Monday, August 8

Dodgers on the brink of elimination because pitchers’ circle of confidence has gotten too small



Looking at the Dodgers this month, it seems pretty clear that they made an organizational decision for the 2021 postseason: “We will only use our best pitchers to get the biggest outs.”

In theory, that sounds great – ride or die to your best. But in reality? It is likely to backfire more than it benefited the team, which follows Atlanta 3-1 in the NLCS and is one loss away from coming home this winter.

Because without the injured Clayton Kershaw, that circle of “best pitchers” is extremely small: starters Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Julio Urias, plus relievers Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen and Corey Knebel. Pitching decisions are not just a decision by manager Dave Roberts, but as he said when Knebel was given the starting role in Game 5 of the NLDS, from the top of the organization.

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Scherzer came in to pitch the most important and high-stress inning of the year, the ninth inning of NLDS Game 5 against the Giants, and said flatly that his arm was dead during his start of Game 2 on the NLCS, when he allowed a pair. career, with seven strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings. He said he felt the problem in the warm-ups and the arm never recovered.

“After that third inning he didn’t let up. It was even tighter, ”Scherzer said after the game. “Then I realized that my pitch count was going to be limited. I wasn’t going to be able to really get into a game and I wasn’t going to be able to get to that count of 95, 100 pitches. I knew it was going to be before that. “

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Urias came in to pitch a relief inning in NLCS Game 2, in part because Scherzer and his dead arm didn’t finish fifth, and he possibly produced his worst start to the season in NLCS Game 4: five runs in five innings. . , with eight hits and as many home runs as strikeouts (three each).

Both Scherzer and Urias pitched four times in 12 calendar days, which is not a normal workload. TBS did a great job of getting a helpful and insightful in-game interview with Scherzer during Urias’s home run-filled outing on Wednesday. Reporter Lauren Shehadi asked her about the challenge of switching roles in such a short time.

“It’s just a challenge on your arm,” Scherzer said. “We are so used to going out and having a routine every five days. But it’s the playoffs. You want to be in those situations. You want to be out there with the ball in your hands. Although it is a challenge, you welcome it. “

Scherzer and Urias certainly want to be there. But how much is too much?

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The Dodgers are pushing their inner-circle pitchers despite having a bullpen full of good options: They had 12 pitchers in the NLDS and they have 13 in the NLCS. It is myopic and it is catching up with them. They’re using pitchers as a happy-to-be-still team, surviving from day to day and not as a team waiting to stand at the end of a long playoff routine.

Scherzer got the nod in the ninth of that NLDS Game 5 ahead of established and rested relievers Joe Kelly and Phil Bickford. And I’m not even saying it was the wrong choice, it closed a must-win situation, allowing the season to continue, but maybe it should have given it an extra day. Let’s not pretend that 13 pitches in that high-stress situation are the same as a typical bullpen session, even for the ever-intense Scherzer.

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And Roberts left with Urias in the eighth inning of a tied game in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series, despite having a plethora of other relievers available, ahead of Brusdar Graterol, Bickford, Knebel and Justin. Bruihl, to name a few. He was saving Jansen, his closer, for the ninth.

Here’s the thing: The Dodgers are making pitching decisions like they have six good pitchers and seven bad pitchers, and that’s not the case. Bickford, Kelly, Graterol, Bruihl, Alex Vesia and Evan Phillips have been really good when given the opportunity. They have combined to pitch 22 innings so far in the postseason and their team ERA is 1.28 with 25 strikeouts.

And one of those earned runs, led by Graterol, was another example of the Dodgers’ philosophy this postseason.

Remember Atlanta’s win in Game 2? Graterol has some of the nastiest things in baseball, and through nine pitches in that ninth inning of a tied game, he threw seven strikes and broke two Atlanta bats. But one of those broken bats resulted in a single bloop, and then after a failed sacrifice bunt attempt (Graterol threw the runner at second base), a weak ground to third moved the runner to second, to the position of annotate.

Rather than keep his strikeout pitcher reliever with a triple-digit fastball and flashy movement on the mound, Roberts went to Jansen, his closer. Eddie Rosario hit the first pitch he saw down the middle for the game-winning single.

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It’s not that the Dodgers don’t trust the “other” pitchers on the roster. It’s just that they don’t trust them as much as they do inner-circle pitchers, and decisions based on that division have helped lead to this 3-1 deficit. We don’t know, of course, that Scherzer and Urias would have pitched like they did in the regular season, both are Cy Young candidates, rather than getting unsatisfactory results. But it’s no exaggeration to think that they could have.

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Instead, Game 5 on Thursday, with the season on the line, will be a bullpen game.

This is where Clayton Kershaw’s injury really hurts, of course, but it’s also a game where the Dodgers will basically be forced to rely on their “other” pitchers. Neither Urias nor Buehler will be available (they started the previous two games), and of the rest of the inner circle, only Treinen is really capable of offering more than one inning in Game 5, unless they want to execute Scherzer for multiples. Oh, and his “long reliever” (Tony Gonsolin) threw 39 pitches at the end of Game 4, allowing four runs.

It is not an ideal situation, but it is the work of the Dodgers themselves.




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