The Los Angeles Dodgers have the greatest pitcher of the past decade in their rotation. They also have a strong candidate for the 2019 Cy Young Award. But yesterday manager Dave Roberts announced that Walker Buehler will get the Game 1 start in the NLDS against the Washington Nationals. The game gets underway tonight at around 8:30 Eastern time.
Buehler went 14-4 with a 3.26 ERA in 182.1 innings this season, striking out 215 batters and walking 37. By ERA+ he was third on the team behind Hyun-Jin Ryu and Clayton Kershaw. Fourth if you count Rich Hill‘s abbreviated season (which you probably shouldn’t). He certainly has fewer postseason innings under his belt. He also struggled a bit in September. So why is Roberts tabbing Buehler over his two more experienced starters? Roberts:
“We just felt that with Walker getting an opportunity to pitch the first game, also potentially a Game 5, gives us the best chance to win regardless of opponent.”
Kind of broad, I suppose. Maybe it means Roberts would be better pitching twice in the potential five-game series if he has the extra day of rest that would occur between today and next Wednesday’s Game 5. Maybe it’s a matchup thing, with Roberts preferring to match up the guy who, normally anyway, would be considered the Dodgers’ third starter against the Nationals’ third starter, Patrick Corbin, who has to go tonight since both Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg were used in the Wild Card game. Maybe, as Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night, it’s a changing of the guard kind of moment and, in reality, the Dodgers simply have more confidence to cast Buehler as their ace now than Kershaw or Ryu.
Buehler’s comment on it all — he says specific order of the rotation is not all that significant — has a great deal of truth going for it. In the end, all three of the Dodgers’ top three-starters, and Rich Hill when he goes, will have to pitch well for the club to advance to its goal of a third straight trip to the World Series. But it’s also gonna be really weird seeing the Dodgers not use a fully-rested Clayton Kershaw to start a postseason series.