ARLINGTON, Texas — Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman didn’t stop his “MVFree” campaign when the calendar turned to October. Nor did his team’s offense stall when it arrived in the Texas bubble.
Freeman, who was the National League’s best player in the regular season, has been the best player through two games of the NL Championship Series. And his Braves, formerly postseason doormats, stand two wins from a World Series berth.
Freeman’s fingerprints were all over Tuesday’s 8-7 Game 2 victory in Arlington. He belted a two-run homer off Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin to open the scoring in the fourth, made a clutch stretching grab to end a Dodgers scoring threat earlier in the night and had a key RBI hit in a four-run fifth.
It was another all-important win for the 2020 Braves, who are 7-0 this postseason while outscoring opponents 37-12. Yes, that’s a plus 25-run differential in seven games. The Braves had a plus-60 run differential in the 60-game regular season.
It almost slipped away, however, when the Dodgers scored seven runs in the seventh inning and later, including a four-run ninth in which Cody Bellinger was left stranded at third.
The difference was ultimately the fourth inning. The Braves’ 33-minute, four-run half inning began with Nick Markakis’ 10-pitch walk. Entering the at-bat, Markakis was just 4-for-25 this postseason. Six pitches later, Cristian Pache laced a double down the left-field line that scored Markakis.
It aptly illustrated the Braves’ oft-discussed veteran-youth mix. Pache, 21, scored Markakis, 36, on his first postseason hit and first career RBIThe double extended the Braves’ lead to 3-0.
Ronald Acuna’s ensuing walk ended Gonsolin’s outing. The Dodgers summoned Pedro Baez, who held left-handed hitters to a 3-for-31 mark in the regular season, to face Freeman, who greeted him with an RBI single. Marcell Ozuna walked to load the bases. Travis d’Arnaud’s walk scored the Braves’ fifth run. Ozzie Albies’ sacrifice fly scored their sixth.
It was an inning that sapped the enthusiasm out of every Dodgers fan at Globe Life Park. The Braves weren’t just beating the Dodgers. They were dominating them, convincingly showing them up just as they did with the Reds and Marlins in route to the NLCS..
The Dodgers, who were 43-17 in the regular season and nearly everyone’s World Series pick, looked as helpless as the last-place Red Sox team the Braves obliterated at Fenway Park in early September. But their late surge might’ve shown what’s to come. The Dodgers won’t be going out quietly.
Messy finish aside, the Braves just need two more victories to claim this best-of-seven. Nobody in Atlanta will feel comfortable until it’s over, but these Braves have demolished every demon of the franchise’s past. And they avoided added to that list of miseries by hanging on in Game 2. Albies’ solo homer in the top of the ninth proved a game-saving insurance run.
The Braves won despite starter Ian Anderson’s “off” performance. Like Max Fried the night before, Anderson saw his pitch count build early with a 29-pitch first inning. In a two-on, two-out jam, the inning ended on a terrific defensive sequence: Austin Riley snagged a hard-hit ball by Will Smith at third and fired to Freeman, who stretched and kept his foot on the bag for his first signature moment of the game.
Anderson responded with a 13-pitch second but pitched into a troublesome third. He again walked Betts, and Justin Turner’s two-out single and Max Muncy’s four-pitch walk loaded the bases. Anderson got Smith to ground into a force out to third to end the inning.
The 22-year-old right-hander needed 66 pitches to record nine outs. He walked five over just four innings, but most importantly, he kept the Dodgers off the board. Anderson didn’t have his A-stuff — the fastball command was the most erratic it’s been — but showed the calmness and maturity that’s earned him glowing reviews through his first nine major-league outings.
He became the first Braves starter to produce three consecutive scoreless starts in the postseason. He’s the second pitcher in MLB history to start his postseason career with three scoreless starts of four-or-more innings.
Unlike Anderson, Gonsolin cruised early and looked like he’d pitch deep into the game. The right-hander, who replaced Clayton Kershaw as the Game 2 starter, entered the fourth inning with a perfect game but left it in a two-run hole. He issued a lead-off walk to Acuna and saw his ill-placed inside splitter deposited into the right-field seats by Freeman, who had his second homer in as many nights.
With that swing, a game that felt tilted toward the Dodgers because of their early scoring chances shifted into the Braves’ favor. Freeman became the first player to homer in Game 1 and 2 of an NLCS since the Mets’ Daniel Murphy did so in 2015 against the Cubs.
Murphy won NLCS MVP that October, and if Freeman and the Braves maintain their trajectory, Freeman is looking at a similar outcome. Like the regular season, the Braves’ offense is torturing the opposition in the semi-finals, and as it’s been for the better part of a decade, the entire operation is built around Freeman.