ATLANTA -- The Dodgers planned on starting Max Scherzer in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Braves tonight.
But when Scherzer stormed out of the visiting bullpen at Oracle Park to lock down his first career save in Game 5 of the NLDS, the Dodgers’ strategy for the upcoming series against the Braves became a little trickier.
On Friday, manager Dave Roberts said the team still doesn’t have a starter for Game 1. He added the decision won’t be made until he has conversations with the potential options -- and that includes Scherzer.
How can Scherzer start Game 1?
This seems like a reasonable question given that Scherzer was on the mound -- and then shirtless during the celebration -- just a few hours ago. However, Scherzer only threw 13 pitches on Thursday, which essentially counts as a bullpen session for the right-hander.
Roberts said the decision will ultimately come down to how Scherzer feels. If he says that he’s ready to pitch, the Dodgers will give him the ball. But they won’t do that unless they know Scherzer is good physically.
“He’s gonna go out there, play catch and get treatment,” Roberts said. “If he says he’s good enough and feels like he can take down a start, then he’ll be our Game 1 starter.”
How does this decision affect the rest of the rotation?
In the event that Scherzer gets the Game 1 start, the Dodgers could go with a bullpen game for Sunday's Game 2 or tab Walker Buehler. Going with a bullpen game would help the Dodgers push Buehler back to Game 3, giving him extra rest after throwing 71 pitches on three days’ rest in Game 4 of the NLDS. Julio Urías would be expected to pitch the bulk of Game 4.
If Scherzer doesn’t start Game 1, it’ll likely be a bullpen game followed by Scherzer in Game 2. That would automatically push Buehler back to Game 3 at Dodger Stadium while Urías would still be slated for Game 4.
What if Scherzer can’t go?
If Scherzer and the Dodgers decide that it’s better for him to start Game 2, Los Angeles is preparing to go with a bullpen game. The Dodgers could go with an opener, much like they did in Game 5 against the Giants. But it’ll be Tony Gonsolin who would be expected to log the majority of the innings.
Gonsolin didn’t make an appearance in the NLDS and hasn’t pitched since Sept. 30, but with the NLCS being a best-of-seven series, the right-hander will be responsible for filling the void left by Clayton Kershaw, who would’ve been the fourth starter in the rotation. In the best-of-five series, the Dodgers were able to stick with their top three starters. That won’t be possible in a best-of-seven, so they’ll need Gonsolin to step up.
Who would be a possible opener?
Corey Knebel, who opened Game 5 against the Giants, would be a viable option for the Dodgers. Knebel has been better against lefties this season, limiting them to a .140 batting average during the regular season, which would help Los Angeles have a better matchup against superstar Freddie Freeman.