Both teams have reason to feel confident heading into Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night. The Rays took the Dodgers’ opening punch and responded with a jab of their own to tie things up. The Dodgers now have ace Walker Buehler mound, and their best three pitchers lined up for the next three games.
Buehler’s 2020 was an odd year. It’s going to be odd to look back at his 3.44 ERA in eight regular season starts and see only one decision, the product of him not being built up to pitch very long early in the season, and limited by blisters late.
Because he didn’t throw much during the shutdown between spring training and summer camp, Buehler essentially had to start from scratch in July. If you look at his 2020 through the lens of a normal 6½-week spring training, his August 15 start — 4⅔ innings, five runs against the Angels — was basically his final tuneup in a normal season.
Since then, Buehler has a 1.72 ERA in eight starts, with 54 strikeouts (a 38.6-percent K rate) and 13 walks in 36⅔ innings.
This postseason, he’s allowed four runs in four starts, including pitching six scoreless innings in Game 6 of the NLCS on Saturday. In that start Buehler escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the second inning without allowing a run.
“I think there’s a confidence element to it, and I can’t explain it. I just didn’t have any anxiety or panic, like you may usually,” Buehler said Thursday. “I’ve had a runner on third with one out in games before and felt that. It’s something that comes in waves, but in that [game against the Braves] I felt good.”
That was Buehler’s first start on four days rest this season. For Game 3 of the World Series, he’s on five days rest.
Buehler has a 2.44 ERA in 10 postseason starts, including allowing two or fewer runs in each of his last eight starts. That includes seven scoreless innings in his lone World Series start, also in a Game 3, in 2018 against the Red Sox.
That eight-start run came after Buehler allowed nine runs in his first two postseason starts, including giving up a grand slam to the Braves in his first postseason outing, in 2018. Buehler has talked openly this postseason about how he’s learned from that failure, as he put it, and how he is no longer afraid of it.
“He’s very introspective, he’s very intelligent, and he’s very competitive,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Thursday. “He’s just very good about understanding what happened, and how he can get better out of those situations.”
On the other side, the Rays are pretty confident to have Charlie Morton on the mound. The right-hander has allowed all of two runs this postseason, and one of them was unearned. His last two starts, both in the ALCS, were scoreless, totaling 10⅔ innings.
Morton, who signed a two-year, $30 million contract with the Rays before the 2019 season, has won all five of his playoff starts with Tampa Bay. There’s a reason the Rays wear T-shirts that say “Charlie Freakin’ Morton,” after all.
“He’s the same guy, whether it’s Game 7 or Game 30, and that’s pretty comforting,” Rays manager Kevin Cash told reporters on Thursday. “It’s not just what he does for himself, it’s what he does for our club. It’s pretty settling. Every outing we get him the ball in the postseason the last two years, he’s been pretty outstanding.”
Morton has a 2.84 postseason ERA in 12 games, including 11 starts, and he’s allowed zero or one earned run in eight of his last nine postseason games. That includes allowing two runs in two appearances against the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series with Houston, including pitching the final four innings of Game 7 in relief to earn the win.
So, runs should be at a premium on Friday.
Something to watch
Morton has not allowed a stolen base in his last 17 starts, with only two unsuccessful attempts in that time, both this season. The last player to steal a base off Morton was Blue Jays center fielder Jonathan Davis on September 7, 2019 in Tampa Bay.