They can’t outclass Atlanta’s star-studded, MLB-leading squad, one that came into Dodger Stadium and won three of four games to cement their place atop the National League standings (and in pole position for the league’s top playoff seed).
But the Dodgers are capable of beating their cross-country, World Series-contending foes nonetheless — especially when they pitch like they did on Sunday afternoon.
In a 3-1 win that avoided a four-game sweep, the Dodgers finally did what they couldn’t the previous three nights, keeping the Braves’ offense in total check behind a dominant outing from their starting pitcher.
Instead, rookie right-hander Bobby Miller served up seven spectacular innings, giving up just one run in his longest career start to help the Dodgers salvage something from a series that could be repeated in the NLCS.
“Especially after getting our teeth kicked in a little bit the first few games, we really needed this one today,” Miller said. “I was really locked in. I had a great feeling going into this game. Probably the most locked in I’ve ever been so far. I knew I needed my best stuff.”
On the whole this weekend, the Dodgers’ pitching wasn’t terrible. While Lynn (who gave up seven runs in a Thursday start) and Urías (five runs on Friday) struggled, the bullpen had been strong, the Braves had strung together few big rallies, and entering Sunday’s matinee, the Dodgers had given up just four earned runs in their previous 14 innings.
Still, that hadn’t been enough in a weekend the Dodgers’ high-flying offense was brought back to earth by Atlanta’s talented pitching staff.
To beat the Braves, the Dodgers needed to outpitch them.
And with Miller on the mound, they did exactly that, riding his five-strikeout, three-hit gem to avoid what would have been their first home sweep in a four-game series in more than five years.
“He keeps getting better,” manager Dave Roberts said of Miller, who has a 3.80 ERA on the season and a 2.83 ERA in his last six starts, five of which have been six or more innings. “To get us through that seventh inning was another step for us, for him. We needed it today. He came up big.”
Exactly where Miller, the 24-year-old former first-round draft pick, stands in the Dodgers’ postseason pitching plans is undetermined.
He’s on track to start games, according to Roberts.
“He’s put himself right there, in front of the conversation,” Roberts said. “He’s earning it.”
But how much leash he will have in October — either being limited to one or two times through the order, or getting a longer runway as a traditional starting option — remains to be seen.
“I think a lot of times, it’s player-dictated,” Roberts said. “But the way he’s throwing the baseball, it’s hard to see too many guys in any particular time that are a better option than him.”
Regardless of Miller’s role, however, the Dodgers (84-52) will need outings like the one he offered Sunday to make a real run at reaching the World Series.
Without it Thursday through Saturday, they scuffled, losing three consecutive games for only the fourth time this season.
With it, they cruised past the Braves (90-46) in the series finale even without a strong offensive showing — getting their only runs on a Miguel Rojas double in the fifth, a Mookie Betts single in the at-bat after that, and a James Outman single in the eighth.
“Getting [a win] before we hit the road again is huge,” Rojas said.
His biggest takeaway, however: “The way Bobby Miller threw the ball against a team like them.”
Indeed, like most of his teammates, Rojas was struck by Miller’s poise Sunday, in what was his first start against an opponent he’d already faced this year (Miller held the Braves to one run in five innings in his debut in May). He attacked with fastballs in the zone, getting quick outs with near-100 mph heaters — including one that MVP candidate Ronald Acuña Jr. swung through for a strikeout in the third inning, part of his 0-for-four day.
“Acuña had a really good series until today,” Rojas said. “And it didn’t feel Bobby was concerned about that.”
Though Miller said he lacked feel for his slider and curveball, he used his changeup to effect, keeping the Braves’ league-leading lineup off-balance by throwing it to both left- and right-handed batters.
“It’s execution,” catcher Will Smith said. “Just keeping the hitters off balance, competing, not falling into patterns.”
Even after going on the ropes in the seventh — Matt Olson hit a solo home run (on a rare hanging changeup) and Marcell Ozuna drew a two-out walk — Miller kept his cool, inducing a ground ball from Eddie Rosario to end the threat and complete seven innings for the first time in his career.
“I just gotta keep us in the game and outlast the pitcher on the other side,” said Miller, whose counterpart, Atlanta veteran Charlie Morton, pitched just four-plus innings while giving up two runs. “[After] getting our teeth kicked in the first three games, playing an extra-inning game last night, it felt good for sure.”
And come October, it’s the kind of outing the Dodgers will need again. After all, they lost this weekend’s series because they couldn’t out-hit the Braves. But they avoided a sweep by — for one day, at least — out-pitching them behind Miller’s heroics on the mound.
Max Muncy exits
Max Muncy left Sunday’s game early after injuring his left shoulder on a swing in the fifth, Roberts said. The infielder will be re-evaluated Tuesday, but Roberts was optimistic Muncy won’t need to go on the injured list.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.