Dodgers face another chance to exorcise playoff demons in NLCS Game 7

Alex Seixeiro is joined by Ben Nicholson-Smith and Arden Zwelling to preview tonight's NLCS Game 7 between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves.

Win and you're in the World Series, lose and there's nothing to play for tomorrow. The Dodgers have been here before. Tonight, they'll have a chance to exorcise their playoff demons. Live coverage of Game 7 begins at 8 p.m. ET on Sportsnet, Sportsnet ONE and SN NOW.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been here before. Too many times, one might say.

In 2020, the Dodgers won their eighth consecutive NL West division title. They are in their fifth NLCS during that stretch, with a chance to reach their third World Series in four years (though they haven’t won since 1988).

They are the best team in baseball, or at least that’s what the standings and team WAR calculations suggest.

But those things don’t really matter now, because Sunday night’s NLCS Game 7 matchup with the Atlanta Braves is of the winner-take-all variety. Season-long sample sizes need not apply.

Defining a sports franchise as tortured feels like a fluid concept, and for the Dodgers it might come down to a semi-philosophical question: is it better to be great and lose, or to never be great at all?

Baseball fans can grapple with that one when the final out is made. For now, here’s what you need to know heading into the game.

Could’ve been Kershaw’s moment

Clayton Kershaw has this narrative you might be familiar with: he’s not very good in the playoffs.

In fact, he has the highest ERA (4.31) among all pitchers with at least 100 post-season innings thrown. Game 7, when the spotlight shines brightest, would’ve been an opportunity for him to improve on that — if some pesky back spasms hadn’t thrown his schedule out of whack.

Instead of pitching Game 2 (and thus being in line for Game 7), Kershaw worked Game 4. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Saturday he’ll check with the future Hall of Famer before deciding if he might be available out of the bullpen. So I guess there’s hope for him yet.

L.A.’s starter, presumably, will be Tony Gonsolin, who was awfully pedestrian in Game 2 (4 1/3 innings, three hits, three walks and five runs allowed in a loss).

The Braves will counter with wunderkind Ian Anderson, who is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in three playoff starts during his breathtaking rookie campaign.

Checking in on the bullpens

Part of what makes Kershaw’s status for Game 7 so intriguing is that the Dodgers will likely be without resident closer Kenley Jansen, who pitched both Friday and Saturday. Jansen made quick work of the Braves in both outings, but throwing three-straight days feels like a stretch — considering he hasn’t done that since June 14-16, 2019.

Other notable horses in the stable include Brusdar Graterol (who blew up in Game 4 of this series but has otherwise been reliable), Joe Kelly, Victor Gonzalez and Jake McGee. All should be rested and ready for whatever.

Credit Braves starter Max Fried for pushing past his troublesome three-run first inning in Game 6 and giving Atlanta 6 2/3 innings of work. That allowed the Braves to preserve their prominent relievers, including Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Tyler Matzek.

Considering this weeklong series has been played without off-days, both managers will have plenty of ammo for the final act.

Who’s hot and who’s not

Let’s end the guessing game right here: if the Dodgers win the NLCS, Corey Seager will win the NLCS MVP. Seager has nine hits (five home runs) in this series, as well as a blistering 1.253 OPS in 11 games overall this post-season. You can’t really top that (unless you’re Randy Arozarena).

As strange as it might sound, the player L.A. needs to see more from is Mookie Betts. We’re talking strictly in the batter’s box, though, because Betts has made some seriously impactful plays in the field this series. His offence, though — 5-for-22 (.227) with zero extra-base hits — is leaving plenty to be desired.

Freddie Freeman has carried his MVP campaign into October, and he’ll take a seven-game hit streak into Game 7. No qualms there.

The issue lies with the Braves’ other big name, Ronald Acuna Jr., who is just 4-for-21 (.190) in this series, with zero RBIs and six strikeouts. One swing might be all it takes for Acuna to make his mark, though.

Is Price adding value from afar?

There’s more superstition baked into baseball than perhaps any other sport, which makes this tweet from David Price intriguing:

Price, of course, opted out of the season and is not actively helping his Dodgers win games. But maybe his daughter and her Dodgers garb can provide a good luck charm.

Only one way to find out!

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