The Los Angeles Dodgers lost to the Atlanta Braves 5-4 (box score) in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday night. The Dodgers held a 4-2 lead entering the bottom of the eighth inning, yet were unable to hold on after an interesting pitching decision by Dave Roberts involving lefty Julio Urías.
It's become standard operating procedure for managers to ask their starters to potentially appear on their "throw days," or usually two days before their scheduled outings. That's important to know because Urías, the Dodgers' scheduled starter for Game 4, entered for the bottom of the eighth inning. Roberts' plan seemed to entail leveraging Urías by having him face the top of Atlanta's order, a group that includes two left-handed hitters, in Eddie Rosario (.695 OPS versus lefties the past three years) and Freddie Freeman (.750), as well as a switch-hitter in Ozzie Albies (.972).
Roberts: "Julio, in my opinion, was the best option that we had." Said he held off on throwing his bullpen session to prepare for coming out of the bullpen tonight or last night. Said he trusted Urías's experience over other lefties available.— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) October 18, 2021
The Dodgers have just three left-handers on their pitching staff: Urías, Alex Vesia (who had already pitched), and Justin Bruihl. Clearly Roberts trusted Urías more than the rookie Bruihl; a reasonable position, but one that didn't work out on Sunday.
The Braves, who lack good bench options, appeared to be in an unfavorable position. You wouldn't know it based on how the inning played out. Take a look:
- Rosario singled to left;
- Freeman flied out to left, advancing Rosario to second
- Albies singled to right, scoring Rosario
- Austin Riley doubled to center, scoring Albies
If there is a bright side to Urías' outing from a Dodgers perspective, it's that he threw only 14 pitches. That, plus Monday's off day, will still allow him to start Game 4 on Wednesday. (Roberts confirmed as much after Game 2.) Besides, the Dodgers have been careful with his workload this month. In his other two appearances, he's thrown 72 pitches and 59 pitches, with the latter coming as part of his four-inning "bulk" outing in Game 5 of the NL Division Series.
Complicating matters for Roberts and the Dodgers is fatigue of Max Scherzer, who started Game 2 but was pulled after 4 1/3 innings and 79 pitches. After the game, Scherzer said his arm "was dead," but he's not dealing with any "red-flag injuries." Scherzer also started the NL Wild Card Game and NLDS Game 3 and closed out NLDS Game 5 this postseason.
The Dodgers are now staring down unfavorable odds. Historically, MLB teams who go up 2-0 in best-of-seven sets go on to win the series about 84 percent of the time. The Dodgers will have to prove the exception if they want to advance to their fourth World Series in five tries. If they fail, expect the decision to use Urías on Sunday night to be criticized deep into the winter.
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