LOS ANGELES -- Heading into the final week of the regular season, the goal was simple for the Dodgers: Win all six games and see what happens.
Sweeping the last homestand of the season would give the Dodgers some momentum heading into the postseason. It might also be their only chance at catching the Giants, who are winning at a historic pace this season.
The Dodgers secured their first win of the week on Tuesday with a 2-1 victory over the Padres at Dodger Stadium. It was Los Angeles’ seventh consecutive win against San Diego. With the win and the Giants' victory over the D-backs, the Dodgers remain 2 games back of San Francisco in the NL West race with just five games remaining in the regular season.
San Francisco concludes its remaining schedule with two games against the D-backs and three against the Padres, while Los Angeles hosts San Diego for two more before closing out the season with a three-game set against Milwaukee.
“Obviously this thing isn’t over until it’s over,” said Dodgers starter Walker Buehler. “We can’t help that the best record in the National League is in your division and we’re right there. Just win a few games, see what happens. If not, we’ll be ready to roll.”
Aside from picking up another much-needed victory, the Dodgers were hoping to watch Buehler dominate. The right-hander did just that. Buehler controlled the Padres’ lineup, striking out five over seven shutout innings.
Buehler didn’t allow a hit until Eric Hosmer recorded an infield single to open the fifth inning. He attributed his success to “going back to the drawing board” and utilizing his dominant four-seam fastball more than he has in his previous starts. Buehler threw 90 pitches, 49 of which were four-seamers.
The only sign of trouble came in the sixth inning when San Diego had two on, one out. But Buehler made the biggest pitch of the game and got Fernando Tatis Jr. to ground into an inning-ending double play.
“To have Walker throw the baseball like he did tonight, it makes it that much more exciting going forward,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “He was in command all night. Just all quadrants, his entire pitch mix. Everything he had tonight just had teeth.”
While there was no real concern, watching Buehler be in control is exactly what the Dodgers needed to see heading into the postseason. Buehler was as dominant as any pitcher in baseball through the first five months of the season, but he had his worst two outings of the season in September. On Tuesday, he looked more like Walker Buehler.
Buehler’s next start could come Sunday against the Brewers. That, however, will likely only happen if the Dodgers have a chance to win the division or force a Game 163. If this was Buehler’s final regular season start, the young hurler put together quite the campaign. He won a career-high 15 games and posted a 2.49 ERA, also the best of his career. He also reached the 200-strikeout mark for the second time in his career and the 200-inning mark for the first time.
“Those two numbers together are something that I’m definitely proud of and a big thing for me as a starting pitcher to have a year like that,” Buehler said. “It’s something that I obviously want to do again and keep doing. But yeah, the 200-inning mark is a special thing for starting pitchers.”
Offensively, the Dodgers got on the board in the first inning on a Trea Turner RBI double. AJ Pollock tacked on another run in the third with an RBI single. Outside of that, the Dodgers had plenty of traffic on the bases, but left 13 runners on base and went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
Los Angeles has scored seven runs in its last three games, continuing their season-long inconsistency.
“I feel like we’re getting our fair share of hits. We just haven’t gotten the big rally together,” Turner said. “When we have guys in scoring position, we’ve got to get it done.”
With the offense struggling, the starting rotation is going to have to carry the load. Buehler did his job.
“He’s special,” Turner said of Buehler. “He’s got that confidence and that swagger out there. When he’s on, like he was tonight, he’s tough to face. It’s fun playing behind him and not facing him.”