May 22, 2022

Walker Buehler’s short start in NLCS Game 3 puts Dodgers in rare territory

View Original Notice ? Walker Buehler’s short start in NLCS Game 3 puts Dodgers in rare territory

LOS ANGELES ? The Dodgers have a starting pitching problem.

Since League Championship Series play began in 1969, only two teams have advanced to the World Series without a start of six innings or more in an LCS game. Of the two, only the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals won a championship.

When Walker Buehler exited Game 3 of the National League Championship Series after 3? innings on Tuesday, the Dodgers were on the verge of uncharted territory. They were potentially headed to Game 4 trailing Atlanta 3-0 in the best-of-seven series, lacking any semblance of durability from a starting rotation that had more quality starts – six innings pitched and no more than three earned runs allowed – than any NL team during the regular season.

The Dodgers used eight pitchers in their 3-2 loss in Game 1. Max Scherzer tossed 4? innings in Game 2, matching his shortest playoff start since 2011. Buehler, 27, had never thrown fewer than four innings in a playoff game in his career prior to Game 3.

Julio Urías will start Game 4 of the series on Wednesday. Manager Dave Roberts said a “traditional” bullpen game will follow in Game 5 on Thursday. Scherzer would start Game 6 if the series continues Saturday in Atlanta, followed by Buehler again in Game 7.

Unless Urías, Scherzer or Buehler can give the Dodgers six innings for the first time in this series, they will be banking on a strategy that has worked only once in 52 seasons.

This is not how the Dodgers drew it up. Their bullpen has been an area of strength all year. They were a top-five unit in MLB almost any way you measure it: converting saves, limiting inherited runners from scoring, walks plus hits per inning (WHIP) and ERA. But they were not expected to pitch the majority of the innings in the NLCS, as has been the case in Games 1-3.

The few times a team has tried to bullpen its way through an LCS, there was a discernable method to their madness. Two teams (the 1970 Minnesota Twins and 1982 Milwaukee Brewers) played before the series expanded from five to seven games. Here are the three teams that have attempted it since:

• The 2018 Brewers featured a deep bullpen and a mediocre rotation with no clear ace. In Game 5, Manager Craig Counsell pulled starting pitcher Wade Miley after one batter as a strategic gambit. Milwaukee narrowly lost to the Dodgers in seven games.

• The 2014 Kansas City Royals were similarly bullpen-dependent. A reliever, Kelvin Herrera, threw as many innings (5?) across his four appearances than any starting pitcher in the series. Greg Holland and Wade Davis were the other stars in the Royals’ four-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles.

• Chris Carpenter was the workhorse of the Cardinals’ rotation in 2011, but he was limited to one five-inning start (in Game 3) in the seven-game series against the Brewers. Tony La Russa leaned hard on his bullpen, which produced a 1.99 ERA. Carpenter then started three games in a World Series more famous for a David Freese triple and home run.

Coaxing early exits from Buehler and Scherzer – arguably the Dodgers’ two best starters – bodes well for the Braves historically.

Manager Brian Snitker was having none of it.

“It’s two games,” he said. “I don’t know that you look at that and think we’re going to keep doing that. The next day’s starter is a really good pitcher too.”

Julio Urías has never thrown more than five innings in a postseason game. He was just the second pitcher out of the bullpen in the Dodgers’ pivotal win in Game 5 of the National League Division Series in San Francisco.

But Roberts gave no indication of a limit on the Dodgers’ Game 4 starter.

“I’m going to watch him,” Roberts said of Urías. “As long as he’s being efficient and throwing the baseball well, we’re going to let him run.”

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