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Walker Buehler, Mike Clevinger both bring uncertainty into NLDS Game 1 start

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A true divisional series between the Dodgers and Padres

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National League Wild Card Game 1: Milwaukee Brewers v. Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Robert Beck/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Another playoff Game 1 for the Dodgers, another Lakers NBA Finals game scheduled at the same time. But should you find yourself concentrating less on basketball, we have a pretty great NLDS that starts Tuesday night.

During the regular season, the Dodgers and Padres were the two best teams in the National League. They had the two best NL records, and the two best run differentials in the majors.

San Diego ranked third in the NL in runs scored and home runs hit. They were fourth in fewest runs allowed. The Dodgers led the league in all of those categories. With runners in scoring position, the Padres led the majors in batting average (.311), OPS (.953), and wRC+ (151). The Dodgers were second in all three (.293, .903, 143).

The Padres offense is at full strength, and will provide the greatest test to the Dodgers, facing a dynamic lineup that can put up a crooked number at any point. But on the pitching side, San Diego is without their best pitcher. Dinelson Lamet was left off the NLDS roster.

Mike Clevinger was added, and he’ll start Game 1. His last real start was on September 13, when he pitched seven scoreless frames against San Francisco. But Clevinger had one start pushed back, then left his September 23 start after one inning with an elbow impingement. He was left off the Padres’ wild card roster.

Before his start in Game 1, Clevinger will have pitched just one major league inning in the last 22 days.

Walker Buehler has pitched eight innings in the last 27 days, so there’s some question there, too. He’s also been great in those eight innings, with 14 strikeouts while allowing only two runs. Buehler is just limited by a blister on his right index finger, something to be managed by Buehler, the coaching staff, and assistant trainer Yosuke “Possum” Nakajima.

“I’ve heard a lot of at-home solutions. We’ve tried some things out, but Possum has dealt with this before,” Buehler said Monday. “I just try not to worry about it too much.”

Against Milwaukee last Wednesday, Buehler struck out eight in four innings, allowing two runs, but was pulled after 73 pitches, with starter Julio Urías piggybacking with three innings in relief. We might see a similar situation on Tuesday night, with Urías, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin all available to pitch in relief during the first two games, with potential starts or bulk efforts looming later in the series.

But it will all depend on how Buehler’s blister is doing.

“I just don’t know until I know. I think with Walker right now, his finger’s in a good place. We’ll keep an eye out each inning, and he’s probably going to be upset when the time comes [to remove him],” Roberts said Sunday. “But we’re trying to win this start, then also the next series as well, with him pitching.”

Rare familiarity

In the eight years of the wild card game era (2011-19), only six of 32 division series featured teams from the same division playing each other, including the Dodgers and Diamondbacks in 2017, the only time two NL West teams squared off in that round.

This year, thanks to both central divisions getting obliterated in the wild card round, all four division series feature actual divisional matchups. The Dodgers won six of 10 games against the Padres this season, including a few inflection points.

The Padres won the first two games of a four-game series in Los Angeles on August 10-11, pulling them both into an 11-7 tie on the season. The Dodgers won the next two games 6-0 and 11-2, the latter the first time this season Mookie Betts and Corey Seager batted first and second for the Dodgers.

On September 14 in San Diego, the Padres took the opener 7-2 to pull within 1½ games in the division.

“We were just flat. They just kept coming at us the whole game. We never had an answer, and there was nothing we could do but just sit there and take it,” Betts said of that September 14 loss. “We just had to talk amongst ourselves, and we were able to come back and play the way we always do.”

The Dodgers won the next two games 3-1 and 7-5 to take the series, and finished with 10 of their final 12 games to close out the NL West.

NLDS Game 1 info

  • Time: 6:38 p.m. PT
  • TV: FS1 (Joe Davis, John Smoltz, Ken Rosenthal)
  • Streaming: Fox Sports Go, fuboTV