Even With Blister Concerns, Walker Buehler Still Dodgers' Best Game 1 Choice

Even With Blister Concerns, Walker Buehler Still Dodgers' Best Game 1 Choice
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The Los Angeles Dodgers announced their starting pitchers for Games 1 and 2 of the National League Division Series versus the San Diego Padres. And to no surprise, manager Dave Roberts will follow the same formula that worked so well against the Brewers in the Wild Card opening round.

Walker Buehler will get the nod in Tuesday’s opener, while Clayton Kershaw follows on Wednesday. Roberts didn’t announce a Game 3 starter, though Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin, and Dustin May are each a likely candidate.

Giving Buehler the Game 1 start is the smart choice. For one thing, he was outstanding in his first three innings last Wednesday, allowing no runs and one hit with six strikeouts and one walk.

But Buehler began to wear down in the fourth inning. Whether it was the blister on his right index finger becoming too difficult to pitch with or his stamina depleted after 60 or so pitches (he threw 73 total), Buehler served up three hard-hit balls (resulting in a double by Daniel Vogelbach and two-run homer from Orlando Arcia) that cut the Dodgers’ lead to 3-2 and put what appeared to be a sure victory in peril.

Fortunately for the Dodgers, Urias came out of the bullpen to throw three scoreless innings in relief. While the lineup struggled to score another run, finally breaking through with Corey Seager’s seventh-inning homer, Urias kept Milwaukee off the board, allowing three hits with five strikeouts.

If Buehler can’t be relied upon to pitch five or six innings, someone else will likely have to take over as a piggyback starter. And if Roberts has to potentially tap out his bullpen in Game 1 (a greater possibility after Roberts admitted it’s no longer automatic that Kenley Jansen will close out games), then it’s important to have Kershaw pitch Game 2 and let those relievers recover when they’ll likely be needed for Game 3. 

With no off-days between NLDS games, the opportunity to give relievers a rest is especially vital. And Buehler looks like the front-runner to start a Game 5, if this NLDS goes that far. Reinforcements will almost certainly be needed in that situation. 

Fortunately, the Dodgers have bullpen depth. A lot of it. And the relief corps will be even deeper with Dylan Floro expected to be added to the roster for this series. It’s one of the many reasons this team is a World Series favorite. Now those arms just have to fulfill those expectations.

Ian Casselberry watchdogs sports media for Awful Announcing. He’s covered baseball for SB Nation, Yahoo Sports and MLive, and was one of Bleacher Report’s first lead MLB writers. Please follow Ian on Twitter @iancass and give him a listen at The Podcass.