LOS ANGELES -- If baseball has become a bullpen game, someone forgot to tell the Nationals and Dodgers.
You won’t see more starting pitching star power than these clubs will throw at each other in a National League Division Series that begins Thursday.
“I think it kind of in some way lends itself to old school baseball,” Dodgers Game 1 starter Walker Buehler said.
“You know what, good for him that he said that,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “Yeah, I mean both sides have got good starting pitching. It's going to be fun. Like I’ve said, the reason why we are here -- I said it all year -- is that our starting pitchers kept us afloat.”
So, it is strength on strength in a best-of-five series which requires only four starting pitchers from each side. In the case of these two clubs, you’re talking about top three pitchers who have all garnered NL Cy Young Award attention in recent years, plus veteran, capable No. 4s.
The Dodgers will follow Buehler (14-4, 3.26 ERA) with Clayton Kershaw (16-5, 3.03 ERA) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-5, 2.32 ERA) in an order to be determined, then Rich Hill (2.45 ERA in 13 starts) in a Game 4 if necessary. Any of the top three would have been a perfectly acceptable Game 1 choice for a team that has had the luxury for weeks of lining up a playoff rotation just as they like.
The Nats will start left-hander Patrick Corbin (14-7, 3.25 ERA) after throwing both Max Scherzer (11-7, 2.92 ERA) and Stephen Strasburg (18-6, 3.32 ERA) in Tuesday’s must-win NL Wild Card Game against the Brewers. What a luxury for a team to pitch two of the top two contenders for the NL Cy Young Award on night, and still have a No. 1 arm to pitch two days later in a postseason series opener. Washington has more than a half billion dollars invested in that trio. Strasburg is the leading candidate to pitch Game 2, assuming no ill effects from a three-inning, 34-pitch relief appearance (the first of his career) on Tuesday. Then Washington could go Scherzer on full rest in Game 3 and Aníbal Sánchez (11-8, 3.85 ERA) in a potential Game 4.
“It works when you have starting pitchers like Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin and Sanchez,” Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said. “That’s our formula here. It’s won us a lot of games over the last eight years. It’s the way we’ve constructed our roster. We put a guy on the mound who gives us a chance to win each and every day.”
Both teams do. Here’s where the Dodgers’ and Nationals’ starting pitchers ranked among NL clubs during the regular season:
Nationals: 21.4 (1st)
Dodgers: 19.8 (2nd)
Dodgers: 3.11 (1st)
Nationals: 3.53 (2nd)
Nationals 9.68 (1st)
Dodgers: 9.45 (2nd)
Dodgers: 1.07 (1st)
Nationals: 1.19 (2nd)
Nationals 1.11 (1st)
Dodgers: 1.13 (2nd)
Dodgers: .225 (1st)
Nationals: .232 (2nd)
Nationals 938 2/3 (2nd)
Dodgers: 893 2/3 (3rd)
“I think we match up well with them,” Corbin said. “Obviously, their rotation has had a great season and ours as well. In a lot of these [postseason] games, the bullpens, the openers, things like that have happened. But if you have good starting pitching that can go out there, just keep your team in the ballgame, anything can happen.”
Said Buehler: “I think successful teams have to have good, successful starting pitching. And some teams want that to be five innings, some teams want it to be seven. We happen to be one of those that wants it to be seven to nine or whatever. I think these teams are in the playoffs for a reason, and you're not going to get there without starting pitching.”
Where the pitching staffs diverge is in the bullpens. The Dodgers led NL relief corps with a 3.78 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP during the regular season. Nationals relievers were last in both categories with a 5.66 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP.
Even more incentive to win the battle of the power pitching rotations.
Yes, even in an era that values high-leverage relief as much as ever, there is still a place in baseball’s postseason for sensational starting pitching.
“It's about starting pitching,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Obviously, you're talking a lot in recent postseasons about bullpening and ‘third time through’ and all that kind of stuff. But if you look at the Nationals, I think, obviously, the Astros and us, it's heavy reliance this year on starting pitching. I know Davey and I know the confidence that he has in his starters, and he's going to rely on those guys and as am I with our guys. …
“I really have a lot of confidence in where we're at. But yeah, there's certainly a little ode to the old school sort of starters. Get after it.”