Chris Taylor homered three times, becoming the first player in MLB history to do so in a potential elimination game, as the Los Angeles Dodgers prevailed in Game 5 of the NLCS on Thursday. With their 11-2 blowout win over the Braves at home, the Dodgers cut their deficit in the best-of-seven series to three games to two and forced a Game 6 back in Atlanta on Saturday.
Atlanta barged to an early 2-0 lead in Game 5 with a first-inning home run by Freddie Freeman off "opener" Joe Kelly. Kelly was forced from the game shortly after because of biceps tightness. That Braves lead, however, was short-lived. In the second, A.J. Pollock and Taylor each homered off Atlanta ace Max Fried to give the hosts a 3-2 lead. Taylor drove in another run in the third, and then in the fifth he hit his second two-run home run of Game 5. In the seventh, Taylor became just the 11th player ever to homer three times in a postseason game:
Taylor had a shot at a fourth home run, but in the eighth he struck out. On the night, he tallied six RBI and 13 total bases. A.J. Pollock also homered twice, and 41-year-old Albert Pujols, who's also on the list of players to hit three homers in a playoff game, singled twice and drew a walk. The heretofore struggling Trea Turner picked up three hits for Los Angeles.
In all, Fried allowed five runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings for the Braves. That marks the first time since July 5 that Fried has allowed five or more runs in a start.
Dave Roberts' bullpen game also worked to great effect after Kelly's exit. From that point, six Dodger relievers -- Evan Phillips, Alex Vesia, Brusdar Graterol, Blake Treinen, Corey Knebel, and Kenley Jansen -- combined to throw 8 1/3 scoreless innings.
Here are five takeaways from Game 5.
1. Taylor (and Pollock) made history
Only three times in 28 regular season starts did Braves lefty Max Fried surrender two home runs. He then allowed two home runs in the span of three batters in Game 5. A.J. Pollock (solo) and Chris Taylor (two-run) took Fried deep in the second inning, turning Atlanta's 2-0 lead into a 3-2 deficit. They were both no-doubters too.
Taylor's night was only getting started. In the third inning he dunked a two-out first pitch single to center to score an insurance run and give the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. Two innings after that Taylor hit another home run, his second two-run shot of the night, and two innings after that, he went deep again. Three home runs in a win or go home game is the definition of clutch.
Taylor had a chance to hit a fourth home run as well, though he struck out in the eighth inning. He would have been the first player ever with four homers in a postseason game -- there have only been 18 four-homer games in the regular season -- but he'll instead have to settled for being only the 11th player ever with a three-homer game in the postseason (Babe Ruth did it twice).
The only other Dodger with three homers in a postseason game is Enrique Hernández (Game 5 of the 2017 NLCS) and Taylor is the first player ever with three homers in an elimination game. All-time legends like Ruth, Reggie Jackson, George Brett, and Albert Pujols have hit three homers in a postseason game, but none did it with their team facing elimination. Taylor's the first. Incredible.
All told, Taylor went 4 for 5 with three homers and 6 RBI in Game 5. He's driven in nine runs in four elimination games this postseason (he had the walk-off two-run homer in the Wild Card Game and a sac fly in NLDS Game 4 against the Giants, plus 6 RBI in Game 5) the most ever by a Dodgers player in a single year. His four homers in elimination games are the most ever in a single postseason.
It should be noted Pollock went deep again later in Game 5 as well. He and Taylor are the third set of teammates with multiple homers in a postseason game, joining Wil Myers and Fernando Tatis Jr. (2020 Wild Card Series Game 2) and Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (1932 World Series Game 3). They're the fourth and fifth Dodgers ever with multiple homers in an elimination game:
- Chris Taylor and A.J. Pollock vs. Braves in 2021 NLCS Game 5
- Corey Seager vs. Braves in 2020 NLCS Game 5
- Adrian Gonzalez vs. Cardinals in 2013 NLCS Game 5
- Shawn Green vs. Cardinals in 2004 NLDS Game 3
All told, Taylor is 9 for 17 with three walks and four strikeouts in the NLCS. He's driven in nine runs. There's still at least one more game to go, but at this point it seems pretty clear Taylor will be named NLCS MVP if the Dodgers come back to win the series, and Eddie Rosario will be named NLCS MVP if the Braves manage to close it out.
Much like Game 1, the Dodgers hung in well against Fried in Game 5, and the result was four hits in two-strike counts. They had six two-strike hits against him in Game 1, so that's 10 two-strike hits in the series. Fried held hitters to .160/.226/.243 batting line in two-strike counts during the regular season. The Dodgers had an excellent approach against the Braves southpaw.
Game 5 was Atlanta's ninth game this postseason and the first time their starter allowed more than two runs (there was one opener game and a few quick hooks in there, it should be noted).
2. The Dodgers bullpen was great
Game 5 was a bullpen game by design for the Dodgers, though Joe Kelly, the "starter," didn't pitch all that well. He faced four batters and gave up Freddie Freeman's two-run home run before exiting with biceps tightness. A planned long night for the bullpen got a little longer with Kelly's relatively quick exit.
Following Kelly though, the Los Angeles bullpen was absolutely nails. Six relievers combined to hold the Braves scoreless across 8 1/3 innings. Brusdar Graterol and Blake Treinen did the heaviest lifting, tossing two scoreless innings apiece and retiring 12 of the 13 batters they faced. The Braves had just one runner reach second base (and none reach third base) after the first inning.
LA relievers after Kelly
The Los Angeles bullpen ranked second in ERA (3.16), third in WHIP (1.19), and fifth in WAR (6.5) during the regular season. They have been lights out most of the year, and especially so in Game 5. Kelly started ("opened") and labored before being lifted with the injury, then the rest of the crew closed it out. An incredible bullpen showing with the season on the line.
3. Freeman is officially red hot
Remember when Freddie Freeman went 0 for 8 with seven strikeouts in Games 1 and 2? It feels like a lifetime ago now. Freeman opened Game 5 with his third home run of the postseason and his second in as many games. His first inning two-run home run against Joe Kelly gave the Braves a quick 2-0 lead.
Freeman went 1 for 4 with the homer in Game 5 and is 6 for 12 (.500) with a home run and more walks (two) than strikeouts (one) in three games since the 0 for 8 start to the series. He is way too good a hitter to struggle for a long stretch of time, and in this series, Freeman's slump lasted all of two games.
It was a minor miracle the Braves won Games 1 and 2 with Freeman being so unproductive. They have basically zero chance to win the series without Freeman being a major contributor, and now he's rounded back into MVP form.
4. A runner got caught stealing!
Stolen bases have quickly gone from an under-the-radar storyline to front and center this postseason. Going into Game 5 runners were 34 for 36 -- 34 for 36! -- stealing bases this postseason, and one of the two caught stealings wasn't even a real caught stealing. Manny Margot overslid the bag and was tagged out. He made it in safely, but slid too far.
Thursday night Eddie Rosario became only the third player to be caught stealing this postseason, and the first in the National League. He got thrown out trying to steal second base in the third inning. Will Smith made an excellent throw.
Can't say I love that stolen base attempt. Two outs in the inning, Freeman at the plate after he went deep in his first at-bat, I say just stay on first and hope Freddie runs into one. I understand the value of the extra 90 feet there, and I know runners have been very successful stealing bases this postseason, but eh. I'd rather let Freeman hit with as many runners on base as possible.
Anyway, the stolen base has become cool again this postseason. Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts each stole bases later in Game 5, so runners are 36 for 39 stealing bases this October, and insane 92 percent success rate. The stolen base break-even point is around 75 percent these days. Runners are far above that this postseason.
5. The Braves still have the edge
But gosh, it's starting to feel like last postseason, isn't it? Last postseason the Braves beat the Dodgers in Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS, lost Game 3, won Game 4 to take the commanding 3-1 series lead, then lost Games 5-7 and the series. This year's NLCS is following the game pattern. The Braves won Games 1 and 2, lost Game 3, then won Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Now they've lost Game 5. Hmmm. Of course, teams with a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven have historically gone on to win the series 70 percent of the time, so the odds are still in Atlanta's favor. You can be sure they want to close this out in Game 6 though. They want no part of a Game 7.