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Astros look to even up World Series in Game 6 against hungry Braves team

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October is over, but the baseball season is not. For the Houston Astros, that’s a very good thing.

After climbing out of a four-run crater in Game 5 of the World Series, the Astros are back home to face the Atlanta Braves in Game 6 on Tuesday with first pitch scheduled for 8:09 p.m. ET on Sportsnet and SN Now. The Braves lead the series, 3-2, but whispers of another cursed Atlanta sports franchise are growing louder.

The last time we saw November baseball, in 2017, the Astros emerged as world champs. A similar fate is possible this year, but first, they’ll have to even things up against a hungry Braves team. Here’s what you need to know for Game 6.

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Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Pondering the pitchers

After slogging through a pair of bullpen games, the Braves will send a properly-rested Max Fried to the mound. Fried was shelled for six runs on seven hits in a Game 2 loss, but he deserves some extension of grace: five of those hits came with exit velocities below 95 mph (i.e. the threshold at which Statcast deems a ball to be “hard-hit”).

That includes four softies in Houston’s four-run second inning against Fried. A little luck could go a long way for him in the rematch.

Luis Garcia will take the ball on three days’ rest for the Astros, and his outing is intended to be brief. After tossing 72 pitches in a strong Game 3 effort, he’ll likely turn the game over to the bullpen by the third or fourth frame.

Monday’s off-day should allow most if not all of the Astros’ relievers to be ready, but Cristian Javier (9 1/3 innings, 1.93 ERA this post-season) and Jake Odorizzi (6 2/3 innings, 5.68 ERA) are the most logical options for a long-relief spot.

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Can Bregman break out?

Word around Truist Park on Sunday was that the Braves’ organist had a little fun whenever Astros third baseman Alex Bregman came to the plate. Bregman, who is 2-for-18 with five strikeouts this series, was serenaded with a cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.”

Ouch. If Bregman wants to borrow a different Petty narrative and not back down, now is the perfect time to do so. He dropped to the No. 7 spot of Houston’s order for Game 5, where he batted 1-for-4 with an RBI double and a walk. Perhaps that warrants a promotion within the lineup, which gets a little longer in the designated-hitter-friendly environment of an American League park.

The World Series stage has not showcased Bregman’s best work (.671 OPS in 19 career games), but he’s a cornerstone of the Astros’ experienced core that has driven this five-year run of excellence. Houston needs him to step up right now.

‘Night Shift’ needs to work overtime

Tyler Matzek was, justifiably, feeling himself following a shutout win in Game 3, which led to him coining the back-end of Atlanta’s bullpen as the “Night Shift” in front of a national audience.

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Compelling soundbites often circulate in wildfire-like fashion. Sure enough, an officially licensed t-shirt honouring Matzek’s moniker was available fewer than 30 hours later.

Maybe you believe in t-shirt jinxes, maybe you don’t. But if the Braves don’t pull this off, a number of fast-acting fans are going to have some awkward apparel on their hands.

To this point, the “Night Shift” crew of Matzek, Luke Jackson, A.J. Minter and Will Smith have put together a stout World Series showing. Even after Minter took the loss with one horrid inning in Game 5, the quartet has combined for a 3.07 ERA in 12 combined appearances.

Smith has been the best of the bunch throughout the playoff run, posting 10 scoreless outings in as many tries, including a 6-for-6 clip in save opportunities. If all goes according to plan for the Braves, he’ll be on the mound Tuesday for the season’s final out.

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We’re sayin’ there’s a chance

Following Game 4, the Astros became the 47th team to fall into a 3-1 deficit in the World Series. In those 46 previous cases, six teams (13 per cent) clawed back for a championship. That includes just one team in the past three-and-a-half decades: the 2016 Chicago Cubs (who beat the Cleveland Indians).

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So, there is some precedent here — just not a ton of it. And the Astros will get an opportunity to close out on home turf with the knowledge that home teams are 24-8 this post-season.

We also needn’t remind Braves fans that their 2020 season ended with a blown 3-1 lead in the NLCS against the Dodgers. But hey, here’s a reminder nonetheless.





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