No matter what happens Saturday night at Miller Park, this NLCS between the Dodgers and Brewers has been a hard-fought, entertaining series. Game 7 could be the wildest ride of all, with each manager having their important arms in the bullpen ready to go.
After both teams needed a Game 163 to win their respective divisions, they were the last two National League teams standing and are now on the verge of going to the World Series, or ending their season for good.
“Game 7 to go to a World Series, I don’t know if it gets more high stakes than that,” said Game 7 starter Walker Buehler to reporters after Game 6. “And I think if you approach it the right way -- it’s hard to put into words what could happen and what we hope happens.”
The Dodgers are turning to their 24-year-old rookie in the biggest spot of the year. Buehler will be only the second pitcher in NLCS history to start a Game 7 under the age of 25, and will be the younger of the two at 24 years and 84 days.
John Smoltz was 24 years and 155 days when he pitched a complete game shutout of the Pirates in 1991 to send the Braves to the World Series. Smoltz — who will be in the broadcast booth for Buehler’s start — also pitched Game 7 of the World Series that season, tossing 7 1⁄3 scoreless in what ended up being a game that went to extra innings with no score.
Jack Morris famously pitched all 10 innings for the Twins as they scored in the bottom of the 10th to take the World Series on a walk-off.
Buehler will also become just the fourth rookie in the last 30 years — the time it’s been since the Dodgers won a World Series — to start a Game 7. The last was Daisuke Matsuzaka in the 2007 ALCS.
“I think Walker is prepared for this moment, said manager Dave Roberts about his young starter. “As far as his rest, he’s ready to go. And as far as his heartbeat, the weapons, all that stuff, we’re in really good shape with him. He understands the magnitude of this moment, this game, and he’s a good person for us to take the baseball.”
In both of Buehler’s starts this postseason, the Dodgers have fallen behind early. If that happens Saturday, the uphill battle gets tougher knowing that Brewers’ lefty Josh Hader is lurking in the bullpen.
“12,” manger Craig Counsell joked after Game 6 about how many innings Hader would be available for Saturday.
Hader hasn’t pitched since Game 4 Tuesday and in his three appearances in the series, has pitched 4 2⁄3 dominant innings, striking out eight of the 18 batters he has faced. Going three inning in Game 1, the left-hander showed how he can shorten a game in a hurry for the Dodgers chances on offense.
It’s important for the Dodgers to get out to a lead of multiple runs to put the pressure on the Brewers. In two of the three losses the Dodgers have sustained in this series, they had a 1-0 lead early on solo home runs. They need to get multiple runs and keep their foot on the gas against starter Jhoulys Chacin — who they touched up for nine runs earlier this season.
Game 3 was a different story, with Chacin keeping the Dodgers off balance with his slider for 5 1⁄3 scoreless at Dodger Stadium.
“He’s using his curveball more,” Roberts said about Chacin. Keeps the ball down well. Obviously has a slider that’s really tough on right-handers and he’s got a two-seamer that runs. We’ve seen him a lot. We know how he’s going to attack us and now it’s about taking advantage of potential mistakes.”
Outside of Hyun-Jin Ryu for the Dodgers and Corbin Burnes for the Brewers, both pitching staffs will have everybody else available. That could mean Clayton Kershaw for the Dodgers, who is prepared for whatever may come his way in a relief appearance.
Kershaw is no stranger to coming out of the bullpen in an elimination game. The lefty pitched four scoreless against the Astros in Game 7 of the World Series last season and closed down the final two outs of the 2016 NLDS against Washington to secure an NLCS berth.
We’ve been playing for our lives since August,” said closer Kenley Jansen on the upcoming Game 7. “So here we are again.”
Time: 5:09 p.m. PT