Dodgers head home in 2-0 NLCS hole

Roberts calls Urías to protect lead in 8th, but Braves stage rally

October 18th, 2021

ATLANTA -- Throughout the regular season, left-hander thrived. After bouncing back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen early in his career, Urías became the Major Leagues’ only 20-game winner in 2021, his first season as a full-time starter.

But during the postseason, the Dodgers have asked Urías to perform in multiple roles. He started Game 2 of the National League Division Series, tossing five innings of one-run ball. In Game 5 of that series, the Dodgers went with an opener in front of Urías, who then covered four middle innings. That night, the strategy worked.

On Sunday in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series, however, the Dodgers asked Urías, their scheduled Game 4 starter, to perform in yet another role. On two days’ rest, Urías was brought in to pitch the eighth inning to protect a two-run lead. This time, the decision did not work out.

The Braves tied the game, then, an inning later, they walked off for a second consecutive game, this time on an Eddie Rosario single off closer Kenley Jansen. With the 5-4 loss, the Dodgers are now facing a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-seven NLCS for the second consecutive season. They became the fourth team to allow walk-off hits in the first two games of a postseason series.

In postseason history, teams taking a 2-0 lead in any best-of-seven series have gone on to win that series 73 of 87 times (84%). Of course, the most recent comeback from a 2-0 deficit involved these same teams, with the Dodgers rallying from both 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to advance to the World Series last year.

But why turn to Urías in that unconventional spot on Sunday?

“He hadn’t thrown a bullpen and he was the best option at that point in time,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts explained. “He was prepared for it. It was a perfect spot for him, and getting him through that eighth to go to Kenley to finish the game.”

While the Dodgers believe pitching Urías in the eighth gave them the best chance to hold the lead, they did have other options. They could’ve started the frame with Blake Treinen, who was the team’s best reliever in the regular season. He had thrown just nine pitches in a clean seventh, giving him plenty of ammo for a second inning. Just one night earlier, Treinen, who limited lefties to a .140 batting average in the regular season, struck out Freddie Freeman on four pitches.

Freeman was due up second in the eighth inning on Sunday.

Using Treinen for two innings would’ve led the Dodgers right into using Jansen in a save situation in the ninth.

Or the Dodgers could have turned to left-hander Justin Bruihl, who retired Rosario and Freeman in Game 1. Going with Bruihl would’ve been a bit trickier, however, given that the rookie would’ve had less favorable matchups against Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley.

“Julio, in my opinion, was the best option we had,” Roberts said.

There are ramifications to that decision beyond Sunday’s outcome, too. If Urías does indeed make his Game 4 start on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium -- which Roberts said he will – the left-hander would be appearing in four games in a span of 11 days.

If you need to look for an example of just how difficult that is to execute, look no further than Max Scherzer, the Dodgers’ Game 2 starter. Scherzer, who closed out Game 5 of the NLDS on Thursday, said he experienced “dead arm” during his start on Sunday. He was making his fourth appearance in 12 days and was limited to 79 pitches over 4 1/3 innings on Sunday.

“Julio, he’s coming from a different spot, a lower pitch count,” said Scherzer, referring to the fact that Urías had thrown just 59 pitches in his NLDS Game 5 appearance. “So you can bet that he’s going to have a fresher arm and that he should be full go when he gets the start.”

Scherzer is right. He has thrown more pitches over the last two weeks than Urías. But when Urías takes the mound on Wednesday, it’ll be the first time since he became a starter that he will have pitched in four games in less than two weeks. He pitched in three games over a 10-day span during last year’s NLCS.

The Dodgers are now running into the risk of Urías feeling added fatigue, to go along with Scherzer’s fatigue. They also don’t know how Game 3 starter Walker Buehler will respond on Tuesday after pitching on short rest for the first time in his career last Tuesday in Game 4 of the NLDS.

While the Dodgers’ decision to go with Urías played a critical role in the outcome, the move wasn’t the only reason Los Angeles headed home in a 2-0 hole.

Corey Seager, who couldn’t secure a play at shortstop on the Rosario walk-off single, started the scoring with a two-run homer in the first off right-hander Ian Anderson. Chris Taylor then added a go-ahead two-run double in the seventh. Aside from that, the Dodgers’ offense struggled again. Despite drawing nine walks, they didn’t take advantage of scoring opportunities, finishing 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

“I think any time guys are in scoring position, you want to try and not do too much,” Taylor said. “We have to do a better job of that.”

After a grueling five-game series against the Giants and two consecutive walk-off losses against the Braves, Taylor said the last 10 days have been emotionally and physically draining for the Dodgers, and it has shown on the field.

If they want to repeat last year’s comeback, they’ll have to do it with a pitching staff that is suddenly overworked. They’ll lean on Buehler to provide one of his signature postseason starts on Tuesday. If it doesn’t work out, the Dodgers could be staring at elimination on Wednesday, perhaps with a tired Urías on the mound. Los Angeles gambled on Sunday. It didn’t pay off.

“It’s unfortunate,” Scherzer said. “But we got Walk going Game 3, so if the baseball sayings are right, you’re only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher. And so we got Walk going on the mound, and we definitely believe we can win with him.”