Will Mad Max emerge from 'pen in Game 5?

Roberts demurs, cites 'good arms that are fresh' vs. Giants

October 14th, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- In a winner-take-all scenario, any preconceived notion of normalcy flies out of the window. A game plan is sacred -- until it isn’t. With the Dodgers facing elimination in Game 5 of the National League Division Series as they travel back to San Francisco, there is one question that will loom large on Thursday night:

Will manager Dave Roberts use Max Scherzer in a relief appearance?

Following the team’s Game 4 win, Roberts said Scherzer was unavailable for Game 5, but conceded that he has “been known to change my mind.” Roberts threw more water on the possibility of Scherzer making a relief appearance Wednesday, saying it’s “highly unlikely.” The manager added that he’d want Scherzer to start Game 1 of the NLCS, but he clearly acknowledged that his team has to get there first.

“Obviously, I’m not immune to the fact that you don’t get [to the NLCS] unless you win Game 5,” Roberts said. “How he feels matters because you still got to be effective. So we’ll have a conversation with him I’m sure [Wednesday and Thursday] and kind of gauge it, but in no way are we going to press him and put him in a position that we don’t feel comfortable across the board.”

Roberts doesn’t expect the veteran to lobby.

“I think it’s something that obviously people are talking about,” Roberts said. “I’m sure he’s aware. But again, we have a lot of good players, a lot of good guys, a lot of good arms that are fresh and ready to go that I feel very confident that can prevent runs [Thursday].”

Roberts will indeed have non-Scherzer options. With the Dodgers comfortably beating the Giants, 7-2, in Game 4, Roberts avoided using Kenley Jansen. One potential Game 5 reliever, however, is off the table, after the LA skipper decided to use Corey Knebel as an opener in place of Julio Urías, who was previously expected to start.

Blake Treinen and Joe Kelly have pitched in three games this postseason, but both will more than likely be available after the off-day. Even Tony Gonsolin, who has yet to pitch in the postseason, could be an option.

But if there was an occasion for Roberts to reverse course, Game 5 more than qualifies. And if there’s anyone in Los Angeles’ clubhouse willing to eschew normal rest, it’s Scherzer, the ultimate competitor.

Scherzer, who needed 110 pitches to throw seven innings of one-run ball with 10 strikeouts Monday, would be pitching on two days' rest if he’s deployed. He isn’t unfamiliar with pitching in relief on short rest after making a start in the playoffs, having done so on four occasions throughout his career. Here’s how those outings went:

2011 ALDS, Game 5 (Detroit at New York), three days' rest
1.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 2 K’s (hold)

Scherzer entered with a two-run lead. He pitched a scoreless sixth inning, then was pulled in the seventh after allowing a one-out single to Derek Jeter, who would later score.

2013 ALDS, Game 4 (Detroit vs. Oakland), three days' rest
2.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 2 K

Scherzer entered with the game tied and allowed the go-ahead run, but earned the win after the Tigers came back to take the lead.

2017 NLDS, Game 5 (Washington vs. Chicago), two days' rest
1.0 IP, 3 H, 4 R (2 ER), 1 BB, 1 K (blown save + loss)

Scherzer entered with a one-run lead and recorded the first two outs, but then things went off the rails shortly after.

2019 NLDS, Game 2 (Washington at Los Angeles), three days' rest
1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K’s (hold)

Easily Scherzer’s most dominant postseason relief performance, as he struck out Gavin Lux, Chris Taylor and Joc Pederson all swinging.

In total, Scherzer has allowed six runs (four earned) across 5 1/3 innings with three walks and eight strikeouts. The majority of that damage, though, came from the wonky 2017 outing against the Cubs.

Regarding Roberts, there have been eight instances where he has used a starter in relief on short rest after making a start. Clayton Kershaw was deployed in that situation three times, Rich Hill and Urías twice and Alex Wood once. When Roberts has used his starters in this specific scenario, they’ve combined to allow one run across 16 2/3 innings with 21 strikeouts.

In games of this magnitude, however, everything is on the table -- evidenced by Roberts going with Knebel to start the game. Urías is likely to get the ball next, with the hope that he'd eat up the bulk of the innings before handing the ball off to the back end of the Dodgers' ‘pen, allowing Scherzer the freedom to sit back and observe. Roberts would prefer to avoid using his veteran ace, but Thursday will determine if he's afforded that luxury.