The Dodgers are back in the National League Division Series for the eighth year in a row, which shouldn’t be a surprise since they’ve won the division in each of those eight years. But this year there was an extra step to get here, not the only thing that’s different about 2020.
The division series and league championship series won’t have off days within the series, made easier by both teams in each series staying the in the same city, eliminating the need for travel. It’s much more like baseball is during the regular season. It will also change the way pitching staffs are used.
“I just think the format lends itself to your entire roster,” manager Dave Roberts said Sunday. “As a team, as an organization that believes in depth, you’re going to have to use all 28 guys, in my opinion. So yeah, I don’t mind it.”
For every division series that lasted five games during this run, the Dodgers used at least their Game 1 starter twice, including Clayton Kershaw on short rest every year from 2013-16 in Game 4. To bring back this year’s Game 1 starter, Walker Buehler, back in a potential Game 5 would require him pitching on three days rest, something he’s never done before.
“I think if you ask me, we will see. If you ask him, it’s a definite yes,” Roberts said. “That’s one of those things, I think that we just have to wait and see.”
That the Dodgers are still managing Buehler’s blister on his right index finger throws a wrinkle in this, in that he’s less likely to pitch deeper into games. Maybe that makes him more likely to return on short rest, perhaps with a plan to take four or so of the nine innings of a potential Game 5. Like Roberts says, we’ll just have to wait and see.
But whether Buehler is used in Game 5 or not, the Dodgers will have all five starters at the ready for the NLDS. They already used Julio Urías for three innings following Buehler in Game 1 against the Brewers, and Roberts said Urías, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin will be available in relief for the first two games against the Padres, perhaps only as a side session before their eventual start.
Having those five pitchers available is an advantage for the Dodgers. The Padres rallied without having their top two starters, Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet, in the wild card series. But they only used two starting pitchers in three games against the Cardinals, and had nine relievers pitch Game 3. They did wonderfully, pitching a combined shutout, but 22⅓ innings in three days out of the bullpen is an impossible pace to keep up for potentially five games.
San Diego’s bullpen might not have to pitch that much in the NLDS. They could get one or both of Clevinger or Lamet back for this series (we’ll find out by Tuesday morning), and it’s reasonable to expect Zach Davies and/or Chris Paddack to last past three innings and then some.
The Dodgers will probably add a 14th pitcher for the division series. Roberts on Sunday mentioned Dylan Floro as a possibility, which only adds to the depth that has been in use pretty much all season. They had seven pitchers appear in at least 20 games this season, and eight relievers were on pace for at least 50 innings in a full season.
All 13 Dodgers pitchers active during the wild card series plus Floro had above-average adjusted ERAs this season, and all but May and Pedro Báez had an above-average FIP.
It allowed them to spread the work around all season.
Only one Dodger pitched three straight days during the regular season, when Adam Kolarek threw a total of 29 pitches from September 16-18. Four different Padres pitchers — Trevor Rosenthal, Drew Pomeranz, Emilio Pagan, and Pierce Johnson — pitched in all three games of the wild card series last week.
Under Roberts in the postseason, pitchers have been used three days in a row five times, none since 2018. The most famous occurrence was Brandon Morrow, who talked his way into a disastrous Game 5 outing in the 2017 World Series, allowing four runs while pitching on his third day in a row.
Morrow became the second pitcher ever to pitch in all seven games of a World Series, and in that postseason pitched in 14 of the Dodgers’ 15 games, posting an otherwise respectable 3.95 ERA with 12 strikeouts and two walks, allowing only two runs outside of that Game 5 outing.
“I didn’t know it was 14 out of 15, but obviously there were some off days that are baked in there,” Roberts said. “But I don’t see anybody, if there is a Game 5, pitching five days in a row. It’s more on how guys are feeling, and how effective they are.”