If the Dodgers are going to reach their ultimate goal in 2023, they'll have to either power past the Atlanta Braves' historic lineup or hope that the Phillies/Cubs ingest more Juggernaut Juice before their NLDS matchup begins.
While preparing for the possible inevitability of the Braves standing in their way, the Dodgers made a solid opening statement in Thursday's Game 1 at Dodger Stadium.
No, taking the L wasn't admirable, and you didn't hear any Dodgers playing the moral victory card in the loss' aftermath. But much like the 2007 Super Bowl champion Giants in Week 17 against the Patriots, Los Angeles did just about the most damage you can do in a loss on Thursday, clawing back powerfully against ace Spencer Strider and the Braves after Lance Lynn's early failures.
The result won't satisfy any one of the guys in that Dodgers locker room, and don't expect them to point to Thursday's action ever again. But while the game might be over and done with in LA, there could certainly be a lingering effect in the other locker room, especially on the Braves' likely Game 1 starter.
In Thursday's action, Strider was exactly what he's been for months now: a strikeout fiend who can be implosive from time to time, resulting in a 124 ERA+ that doesn't quite seem to match the ridiculous hype and 3.56 ERA/2.81 FIP disparity. That gap indicates either his luck is due to change soon, or that he's bound to finish an "unlucky" season that matches nasty stuff with repeated meltdowns. If a four-run inning features three Ks, it still wasn't a fantastic frame.
Dodgers intimidated Braves' Spencer Strider in close loss Thursday
Strider's 2023 ERA peaked in mid-June at 4.12, then receded again before a blowup outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 7 that left him licking 4.00 again at 3.94. In the aftermath of that outing, he was energized for the stretch run, building momentum by shutting out the Mets and Giants for 14 consecutive innings, allowing four hits and whiffing 16.
Facing the Giants a second time in two starts didn't faze him, either; he casually dropped seven more one-run innings on San Francisco, readying him (or so he thought) for the Dodgers' lineup.
Instead, LA wore him down. The Dodgers put runners on the corners to start the bottom of the first and scratched one run across. Right when Strider may have felt his most relaxed, up 7-1 in the fifth, they refused to allow him to reach the finish line. Jason Heyward and James Outman reached base to begin the frame before Mookie Betts delivered an opposite-field, two-out, three-run blow, just as he was on the verge of exhaling.
Not only was Strider in the midst of the best stretch of his standout season when the Dodgers did him dirty, but he was one pitch away from escaping and feeling fantastic. Instead, he'll have to live with the memory of the four earned runs as he attempts to right the ship again entering September.
He'll also have to live with how his season ended last year: a five-run, 2.1-inning blowout in Philadelphia in the NLDS. Hopefully, both starts are top of mind for Strider as the Braves and Dodgers hurtle toward the playoff clash everyone's crossing their fingers for.