But here are Snitker and his good-natured, sword-wielding, pearl-wearing crew again, a win away from the World Series, just like they were last year after a 9-2 win Wednesday in Game 4. And here is Freddie Freeman, after his second straight game with three hits, bursting with certainty that this time is different, incredulous that anyone, anywhere, might not see what he sees in this team.
“2020 was last year," Freeman said. “This is a whole different team, a whole different thing.”
In some ways, this whole series looks like a mismatch and Atlanta’s success an upset. The Dodgers won 106 games this year. The Braves won 88. But Freeman argues you could only feel that way if you haven’t been watching closely.
But since the trade deadline, when General Manager Alex Anthopolous acquired four outfielders to help replace injured superstar Ronald Acuña Jr., they have the third best record in baseball. Those four outfielders, led by scalding Eddie Rosario, are hitting .341 in the postseason.
“This team has been completely different the last two, two and a half months. We’ve been playing .630, .640 win percentage baseball,” Freeman said. “So this isn’t anything new to us. We’ve been a really good team for a really long time.”
Besides, look what they had to overcome, from the loss of Acuña to a positive coronavirus test that cost them one of those acquired outfielders, leadoff man Jorge Soler, for the first four games of this series.
And look how decisively they overcame those things, from something as grand as winning their division to something as minute as sliding Rosario in to replace Soler. He went 4 for 5 with two homers and finished a double shy of the cycle Wednesday night.
“I’m really proud of this team. I feel like everyone has really hunkered down and dug their heels in and everyone is really focused," Rosario said through interpreter Franco Garcia. “I think that’s something that I’m really proud to be a part of.”
Another one of those midseason acquisitions, Adam Duvall, homered and stole a homer with a leaping catch at the wall Wednesday night. The other, former Dodger Joc Pederson, produced a bloop single that brought home a run — a hit that seemed to illuminate all the soft spots his former teammates had been trying to hide.
Because while Atlanta’s relievers completed a near-perfect bullpen game Wednesday despite losing scheduled starter Huascar Ynoa to shoulder soreness just hours before the game, cobbling together nine innings with relievers isn’t supposed to look quite so easy. The Dodgers have to try to do it Thursday while on the brink. They do not have someone quite like lefty Drew Smyly, who threw 3⅓ strong innings to help Atlanta keep the Dodgers hitless into the fifth.
Perhaps because of the need to keep as many relievers as possible fresh for his bullpen game Thursday, Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts seemed slow to pull starter Julio Urías when Atlanta scored on him early Wednesday.
The lefty threw five innings in which Atlanta hit three solo homers. The Braves added another run in the fifth, an inning that was punctuated by Urías throwing his hands wide and skyward toward center fielder Gavin Lux, disappointed that the rookie hadn’t caught Pederson’s blooper. Such displays of displeasure with teammates are rare, and almost always a sign that something is going wrong at the worst possible time.
Urías is one of those things. The lefty insisted his struggles Wednesday had nothing to do with the fact that he was used in relief in Game 2, or that he has made four appearances in 12 days in a variety of roles. But after allowing three earned runs in 23 postseason innings last season, he has allowed nine runs in 15 innings this October.
“I don’t think fatigue had anything to do with it,” Roberts said of Urías’s outing.
That Lux was even in center to chase down Pederson’s bloop was an example of how the Dodgers are trying to maneuver around less than ideal circumstances as the Braves seem to be creating ideal circumstances at every turn.
Lux was in center because he is hitting too well to sit, particularly for a struggling offense. The Dodgers entered Wednesday’s game with a .232 batting average and a .673 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, each the lowest, by far, of any of the four teams remaining.
“I don’t have an answer,” said Roberts, who has been putting Lux in the outfield because the Dodgers infield has been overcrowded ever since Trea Turner joined it at the trade deadline.
Meanwhile, Cody Bellinger has been playing first base instead of the outfield because that is where he fits. The Dodgers seem to be plugging holes at every turn. The Braves, jumping on pitches early and intentionally trying to hit around the Dodgers shifts, seem to be finding them just as often.
Roberts’s damage control will have to continue because Justin Turner left the game in the seventh with a grade 2 hamstring strain. The man who started 77 consecutive Dodgers postseason games dating to 2014, the man who has been at the center of so many Dodger comebacks in October, will not play again this season.
But while Turner’s absence is certainly a blow to Los Angeles, the differences Atlanta sees in itself are more personal, more subtle — the kind of intangible differences that are glaringly obvious to those who live them everyday and are easily dismissed by those who don’t.
“I think we’re a more mature team. We got a bunch of young guys that have been through these wars before and now they’re through them again," Snitker said. “And I think that bodes well for us.”
Rosario’s hot streak bodes well, too. So does the fact that lefty ace Max Fried will start Thursday against the Dodgers’ bullpen. In fact, both Snitker and Freeman pointed to starting pitching as one more tangible place where their team may be better this time around. The other, of course, is that they now understand that no matter how the first three wins come, the fourth will never, ever come easy.
“It is hard. I mean, as we saw last year, winning a game is hard, especially a veteran team like this that we’re playing,” Snitker said. “But I feel good about our club just from what we experienced last year and where these guys are.”
This story, which initially reported that Eddie Rosario was 9 for 12 in the series, has been updated. Rosario has nine hits in his last 12 at-bats.