LOS ANGELES -- With the National League Division Series against the Giants tied at a game apiece, the Dodgers feel they’re in a good spot heading into Game 3 tonight. After all, it’s hard not to like your odds when Max Scherzer is on the mound.
“That's a good feeling,” manager Dave Roberts said following the Dodgers’ 9-2 win in Game 2 on Saturday in San Francisco. “It's interesting how the narrative changes from game to game, and right now, it's a three-game series, we have home-field advantage and we've got Max on the mound. So I like where we're at.”
One can’t have a much better introduction to a club than Scherzer’s had since the Dodgers acquired him from the Nationals at the Trade Deadline. The Dodgers have won all 12 games he’s started, including the NL Wild Card Game against the Cardinals on Wednesday. And over his first nine starts with L.A., Scherzer was particularly brilliant, posting a 0.78 ERA (five earned runs in 58 innings).
Recently, things have shifted a bit for the veteran ace. He allowed 11 earned runs over 14 2/3 innings in his final two regular-season starts and the Wild Card Game combined. Scherzer, who has a reputation for being a strikeout pitcher, also saw a downturn on that front. While he struck out 79 batters in those first nine outings, he’s recorded a total of 13 in his last three starts, a drop from 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings to 8.0.
There may be reason to believe those struggles are a thing of the past, though.
According to Scherzer, he and the club’s coaching staff pinpointed a delivery issue with his lower-half mechanics, and he feels he’s made the necessary adjustments to get back in form for Monday’s start.
“There's times where you get a little out of sync,” said Scherzer. “It's about grinding through it, figuring out what it is. [Then, you] grab onto something and find something that works for you, and get your mechanics all locked back in and find the rhythm. Once you can find that rhythm, then everything flows.”
The Dodgers hope that Scherzer has, indeed, found his rhythm, and they’re certainly hopeful that he goes deeper into Game 3 than he did in the Wild Card Game, when he pitched 4 1/3 innings before exiting with the heart of the Cardinals’ order coming up for the third time. A nearly perfect performance from the Dodgers’ bullpen made Scherzer’s outing stand. Here, Scherzer has the chance to return the favor.
Thanks to lengthy outings from Walker Buehler and Julio Urías in Games 1 and 2, respectively, Los Angeles' relief corps will enter Game 3 well-rested. However, with no set No. 4 starter, the bullpen will probably be relied upon heavily for Game 4. Tony Gonsolin is a likely candidate to handle the bulk innings, either as a traditional starter or behind an opener, while Buehler -- who would be going on three days’ rest -- is also a possibility if the Dodgers lose Game 3. Regardless, a lot of the club's arms could make it into the game Tuesday -- and the best way to ensure Roberts has plenty of viable options is for Scherzer to pitch deep into the game Monday.
And though the idea of losing a Scherzer start is, so far, foreign to L.A., the right-hander doesn’t read too much into the perfect record. Ahead of the Wild Card Game, he noted that “you kind of throw all streaks, all stats, everything out the window” once the postseason begins. But ultimately, he and the Dodgers have an expectation that he’ll live up to the track record he’s established for himself, both in those first nine starts with the team and throughout his entire career.
“We made this acquisition for him to be an ace, a stopper,” said Roberts. “When he takes the baseball, you expect to win.”