Sports After up-and-down season, Buehler shows he's an ace at most opportune time

07:20  18 october  2020
07:20  18 october  2020 Source:   thescore.com

As Dodgers take command of World Series, they find key to October success: 'Put pride to the side'

  As Dodgers take command of World Series, they find key to October success: 'Put pride to the side' The Dodgers have rewritten their recent October narratives of flailing. Game 3 showed they have a collection of elite offensive performers.For all these reasons and a few more underlying ones, the Los Angeles Dodgers have rewritten their recent October narratives of flailing and failing. A collection of elite offensive performers has turned into an indomitable offensive unit.

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No team did more damage against fastballs this year than the Atlanta Braves. Admittedly, their lineup hammered every pitch type en route to a team-wide .832 OPS and 5.73 runs per game - the best and second-best marks in the majors, respectively - but the Braves feasted, in particular, against heaters.

a man in a baseball game © Kelly Gavin / MLB / Getty Images

Walker Buehler, whose team's season depended on him shutting down Atlanta's potent offense in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday, was undoubtedly aware of that as he took the mound at Globe Life Field. He just didn't care.

Instead, the Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander leaned even more heavily than usual on his electric four-seamer, somehow adding more oomph to an already-elite fastball and effectively daring the Braves to hit it. For the most part, they couldn't. And with six gutsy, scoreless innings, during which he navigated his way out of multiple jams, Buehler not only helped the Dodgers - who looked like they were toast two days ago - force a seventh and final game in their NLCS matchup with a 3-1 victory, but he also reaffirmed his ace status at the most opportune moment.

Buehler leads Dodgers over Rays 6-2 for 2-1 Series lead

  Buehler leads Dodgers over Rays 6-2 for 2-1 Series lead ARLINGTON, Texas — Walker Buehler pitched in the World Series like the Los Angeles Dodgers' aces of old. Think Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser, all leaders of title runs. Now Buehler has the Dodgers two wins from the championship that has eluded them since 1988. Buehler struck out 10 over six innings in a pulsating performance, and Los Angeles beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-2 on Friday night for a 2-1 World Series lead. “Being a big-game pitcher and really succeeding on this stage, there’s only a few guys currently and throughout history,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

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Despite turning 26 only a couple of months ago, Buehler, a first-round pick who became a consensus top-25 prospect within two years of his professional debut, has been flirting with the label for a while now. As a rookie in 2018, he fashioned a 2.62 ERA with an 0.96 WHIP across 23 starts and one relief appearance for the Dodgers, ranking 11th in the majors in park-adjusted ERA and 14th in park-adjusted FIP among pitchers with at least 130 innings, and he ultimately finished third in National League Rookie of the Year voting.

In 2019, Buehler racked up more WAR (5.0, according to FanGraphs) than all but 10 other starters, crafting a 3.26 ERA and 3.01 FIP en route to his first career All-Star nomination and down-ballot Cy Young votes. Meanwhile, he also supplanted Clayton Kershaw as the Dodgers' best starter, outperforming the fading legend and displacing him on the depth chart: it was Buehler, not Kershaw, who landed the starting assignment for Games 1 and 5 of the Dodgers' ill-fated National League Division Series matchup against the Washington Nationals.

Seager homers again, Dodgers force NLCS Game 7 with 3-1 win

  Seager homers again, Dodgers force NLCS Game 7 with 3-1 win ARLINGTON, Texas — Corey Seager homered again, Walker Buehler pitched six scoreless innings and the Los Angeles Dodgers pushed the NL Championship Series to Game 7 with a 3-1 win over the Atlanta Braves on Saturday. The Dodgers avoided elimination for the second time in less than 24 hours, and now have a winner-take-all game to try to get to their third World Series in four years. They haven't won a championship since 1988. “I’m still sort ofThe Dodgers avoided elimination for the second time in less than 24 hours, and now have a winner-take-all game to try to get to their third World Series in four years. They haven't won a championship since 1988.

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In 2020, however, after forcing his way into the "Who's the best starter in baseball not named Jacob deGrom or Gerrit Cole?" conversation with two brilliant seasons in a row, Buehler looked rather human, albeit over a small sample. The Dodgers were decidedly cautious with him in summer camp, and Buehler wasn't fully stretched out by his season debut. He wasn't sharp, either.

In his first start of 2020, Buehler allowed two earned runs over just 3 2/3 innings against the Houston Astros. His next time out, he allowed three home runs in five innings against the San Diego Padres. By the time he landed on the injured list due to a blister problem on his right hand in late-August, Buehler owned a 4.32 ERA across five starts, totaling 25 innings.

Buehler rejoined the rotation by early September, but the blister issue wasn't resolved: he made just three starts over the season's final month - two of them were quite good - and took more than two weeks between his penultimate and final outing of the campaign. He finished the year with a career-worst 3.44 ERA, a respectable figure that nevertheless belied his 4.36 FIP - the byproduct of bloated home run and walk rates - which was worse than those of Nick Margevicius, Matt Andriese, and Chris Mazza.

Dodgers' Buehler starting Game 3; Urias, Kershaw follow in WS

  Dodgers' Buehler starting Game 3; Urias, Kershaw follow in WS The Los Angeles Dodgers have set their rotation for the next three games of the World Series. Right-hander Walker Buehler will start Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Rays, manager Dave Roberts confirmed after Wednesday's contest, according to Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. Left-hander Julio Urias will follow Buehler in Game 4 and veteran southpaw Clayton Kershaw will start Game 5. "We feel great," Roberts said about the state of his pitching staff after having used seven pitchers in the Game 2 loss, per Plunkett.

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His inconsistency - and consequent inability to pitch deep into games - persisted into the postseason. In his Game 1 start against the Milwaukee Brewers in the wild-card round, Buehler lasted only four innings, allowing two runs - via a homer by the light-hitting Orlando Arcia - on three hits and two walks. In his next start, against the Padres in the NLDS, Buehler failed to make it through five, issuing four walks and allowing two hits over four innings of one-run ball. And in the NLCS opener, Buehler again struggled with his command, making it through five innings despite allowing a season-high five walks.

On Saturday, though, with the Dodgers' season on the line, Buehler turned in one of his strongest outings of 2020, a restorative gem in which he struck out six and allowed six hits - all singles - without walking a batter. He not only regained the command that eluded him over his previous couple of outings (and that has defined his stellar career thus far), throwing a season-high 73% of his 89 pitches for strikes, but he did so with extra giddy-up, adding more than half an mph to his fastball.

Dodgers' Buehler gets potential Game 6 vs. Braves

  Dodgers' Buehler gets potential Game 6 vs. Braves The Los Angeles Dodgers will go with Walker Buehler for Game 6 if they win Friday's Game 5 against the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series, manager Dave Roberts told media, including Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. The right-hander started Game 1 and allowed one run on three hits and five walks while striking out seven over five innings. Buehler took the no-decision in the loss. Roberts also stated that Clayton Kershaw, who started Game 4 on Thursday, and Tony Gonsolin will be unavailable for Friday's Game 5. It's unclear whether Gonsolin, who started Game 2, would line up for a potential Game 7 start.Buehler, 26, posted a 3.44 ERA and 4.

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With that extra velocity at his disposal, Buehler leaned on his fastball more than usual, deploying it nearly 60% of the time, or roughly 6% more frequently than he did during the regular season. Of his 13 whiffs, 10 came on fastballs. And when he found himself in a jam early, it was his fastball that got him out of it, the Braves' success against heaters be damned.

With the bases loaded in the top of the second and nobody out, Buehler - staked an early 3-0 lead - decided to dispense with mixing pitches and relied almost exclusively on his four-seamer, which batters mustered just a .165 weighted on-base average (and .199 xwOBA) off of this season. The strategy worked. Buehler proceeded to retire the next three batters in order, notching successive strikeouts and an inning-ending grounder via a torrent of four-seamers - 11 in a 13-pitch span, none of them clocked below 97.7 mph - to keep Atlanta off the board.

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From that point onward, Buehler "allowed" only one more runner to reach third base: after singling with two outs in the sixth, Dansby Swanson stole second and advanced to third on catcher Austin Barnes' errant throw. Buehler promptly quashed the threat by striking out Austin Riley.

All told, despite surrendering a fair number of hard-hit balls, and he did need his defense to bail him out on a couple of occasions, Buehler nevertheless turned in a brilliant start when the Dodgers needed it most - like an ace does - while whittling his cumulative postseason ERA down to 1.89. And if this is indeed a sign of things to come, an indication Buehler is past the blister problems and once again capable of dominating as he did over the last two seasons, the Dodgers are in great shape moving forward.

Assuming, that is, they can win Game 7.

Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.

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WS Game 3 betting preview: Runs will be scarce against Morton, Buehler .
Find line reports, best bets, and subscribe to push notifications in the Betting News section. Make that 2-for-2. We've cashed our best bets in each of the first two games, and Game 3 will hopefully be no different. Here's what's on tap Friday. Dodgers (-165) at Rays (+140), 8:08 p.m. ET Nothing is splitting these teams through two games as the 2020 Fall Classic has turned into a best-of-five series. The offense has prevailed over pitching thus far in Arlington, with 21 runs scored and eight home runs hit in two games. We were on the over in Game 1 and Game 2, so it’s fair to say this has been a profitable start to the World Series for us.

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