The Dodgers are one win away from claiming their first World Series Championship since 1988. To do that, they’ll need to beat the Rays one more time, either in Game six or a deciding seventh game on Wednesday.
Although Walker Buehler is lined up on normal rest for a possible Game seven, the Dodgers are hoping to avoid that scenario and take care of business in Game six. Below, we take a look at the three biggest keys to victory for today’s game.
Quality outing from Tony Gonsolin and…. Alex Wood?
During the regular season, Tony Gonsolin was terrific for the Dodgers, posting a 2.31 ERA, 0.836 WHIP, and 2.29 FIP over 46.2 innings. The playoffs haven’t been as kind to Gonsolin, however, and through three appearances, his ERA stands at a ballooned 9.39.
There’s no doubt that Gonsolin’s usage hasn’t been ideal this postseason. The Dodgers didn’t need him in the first two rounds of this year’s playoffs, so by the time he pitched in Game two of the NLCS, it was his first appearance in 17 days. Rust had to be somewhat of a factor. Gonsolin has also been rotated between starter and reliever this postseason, an aspect that can’t be overlooked when considering his struggles.
Regardless of his usage, Gonsolin needs to be better for the Dodgers to have their best chance to win Game six. He’s really struggled with command, walking seven batters in just over seven innings in the playoffs. That’s uncharacteristic of Gonsolin, who walked batters at a very low rate during the regular season. His 1.30 BB/9 was the second-best on the team among starters, with only Clayton Kershaw’s 1.23 mark being better.
Even if he pitches better, Gonsolin may not go very deep in the game. Even though Dave Roberts said he’ll let him go more than in his previous starts, Gonsolin still hasn’t pitched more than two innings in two weeks. That means the Dodgers’ bullpen might need to cover a lot of outs. One guy who could eat up a few of those innings is Alex Wood. After an injury-plagued regular season, Wood has pitched fairly well in the playoffs so far, allowing one ER over 3 outings and 4.2 innings. His velocity is up a bit, and his stuff has looked pretty good. He could be the needed bridge between Gonsolin and the late inning relievers.
Get to Blake Snell early and often
In Game two, Blake Snell dominated the Dodgers through four and two-thirds innings. He didn’t allow a hit until the fifth when the offense mounted a rally that knocked Snell out of the game. By that time, it was a little too late, and Snell struck out nine while keeping the Dodgers off-balance almost all night. He induced 13 swings and misses, with nine of those off his slider, which was especially nasty.
One thing the Dodgers did well the first time against Snell was work his pitch count. They earned four walks and made him throw 88 pitches during his 4+ innings of work. They weren’t able to square up many pitches though, and that will need to change if the Dodgers want to have success in Game six.
On the bright side for the Dodgers, this will be the second time they’ve faced Snell in the series. That’s to their advantage. In Games one and two of the NLCS, both Max Fried and Ian Anderson shut them down the first time they faced them. The second time around, however, the Dodgers offense fared much better and produced enough to take Games six and seven from Atlanta. The familiarity with Snell after seeing him already should help the Dodgers to some extent.
The Dodgers offense has also seemed to gain momentum when they score early, so getting on the board in the first few innings will be key. If they’re able to rattle Snell early on, they could make Tampa Bay go to their bullpen earlier than they want to.
Bullpen management… the evergreen factor. It’s no secret that the bullpen decisions in the postseason have been so vital. Dave Roberts has taken a lot of criticism for his management of the bullpen in the past, and this year has been no different. Taking out starters too early… taking out starters too late… bringing in the wrong reliever… not letting his relievers go further… it’s all been questioned.
Obviously, hindsight is 20/20. When a move doesn’t work out, it’s easy to question it. Conversely, when things do work out, it’s a lot easier to stick up for it. If we’re being honest, Roberts has made some moves that were undoubtedly bad this postseason. But he’s also made some good ones that worked perfectly. He’ll have to make those good ones in Game six.
One thing Roberts should have working for him is a rested bullpen. With the day off yesterday, everybody expects Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, and Julio Urias will be available for Game six. With so many options, it allows flexibility in the late innings, and Roberts shouldn’t be forced into using any particular pitcher.
To say the closer situation is shaky is putting it mildly. Kenley Jansen’s struggles have complicated things a bit, and there’s no clear-cut answer to who should get the ball in the 9th inning. Blake Treinen got the call in Game five, but Roberts will likely play each situation based on matchups. It could be Treinen again, it could be Brusdar Graterol, or it could even be – believe it or not – Kenley Jansen.
There will be some crucial bullpens decisions made in Game six. How long do you stick with Gonsolin? Who comes in to replace him? How long can Dustin May go? Can you trust Jansen in the 9th inning? Can you trust Pedro Baez at all? Roberts will have to answer these types of questions and push all the right buttons in Game six. If he doesn’t, the Dodgers could be facing a Game 7 that they rather not play. If he does, however, the Dodgers could be on the verge of ending a 32 year World Series championship drought.