.

With a lot at stake, we requested senior MLB writers Alden Gonzalez, David Schoenfield and Jeff Passan about the important thing questions for the Dodgers, Braves and the matchup going into Recreation 7 on Sunday.

L.A.’s key questions

Who begins for the Dodgers?

The Dodgers introduced about 4 hours earlier than first pitch that they’d begin Dustin Might, who solely contributed two innings in Recreation 5 — 4 days after dealing with eight batters in Recreation 1. Might, who has confirmed to have a resilient proper arm, ought to be capable of present the primary chunck of innings for the Dodgers, who can even have Tony Gonsolin on regular relaxation after his 88-pitch outing in Recreation 4. Julio Urias, who threw a career-high 101 pitches in his Recreation Three begin, may additionally be capable of present an inning or two. That ought to permit the Dodgers to save lots of their high-leverage relievers — Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, Victor Gonzalez, Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen — for the later innings. — Gonzalez

Does Clayton Kershaw make an look?

That is the fascinating query. Kershaw was hanging out within the bullpen for Recreation 6, simply in case an emergency offered itself. In all chance, he can even be within the bullpen for Recreation 7, ready for a possible name. The Dodgers wish to keep away from utilizing him for 3 causes: First, they’ll save him to start out Recreation 1 of the World Collection; second, he was scratched from his scheduled begin earlier this week due to again spasms; and eventually, he hasn’t been nice when used out of the bullpen on quick relaxation, the latest instance coming in Recreation 5 of final 12 months’s NL Division Collection. But when the sport is shut and Dave Roberts wants an inning or two earlier than attending to his high-leverage relievers, the considered Kershaw standing in that bullpen may be tempting. Once more. — Gonzalez

Can Cody Bellinger discover it on the plate?

Bellinger struggled to search out consistency together with his mechanics all through the common season. He has 4 hits and 9 strikeouts in 23 at-bats on this sequence and is batting .238/.333/.476 within the postseason. He has hit some balls onerous, however he hasn’t had a lot to point out for it. The Dodgers have had a few huge first innings on this sequence, most notably their 11-run output in Recreation 3, however they have not been in a position to carry that over. Of their Recreation 5 win, they scored three first-inning runs towards Max Fried however did not do anything thereafter, placing a number of stress on their bullpen and their protection. Each these areas got here by way of, however the Dodgers cannot rely on that once more. They want extra constant manufacturing from their offense. They want Bellinger to be a catalyst once more. — Gonzalez

Atlanta’s key questions

How lengthy do the Braves keep on with Ian Anderson?

The 22-year-old has simply 9 profession begins however has clearly been spectacular, with a 1.31 ERA, one residence run in 48 innings and a .154 batting common allowed. He has additionally had three scoreless outings within the postseason. His changeup has been his huge weapon as batters have hit simply .076 towards it, and he isn’t afraid to throw it to right-handers.

Nonetheless, it is a huge second for a rookie. That is the 19th Recreation 7 in an LCS or World Collection since 2000, and rookies have began simply 3 times: Walker Buehler for the Dodgers within the 2018 NLCS, Daisuke Matsuzaka for the Pink Sox within the 2007 ALCS (and he had loads of big-game expertise in Japan) and John Lackey for the Angels within the 2002 World Collection. (And if Tony Gonsolin begins for the Dodgers, he’d make No. 4!)

The Dodgers are recognized for his or her very affected person method, they usually labored Anderson for 5 walks in 4 innings in his Recreation 2 begin. He escaped with none harm, nevertheless, as he allowed only one hit and acquired out of a bases-loaded jam within the third inning when Will Smith grounded out. Nonetheless, even when he is crusing alongside, do not search for him to go deep into the sport. Braves supervisor Brian Snitker nonetheless has a powerful bullpen, and the way in which the sport is managed today, a fast hook is probably going so as irrespective of who begins.

Of the six Recreation 7s since 2016, together with the Astros-Rays recreation Saturday, the longest a starter has gone was Zack Greinke’s 6⅓ innings in Recreation 7 of final 12 months’s World Collection. Solely three different instances did a starter even make it by way of 5 innings — Max Scherzer matched up towards Greinke final 12 months, and Charlie Morton twice, within the 2017 ALCS for the Astros after which Saturday towards the Astros. So even when Anderson is throwing up extra zeroes — 15⅔ innings up to now within the postseason — do not be stunned if he is out of there after 4 or 5 innings.

Snitker stated he had no particular message for Anderson or his group. “They know what we’re doing. They’re very conscious that that is Recreation 7, and shoot, we’ll go on the market and let her fly. A Recreation 7 is one other baseball recreation. It isn’t fourth-and-1 and let me get the primary down. It is a baseball recreation and it’s important to deal with it as such. It is Recreation 7, it should be enjoyable, we like how we’re stacked up, we like who’s pitching.” — Schoenfield

How do the Braves navigate by way of Corey Seager and the guts of the Dodgers’ lineup?

Seager has been the massive bat for the Dodgers, hitting .375 with 5 residence runs and 11 RBIs within the sequence. As soon as Anderson is out of there, you would possibly suppose the choice can be to verify a lefty is in to face Seager … besides 4 of the 5 residence runs have come off left-handers, together with one off A.J. Minter in Recreation 2 and one off Tyler Matzek in Recreation 5. So perhaps it is not the left-handers who face Seager — keep in mind, a reliever has to face three batters, until it is the top of an inning — and you are worried extra about Mookie Betts within the leadoff spot and Justin Turner hitting third, so it is the right-handers who face the highest of the lineup.

One factor’s for certain: All people is offered. No Braves reliever pitched in each Video games 5 and 6. Chris Martin did throw 30 pitches in Recreation 6, so he is the one one who may be barely compromised. Minter threw 42 pitches in Recreation 5 because the starter, however was so dominant with seven strikeouts in three innings that he is actually an choice. The one man who has been pitching high-leverage conditions who we’d not see is Will Smith. He gave up seven residence runs in 16 innings within the common season after which the massive one to the Dodgers’ Will Smith in Recreation 5 and in addition walked two batters in Recreation 4. So most probably it is some mixture of Matzek, Minter, Shane Greene, Martin, maybe side-armer Darren O’Day if it is a two-out scenario after which nearer Mark Melancon. That is loads of depth to get by way of 9 innings. — Schoenfield

Will Ronald Acuna Jr. do something?

The Braves are hitting .263/.333/.450 within the sequence, however Acuna hasn’t completed a lot harm, hitting .190 with no residence runs and two doubles. He has struck out 34% of the time within the postseason, so the swing-and-miss has been an issue your complete postseason. For sure, having him on base in entrance of Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna is a giant issue. These two have been raking. The Braves have been the very best fastball-hitting group within the majors — in truth, they have been the very best fastball-hitting group within the majors in 13 years — however the Dodgers have been beating Acuna with a number of fastballs up within the zone after which breaking balls away. — Schoenfield

Matchup wild playing cards

What is the matchup value tuning in to see?

Freddie Freeman vs. Brusdar Graterol. There are solely two regulars Graterol hasn’t confronted within the NLCS: Acuña and Freeman. It might occur within the first inning. It might occur within the seventh or eighth or ninth. Freeman has seen 28 fastballs this season at 98 mph-plus. He took 16 for balls, fouled off 4, flew out 3 times, swung and missed twice, singled, doubled and grounded out.

In different phrases, if Graterol places a heater within the zone, Freeman shouldn’t be more likely to stare at it. And contemplating his propensity to do harm, it is the form of faceoff that might swing your complete sequence. — Passan

Who’s a sneaky, unlikely hero?

No one within the NLCS is hitting the ball as onerous because the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson — and the longer Anderson goes, the likelier he’s to stay within the recreation. Pederson has put the ball in play 14 instances within the NLCS. Ten of them have been at better than 100 mph — and the opposite 4 have been at 99 mph, 89.7 mph, 88.Three mph and 83.5 mph. Pederson was so pedestrian through the common season, retaining him on the bench as a pinch hitter appeared like an choice. Roberts has caught with him towards right-handers, and he has repaid that not solely by smashing the ball however making contact. Pederson, who all through his profession has been one thing of a strikeout artist, has punched out simply twice within the NLCS. — Passan

What’s a strategic factor that might come into play?

Work across the three-batter-minimum rule for pitchers by aiming for heavy platoon matchups that might be the third out of the inning. Keep in mind: The minimal doesn’t apply when an inning is over, and for a Braves group that carried 15 pitchers (!) on its 28-man postseason roster, it will possibly leverage that to its benefit.

The Dodgers nearly actually usually are not going to wish to play matchups within the early innings — not if it is sure to go away them susceptible in later, probably extra vital conditions — so if ever A.J. Pollock is up with two outs? Burn Darren O’Day. If Cody Bellinger is in the identical scenario? Burn Grant Dayton or, if it is vital sufficient, Will Smith. Managers should deal with each out in a Recreation 7 as if the season will depend on it, and with as many pitchers because the Braves have, every inning presents them a chance to make use of the ultimate out to realize a bonus. — Passan

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