Hernández: Dodgers can still beat the Braves if Andrew Friedman and Co. stop overthinking

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Atlanta Braves' Joc Pederson celebrates while crossing home off a two-run home run as Dodgers catcher Will Smith looks on.
Atlanta Braves' Joc Pederson celebrates while crossing home off a two-run home run as Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Will Smith looks on during the fourth inning of Game 2 in the 2021 National League Championship Series. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Incredibly, the Dodgers’ front office has made an even worse decision this year.

Remember, these are the same people who signed Trevor Bauer. They will have to continue living with that decision for a while.

As for their latest vanity-induced act of self-sabotage, this ambitious effort to redefine pitchers’ roles by experimenting with Max Scherzer as a closer and 20-game winner Julio Urías as something other than a starter, there’s a way back.

The Dodgers still can win this National League Championship Series.

Even after spotting the Atlanta Braves the first two games, they still can reach the World Series.

Except now, after a stunning 5-4, walk-off loss at Truist Park in Game 2, the Dodgers will have to make the kind of furious comeback they made against the Braves at this stage of the season last year.

It’s entirely possible.

The Dodgers did everything imaginable to lose Sunday night but were somehow in position to win, which speaks to the disparity between them and their opponents.

They won 18 more regular-season games than the Braves for a reason. They have more pitching depth. They have a more dangerous lineup. They will be home for the next three games. And they have Walker Buehler pitching in Game 3.

“If the baseball sayings are right, you’re only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher,” Scherzer said. “So we got Walk going on the mound and we definitely believe we can win with him.”

If only Andrew Friedman and his cohorts can avoid overthinking again.

The predicament in which the Dodgers find themselves now is a direct result of what their front office did in Game 5 of their NL Division Series against the San Francisco Giants.

Urías lined up to start the game, but, hey, what fun was it if the front office couldn’t demonstrate how smart it was?

Rather than start Urías, the Dodgers deployed him as sort of a long reliever behind two “openers,” relievers Corey Knebel and Brusdar Graterol.

The alignment created favorable matchups but didn’t shorten the game. Knebel and Graterol pitched an inning each. Urías pitched four, instead of the five to seven he likely would have pitched as a starter. Three innings remained to be covered.

Blake Treinen pitched the seventh inning and Kenley Jansen the eighth.

Moving up Treinen and Jansen an inning each created a vacancy that was occupied by Scherzer, who started Game 3 against the Giants and was scheduled to pitch the potential first game against the Braves.

Scherzer closed out the 2-1 victory, and the Dodgers advanced.

How creative — and how entirely unnecessary.

The relief appearance resulted in Scherzer being unavailable for Game 1 of the NLCS. The Dodgers resorted to a bullpen game. The Braves started their No. 1 pitcher, Max Fried. The Braves won.

By Sunday, Scherzer was three days removed from his first career save, but he still didn’t feel right.

“I would just say my arm was dead,” Scherzer said. “I could tell when I was warming up that it was still tired. … Usually, in those situations, kind of once you get past pitch 45, sometimes it kind of loosens up and you’re able to get deeper in the game. But after the third inning, it didn’t loosen up. It was still more tightening up.”

His control was erratic. He limited the damage to a two-run homer by Joc Pederson in the fourth inning but was removed after recording just one out in the fifth.

And this is why the Dodgers can remain hopeful.

Their front office set up Scherzer for failure. Their hitters continued to flounder with runners in scoring position. They thought and batted their way out of the game, only for the Braves to let them remain within striking distance.

Braves starter Ian Anderson lasted only three innings. Manager Brian Snitker was bound to run out of quality arms or overexpose his most dependable options.

Which is what happened.

With two outs and two on in the seventh inning and the score tied 2-2, Snitker inserted right-hander Luke Jackson and center fielder Guillermo Heredia as part of a double switch.

Jackson plunked pinch-hitter Justin Turner to load the bases, then gave up a flare to Chris Taylor that bounced over the glove of an incoming Heredia. Two runs scored, and the Dodgers were up 4-2.

But the ghosts of San Francisco messed up the next phase of the Dodgers’ master plan, this one calling for Urías to make his second relief appearance in four days. Urías gave up the lead in the eighth inning, setting the stage for Graterol and Jansen to combine to concede the winning run in the ninth.

The Dodgers will have considerable advantages in the coming games. Buehler is a better pitcher than Charlie Morton, who will start for the Braves on Tuesday. Urías is still scheduled to start Wednesday and should have an edge over whomever the Braves send to the mound.

The edge in talent will remain with the Dodgers. They just have to stop making decisions that neutralize it.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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