Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw to start first two NLCS games against the Braves
Dodger's starting pitcher Walker Buehler delivers against San Diego in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. Bühler will start Game 1 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves.
Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw remain the Dodgers' starters in Game 1 and Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, manager Dave Roberts said on Saturday, and also pitched the pair in Games 6 and 7 if necessary.
For Games 3, 4 and 5, Roberts said the Dodgers would likely use more traditional starters than they did in the third game of the division series when Dustin May was a one-inning opener. However, the order of rotation remains undecided.
While Bühler and Kershaw maintain their normal routine between starts so that they are unlikely to be used as helpers on the series, Roberts wanted to keep the team's "optionality" open with his other three starters: May, Julio and Urías Tony Gonsolin.
In the NLDS, May appeared as a helper in Game 1 before opening two nights later. Urías tossed the majority of the innings in Game 3 as a reliever. Gonsolin, who was supposed to start game 4, wasn't in the three-game game.
"I honestly don't know who [the starters in Games] 3, 4 and 5 are," Roberts said of the NLCS. "Until we have to answer that question, I'll feel good about it. But right now, I just don't have a need."
The Braves seem to have a slightly clearer rotation. Left-hander Max Fried, a native of Santa Monica, whom Roberts called "one of the elite pitchers in baseball" after a 7-0 win with 2.25 ERA in the regular season, will start Game 1 for a third series in a row . After keeping the Cincinnati Reds goalless for seven innings in the wildcard round, he gave up four runs in four innings against the Miami Marlins last week.
Rookie right-handed Ian Anderson threw up the Braves' previous two Game 2s and improved his strong 1.95 ERA in the regular season with two goalless starts to kick off this postseason. Right-handed Kyle Wright was also sharp in Game 3 of the NLDS, throwing six of his own goalless innings to complete the sweep.
Josh Tomlin and Huascar Ynoa were the only other pitchers on the Braves NLDS roster to have had more than two starts this year. The club, however, has depth in their bullpen, a unit that recorded MLB's fourth best ERA at 3.50 despite scoring the second most innings.
"These guys are very good together," said Roberts. “They're just good at preventing runs. They did better than anyone in the postseason this year, so we cut our work out for ourselves. "
The important things first
This series will feature two of baseball's most dynamic and prolific lead-off batters in Braves center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and Dodger's rightfield player Mookie Betts.
Acuna, 22, hit 0.250 in 46 games that season in 46 games with a percentage of 0.987 based plus slugging, 14 homers, 29 RBIs, 38 walks and eight stolen bases to help Atlanta get the NL East win. He has hit .273 in five playoff games with one homer and two doubles. He had a monster season in 2019, hitting .280 with 41 homers, 101 RBIs, and 37 stolen bases.
In his first season with the Dodgers, 28-year-old Betts hit .292 in 55 games with an OPS of .927, 16 homers, 39 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and 24 walks. The 2018 American League Most Valuable Player scored .368 in his first five playoff games for the Dodgers with five doubles, four RBIs, and six runs.
"Both affect the game in every way - in the batter box, on the field, on the bases," said Roberts. "They are both energizing players that the players are drawn to and the fans that they are drawn to."
"If they're at the top, they might take five bats or get most of the bats in your club and set off and set the tone. They both do that for their clubs."
Possible duty roster movements
Dodgers corner infielder Edwin Rios, who missed the NLDS with a groin injury, took swings and ran the bases at 75% on Friday, and Roberts said there is a chance he could be activated for the NLCS.
Rios, who hit 0.250 in 32 games that season with an OPS of 0.946, eight homers and 17 RBIs, started the playoff opener on September 30 against the Brewers with a designated batsman and gave the Dodgers a left-handed option at DH or from the bank.
Roberts said the team is also considering possible changes to the make-up of the bullpen to "continue to ensure that all matchups make sense to us".
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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