With the Dodgers taking down the Giants in a thrilling game 5 of the NLDS, the National League Championship Series is officially set, as the Braves will host the Dodgers in a rematch of last year’s NLCS. As part of our preview series here at Talking Chop, today we’re looking at LA’s pitching staff.
And it is, in a word, absurd.
If Braves’ fans didn’t know before, they quickly learned in the NLDS that the Brewers were one of the very best run prevention teams in all of baseball. And believe it or not, the Dodgers staff is even better.
In 2021, the Dodgers finished first in all of baseball in fewest runs allowed at 489 (Brewers were third at 558) and second in all of baseball in pitching fWAR at 26.9 (Brewers finished third at 23.5). They are by every measure, elite.
It all starts with their rotation, which is led by a three-headed monster of Walker Buehler, Julio Urias and Max Scherzer. Buehler threw 207 innings in 2021, to a 2.47 ERA and 3.15 FIP while Julio Urias, threw 185 innings of his own, to a 2.96 ERA and a 3.15 FIP. Meanwhile, all Max Scherzer did this season was throw 180 innings to a 2.47 ERA and a 2.97 FIP, and as if that’s not ridiculous enough, threw 68 innings with a 1.98 ERA and 1.96 FIP after being traded to LA.
Buehler and Scherzer are both right-handed starters who throw upper 90s fastballs and a hard slider as their primary secondary pitch. Both guys also will drop curveballs and change ups in to keep hitters honest. Urias is a left-handed starter whose fastball sits more 94-95 and uses his curveball and change up more as opposed to a slider. His curveball is considered one of the very best pitches in the sport. These guys will be three primary starters the Braves see in the series.
Of course, the Dodgers started the season with Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Bauer in their rotation as well, but Kershaw is out for the season with elbow problems and Bauer is still on administrative leave stemming from sexual assault allegations. Bauer’s extended absence is what prompted LA to go out and acquire Max Scherzer at the trade deadline.
But, like most teams this time of year, their elite pitching isn’t just reserved for the rotation. For the season, the Dodgers bullpen finished second in all of baseball in ERA (3.16) behind only the Giants and fifth in fWAR (6.5).
The most well known name among their relievers is Kenley Jansen, who still serves as their primary closer. He isn’t the same guy he was a few years but that cutter is still a nasty pitch that helped produce a 2.22 ERA this season, along with a 3.08 FIP. Even at 34, he still only allowed an 84 mph average exit velocity, the fifth lowest mark among relievers this season (min 40 IP).
While Jansen is probably the biggest name in their bullpen, their best reliever is Blake Treinen. There will be times in this series Braves’ fans will wonder how anyone ever gets a hit off Treinen, as he throws his 99 mph sinker and an 87 mph slider that both often move like wiffle balls. In 2021, Treinen pitched to a 1.99 ERA, a 2.88 FIP, and held opposing hitters to an 83 mph average exit velocity, the second lowest mark among all relievers (min 40 IP).
Other key members of the Dodgers pen include Joe Kelly, hard throwing right-hander with a 2.86 ERA this season; Phil Bickford, who pitched to a 2.50 ERA this season; Brusdar Graterol, who throws 103 mph; Corey Knebel, who just opened game 5 against the Giants; and Alex Vesia, a talented young lefty who strikes a ton of guys but struggled at times with walks.
We obviously don’t know exactly who will be on their NLCS roster, and probably won’t know until Saturday morning. But all these guys were on the the NLDS roster so it stands to reason they’ll be called on again.
As far as their pitching schedule goes, game 1 is going to be tricky for them. Both Urias and Scherzer pitched Thursday night in the close-out win against the Giants and Buehler pitched in game 4 on Tuesday night. With the NLCS starting on Saturday, that means none of their three main starters would be on regular rest for game 1 start, which could mean they’re forced into a bullpen game.
If they did do a bullpen game Saturday night, that would line Buehler up for game 2 on Sunday, Scherzer in game 3 on Tuesday and Urias in game 4 on Wednesday, all on normal rest. The cost of going all the way to game 5 against the Giants, is now they’re going to have to scramble their pitching a bit at the start of the NLCS, which could be an advantage to the Braves, who locked up their in series in four games and are able to optimize their rotation.
But even scrambling, I wouldn’t count on too much of an advantage. Regardless of who the throw and when they throw them, the Dodgers are an elite run prevention team. The Braves’ bats (and arms) are going to have to show up to avoid the same result as last year.