Manny Machado slugs Dodgers into 3rd straight NLCS
Los Angeles shortstop hits key 3-run homer to help eliminate Braves
When the Los Angeles Dodgers bolstered their already power-packed lineup with slugging shortstop Manny Machado, this is just what they had in mind.
Plenty of long balls. Another deep run in the post-season.
Next stop, the NL Championship Series for the third year in a row.
Machado drove in four runs — three of them with a seventh-inning shot into the left-field seats — and the Dodgers finished off the Atlanta Braves with a 6-2 victory Monday in the NL Division Series.
Watch highlights from the Dodgers' victory:
"There are so many expectations put on him," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "We have a lot of good players, but I can't say enough about his focus and preparedness."
Los Angeles took the best-of-five series 3-1 and advanced to face the Brewers. Game 1 is Friday night in Milwaukee.
Experience prevails over youth
Coming off a tense victory in Game 3, the Baby Braves grabbed the lead on pinch-hitter Kurt Suzuki's two-run single in the fourth.
But David Freese, the 2011 World Series MVP with St. Louis, came through again in the post-season. He delivered a pinch-hit single in the sixth off Brad Brach, driving home Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig for a 3-2 lead.
"You just gotta be ready," Freese said. "Whether you're in high school, college, whatever, just be ready. You don't have to be the best player in the world, you don't have to make the most money, but you're going to have a shot to do something cool. I learned that early in my career. I just try and stick with it."
Machado finished off Atlanta in the seventh, launching a 1-2 pitch from rookie Chad Sobotka over the Dodgers' bullpen — his team's eighth homer of the series. A free-agent-to-be acquired from Baltimore in July, Machado also had a run-scoring double in the first.
He had only three hits in the series, but two of them were homers, along with six RBIs.
"I'm just sitting here enjoying everything, enjoying the ride," Machado said.
Ryan Madson (1-0) earned the win by getting the final two outs in the fifth to escape a bases-loaded jam. The Braves' final gasp came in the eighth, when Lucas Duda's drive into the second deck in right drifted foul with two on against Kenta Maeda. Duda flied out to end the inning, and Atlanta went down quietly in the ninth.
Work just beginning for Dodgers
The Dodgers celebrated briefly and posed for pictures in the middle of SunTrust Park, but they have much bigger goals. Los Angeles is seeking its first World Series title since 1988.
"We all know that there's a lot more work to be done," Roberts said. "We have eight more wins to go."
Atlanta's return to the post-season for the first time since 2013 yielded a familiar result.
The Braves have lost nine straight playoff appearances, their last victory coming 17 long years ago against a team that is no longer in the National League. Since a sweep of Houston Astros in the 2001 NL Division Series, October has been a month of misery for the Braves.
Getting back to the playoffs ahead of schedule after a massive rebuild, Atlanta simply didn't have the experience, depth or power to stick with the power-packed Dodgers. Los Angeles had a franchise-record 235 homers during the regular season and hit eight more against the Braves, accounting for 14 of its 20 runs.
Dodgers benefit from shaky defence
"They're a very powerful team," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It's what they've done all year is hit home runs. We're not built like that yet."
Los Angeles also benefited from some shaky Atlanta defence during its go-ahead inning. Puig kept the sixth going with a popup down the line off Jonny Venters (0-1) that fell between second baseman Ozzie Albies and right fielder Nick Markakis.
Puig stole second without drawing a throw and came home when backup shortstop Charlie Culberson failed to knock down Freese's sharp grounder up the middle. A super sub during the regular season, Culberson had to start in the playoffs because of an injury to regular Dansby Swanson.
"They played better baseball than we did," Culberson said.