ATLANTA — It's been a frustrating year for the Atlanta Braves, who haven't been above .500 all season and have been struggling to string together some consistency.
The Braves put it all together Saturday night against the reigning World Series champions, matching timely hitting with a strong outing from their starting pitcher and an improved performance from the bullpen to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-4.
"That's a good team win," Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. "We beat a really good pitcher and a great team, so that was a good win for us."
Ozzie Albies drove in the go-ahead run in a five-run third inning off Clayton Kershaw, Abraham Almonte got a pinch-hit homer off Blake Treinen in the seventh and Atlanta starter Charlie Morton (5-2) didn't allow a hit until Cody Bellinger had the first of four consecutive singles to begin the fourth.
Morton gave up four runs (two earned) on four hits and a walk with five strikeouts in five innings.
"It's not just one game, it's getting some momentum," Morton said. "If the pitching isn't there, then the offense has to pick us up. If the offense isn't there, then the pitching's got to pick us up, and we've got to do that for an eight-, nine-, 10-game stretch.
"We took one from them tonight, and I hope we come out and get off to a good start tomorrow and win a series against a really good team. They're just great. They're a really good team top to bottom."
Kershaw (7-5), a former National League MVP and a three-time Cy Young Award winner, lost to the Braves for the first time in 12 career regular-season starts. He began the game 5-0 with a 1.78 ERA against Atlanta before allowing five runs, eight hits and one walk — to Ronald Acuña Jr. with two outs in the third — while striking out nine batters in six innings. It was his second straight ineffective start after giving up five runs and seven hits in a 5-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants last Sunday.
Will Smith earned his 10th save in as many chances this season by striking out the side in the ninth.
The Braves went ahead 5-1 in the third on Freddie Freeman's RBI single, Albies' two-run double and Dansby Swanson's two-run double. Almonte's first pinch-hit homer as an MLB player put Atlanta up 6-4.
"You shouldn't give up any runs when you get to two outs," Kershaw said. "That Acuña walk was not good, and Freddie does what Freddie does. Hit a decent pitch. Just put the bat on it and got a hit, and then from there, I couldn't stop the bleeding. Tough inning, not what you want to do. Frustrating for me. I battled as best I could and got through six, which I guess was somewhat of a positive. Just a frustrating inning."
Kershaw passed Chuck Finley and former Braves star Tom Glavine to move into 27th place on the MLB career strikeouts list with 2,611.
Los Angeles led 1-0 in the first when Mookie Betts got hit by a pitch, advanced to second on third baseman Austin Riley's fielding error and scored from third on Morton's throwing error on a pickoff move.
The Dodgers trimmed the lead to 5-4 in the fourth when Bellinger singled, stole second base, advanced on Chris Taylor's single and scored on Matt Beaty's single. Taylor scored on a double-play grounder, and Beaty scored on shortstop Swanson's throwing error.
Atlanta's bullpen began the game with a 4.90 ERA that ranked fourth-worst in MLB. Atlanta relievers allowed one hit and one walk with six strikeouts Saturday.
Los Angeles, which dropped to 34-24, had won three of its past four games and 16 of 22, including a 9-5 win Friday night at Truist Park to open the three-game set, a rematch of the teams from last year's NL Championship Series that was won by the Dodgers in seven games. The Braves, who had lost five of seven, improved to 27-29.
Sunday's rubber match will pit Dodgers right-hander Trevor Bauer (6-3, 2.24 ERA) and Atlanta lefty Max Fried (2-3, 5.35).