If all goes according to plan, Walker Buehler will make his first start in over two weeks today against the Oakland Athletics. Despite clinching the NL West and number one overall seed on Tuesday, this will be the most important start of the regular season for Buehler. If he isn’t ready for the playoffs, the Dodgers may not get very far.
Sure, the offense is potent and the defense is solid, but the Dodgers World Series aspirations hinge on the right arm, and blistered index finger, of Walker Buehler.
Buehler, at all of 26 years old, owns a 2.72 ERA in the postseason through six starts. He did everything he could, short of hitting a grand slam himself, to put the Dodgers in position to win Game 5 last year against the eventual champion Washington Nationals.
- Game 5 vs Nationals: 6.2 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 7 K
Pitching, not hitting, wins championships. Sure, scoring two runs in a playoff game isn’t ideal, but short starts in October surely spell doom for any team. Hitters tighten up and swing for the fences. Fielders rush throws to give away outs. Short starts tax a bullpen and create little margin for error for managers. Raise your hand if you want to wager a World Series on Dave Roberts bullpen-ing from the third inning on.
At his best, Buehler can go toe to toe with any pitcher and any lineup in any stadium — fans or no fans.
Walker Buehler giving the Nationals F'n Nightmares
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) October 4, 2019
Yes, surefire Hall-of-Famer Clayton Kershaw needs to do his part, but unfortunately, the Dodgers cannot win a ring with just Kershaw helming the staff.
They’ve tried. Many times.
A playoff ace can swing a series. They can instill a level of confidence and calm in the clubhouse during the maelstrom that is playoff baseball. If the Dodgers are a game or two down in a series, Buehler has the ability to come out and dominate for six innings. He’s the match that can start a roaring fire.
There will always be questions about the bullpen in the playoffs, and of course, how Dave Roberts uses it, but none of it will matter if Buehler isn’t at his best. Buehler and Kershaw can provide a devastating one-two combination similar to what the Nationals rode en route to a championship last year with Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer.
The 2014 Giants had Bumgarner, the 2016 Cubs had John Lester, the 2017 Asterisks had Justin Verlander, and the 2020 Dodgers need Walker Buehler.
There are zero off days in the freshly minted 2020 Wild Card Round and subsequently zero rest for bullpen arms. The only relief for relievers will be quality starts from starters. If the Dodgers don’t have their October ace ready for a short three game series, they’ll be forced to rely on young starters who are unproven in the playoffs.
In an otherwise nondescript late season game, Buehler’s performance tonight will indicate just how far the Dodgers can go in the playoffs.