SAN FRANCISCO -- The best path to winning a short series? Win Game 1.
The next best path? Follow your Game 1 loss by starting a Cy Young candidate in Game 2, then another Cy Young candidate in Game 3. Then, later in the series, go right back to your third Cy Young candidate, who looked solid in that Game 1 but didn't get any run support.
Indeed, the Dodgers find themselves in an early hole in the National League Division Series, following a 4-0 loss to the Giants on Friday night at Oracle Park. Right-hander Walker Buehler, so often dominant in the postseason, turned in a strangely pedestrian outing. He allowed three runs over 6 1/3 innings, but was outdueled by Giants righty Logan Webb.
“This game is on me,” Buehler said -- a tad harsh, considering the performance of his team’s offense on the night. “But I tried to stay in there and kind of battle as long as I could. They had a good night. We didn't, and we'll move forward.”
In postseason history, teams taking a 1-0 lead in any best-of-five series have gone on to win the series 101 of 140 times (72 percent). With a bit more production offensively, however, the Dodgers feel they have the kind of rotation that can turn an early deficit on its head.
Twenty-game winner Julio Urías will pitch Game 2 on Saturday night. Three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer is lined up for Game 3 on Monday. From there, the Dodgers would have some decisions to make -- notably whether Buehler, who threw 99 pitches in Game 1, might come back and pitch on short rest in Game 4.
But that’s a question for another day -- a question that will be dictated by what happens over the next two games. In desperate need of a response on Saturday night, the Dodgers turn to Urías, who posted a 2.96 ERA during the regular season and boasts a wealth of playoff experience.
“It was great that we got to stay away from him in that Wild Card Game,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “So having him take the mound tomorrow certainly is something to feel good about.”
As for Buehler, he surrendered a pair of homers but was otherwise solid on Friday night. He made the mistake of grooving a 3-0 fastball in the first inning to Buster Posey, who had the green light all the way. Posey sent it off the top of a right-field water tower and into the bay, marking the first 3-0 homer Buehler allowed in his career.
“Buster's been in this game a long time,” Buehler said. “They obviously have trust in him to swing 3-0, and [it was] just a mistake heater to, obviously, an area that he can drive the ball. Just not a great throw.”
It was the wrong pitch to the wrong hitter at the wrong time, and Posey was ready for it.
“Buehler's tough,” Posey said. “He doesn't give you a lot to hit, and fortunately there I got a pitch I could handle and got the barrel on it.”
Buehler matched zeros with Webb for most of the night after that. He allowed six hits and a walk while striking out five. In the seventh, Buehler’s 3-2 fastball to Kris Bryant caught too much plate, and Bryant’s solo blast gave the Giants a 3-0 lead. While Oracle Park erupted, Buehler slumped on the back of the mound, hands on his knees in anguish.
“After [Posey’s home run], I thought he really settled in,” Roberts said. “He didn't get stressed all night. I think that he threw the baseball really well. He got 3-2 to Bryant and [Bryant] put a good swing on it.
“But overall, six plus, I thought Walker threw the ball fine.”
Fine. That’s perhaps the best way to sum up Buehler’s night. Thing is, the Dodgers have grown accustomed to a whole lot more than “fine” from Buehler in October. He’d reeled off a string of nine consecutive postseason starts in which he allowed two runs or fewer. That came to an end on Friday night.
For a different team, losing a Game 1 started by a pitcher like Buehler might’ve felt crushing. Not the Dodgers, who turn to Urías -- owner of a 2.79 postseason ERA, and whose last trip to the mound in a playoff game featured 2 1/3 scoreless innings to clinch the 2020 World Series.
After that? It’s Scherzer, a veteran of 23 playoff games who started the 2019 World Series clincher for the Nationals. Talk about pedigree.
Prior to Friday’s game, Roberts was asked about his rotation, and its chances of having a Cy Young Award winner this year.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, I don't have a vote,” he said. “But I just know we do have three Cy Young candidates. Legit candidates.”
Quite useful, after all, when you need to find a way to win three games.