Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw to start first two NLCS games against the Braves
Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw will remain the Dodgers’ Game 1 and 2 starters in the National League Championship Series, respectively, manager Dave Roberts said Saturday, lining the pair up to potentially pitch in Games 6 and 7 as well, if needed.
For Games 3, 4 and 5, Roberts said the Dodgers probably would use more traditional starters than they did in the third game of the division series, when Dustin May was a one-inning opener. The order of the rotation, however, remains undecided.
While Buehler and Kershaw will remain on their normal between-starts routine, making them unlikely to be used as relievers in the series, Roberts wanted to keep the team’s “optionality” open with its other three starters: May, Julio Urías and Tony Gonsolin.
In the NLDS, May came on as a reliever in Game 1 before opening two nights later. Urías threw the bulk of the innings in Game 3 as a reliever. Gonsolin, who was set to start Game 4, didn’t pitch in the three-game sweep.
“I honestly don’t know who [the starters in Games] 3, 4 and 5 are,” Roberts said of the NLCS. “Until we need to answer that question, I’ll feel good about it. But right now I just don’t feel the need.”
Atlanta Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos is one of several executives with ties to the Dodgers’ Andrew Friedman, and both feel the scars of Houston’s cheating in 2017.
The Braves seem to have a slightly clearer rotation. Left-hander Max Fried, a Santa Monica native whom Roberts called “one of the elite pitchers in baseball” after going 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA in the regular season, will start Game 1 for a third straight series. After holding the Cincinnati Reds scoreless over seven innings in the wild-card round, he gave up four runs in four innings against the Miami Marlins last week.
Rookie right-hander Ian Anderson pitched both of the Braves’ previous Game 2s, improving upon his strong 1.95 ERA in the regular season with back-to-back scoreless starts to open this postseason. Right-hander Kyle Wright was also sharp in Game 3 of the NLDS, throwing six scoreless innings of his own to complete the sweep.
Josh Tomlin and Huascar Ynoa were the only other pitchers on the Braves NLDS roster to make more than two starts this year. The club has depth in its bullpen, however, a unit that recorded MLB’s fourth-best ERA, 3.50, despite pitching the second-most innings.
Learning from past playoff failures, the Dodgers strike out less and do more with the bat than hit homers. Star addition Mookie Betts is a catalyst.
“Those guys collectively are very good,” Roberts said. “They just do a good job of preventing runs. They’ve done it better than anybody this year in the postseason, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
First things first
Acuna, 22, hit .250 with a .987 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 14 homers, 29 RBIs, 38 walks and eight stolen bases in 46 games this season to help Atlanta win the NL East. He has hit .273 with a homer and two doubles in five playoff games. He had a monster 2019 season, batting .280 with 41 homers, 101 RBIs and 37 stolen bases.
Betts, 28, hit .292 with a .927 OPS, 16 homers, 39 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and 24 walks in 55 games in his first season with the Dodgers. The 2018 American League most valuable player hit .368 with five doubles, four RBIs and six runs in his first five playoff games for the Dodgers.
MLB has made 11,500 tickets available for the World Series and National League championship series, both at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
“They both impact the game in every aspect — in the batter’s box, in the field, on the bases,” Roberts said. “They’re both energizing players that players gravitate toward, fans gravitate toward.
“Having them at the top [of the order] taking potentially five at-bats or getting the most at-bats on your club and kind of igniting, setting the tone, they both do that for their clubs.”
Potential roster moves
Dodgers corner infielder Edwin Rios, who missed the NLDS because of a groin injury, took swings Friday and ran the bases at 75%, and Roberts said there is a chance he could be activated for the NLCS.
Rios, who hit .250 with a .946 OPS, eight homers and 17 RBIs in 32 games this season, started at designated hitter in the Sept. 30 playoff opener against the Brewers and would give the Dodgers a left-handed option at DH or off the bench.
Roberts said the team is also mulling over possible changes in the makeup of the bullpen to “continue to make sure all the matchups make sense for us.”
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