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

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 in opposition to 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?

That hasn’t been introduced, however it’s seemingly down to a few selections: Tony Gonsolin, Julio Urias and Brusdar Graterol. The latter can be used as an opener, after all, and it is sensible for a few causes. The Dodgers deployed Graterol as an opener throughout follow runs towards the tail finish of the common season. Additionally, it will be useful to make sure that their finest reliever — at this second, no less than — faces the very best a part of the Braves’ lineup. Gonsolin, who can be on regular relaxation following an 88-pitch begin in Recreation 2, is in line to pitch the vast majority of the innings. However Julio Urias, who threw a career-high 101 pitches in Recreation 3, may present an inning or two as a bridge. — 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 introduced 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 will 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 at last, he hasn’t been nice when used out of the bullpen on brief 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 is likely to be tempting. Once more. — Gonzalez

Can Cody Bellinger discover it on the plate?

Bellinger struggled to seek out consistency along with his mechanics all through the common season, has 4 hits and 9 strikeouts in 23 at-bats on this collection and is batting .238/.333/.476 within the postseason. He has hit some balls laborious, however he hasn’t had a lot to indicate for it. The Dodgers have had a few huge first innings on this collection, most notably their 11-run output in Recreation 3, however they have not been capable of carry that over. Of their Recreation 5 win, they scored three first-inning runs in opposition to Max Fried however did not do the rest thereafter, placing a whole lot of strain 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 follow Ian Anderson?

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

Nonetheless, it is a huge second for an inexperienced rookie. That is the nineteenth Recreation 7 in an LCS or World Collection since 2000 and rookies have began simply thrice: Walker Buehler in Recreation 7 of 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 and so they 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 bought 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 robust bullpen and the way in which the sport is managed as of late, a fast hook is probably going so as irrespective of who begins.

Of the six Recreation 7’s since 2016, together with the Astros-Rays recreation on Saturday, the longest a starter has gone was Zack Greinke’s 6 ⅓ innings in Recreation 7 of final 12 months’s World Collection. Solely three different occasions did a starter even make it by way of 5 innings — Max Scherzer matched up in opposition to Greinke and Charlie Morton twice, within the 2017 ALCS for the Astros after which Saturday in opposition to the Astros. So even when Anderson is throwing up extra zeroes — 15 ⅔ innings to date 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 crew. “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 is not fourth and one and let me get the primary down. It is a baseball recreation and you need to deal with it as such. It is Recreation 7, it will 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 center of the Dodgers lineup?

Seager has been the massive bat for the Dodgers, hitting .375 with 5 residence runs and 11 RBIs within the collection. As soon as Anderson is out of there, you may assume the choice can be to verify a lefty is in there 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 — bear in mind, a reliever has to face three batters, except it is the top of an inning — and you are concerned 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 for positive: 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 who is likely to 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 on possibility. The one man who has been pitching high-leverage conditions who we would not see is Will Smith, who 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 definitely 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 collection, however Acuna hasn’t accomplished 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 the complete postseason. Evidently, having him on base in entrance of Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna is a giant issue. These two have been raking. The Braves had been the very best fastball-hitting crew within the majors — in truth, they had been the very best fastball crew within the majors in 13 years — however the Dodgers have been beating Acuna with a whole lot of fastballs up within the zone after which breaking balls away. — Schoenfield

Matchup wild playing cards

What is the matchup price 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 could occur within the first inning. It could 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 thrice, 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 type of face-off that might swing the complete collection. — Passan

Who’s a sneaky, unlikely hero?

No one within the NLCS is hitting the ball as laborious 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 occasions within the NLCS. Ten of them have been at better than 100 mph — and the opposite 4 had been at 99 mph, 89.7 mph, 88.3 mph and 83.5 mph. Pederson was so pedestrian through the common season, holding him on the bench as a pinch hitter appeared like an possibility. Roberts has caught with him in opposition to 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 ingredient 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. Bear in mind: The minimal doesn’t apply when an inning is over, and for a Braves crew that carried 15 pitchers (!) on its 28-man postseason roster, it may well leverage that to its benefit.

The Dodgers virtually actually usually are not going to wish to play matchups within the early innings — not if it is certain to depart them susceptible in later, probably extra essential 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 essential sufficient, Will Smith. Managers should deal with each out in a Recreation 7 as if the season relies on it, and with as many pitchers because the Braves have, every inning presents them a possibility to make use of the ultimate out to achieve a bonus. — Passan

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