The Dodgers had the best record in the National League, at 106-56, and have won back-to-back pennants. The Nationals arrived on the West Coast after beating the Milwaukee Brewers, 4-3, in the National League wild-card game at home Tuesday night.
“Around here I don’t know if one, two or three really matters,” Buehler said of getting the nod from Manager Dave Roberts for Game 1. “It’s more about pitching for this team in the playoffs. And I think the order’s a little bit less significant than people want to make it out to be and I’m just excited to get to pitch.”
Roberts had his choice between Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-jin Ryu for Game 1 and, by extension, Game 5 if this series gets there. Kershaw is arguably the best pitcher of his generation. Ryu is an NL Cy Young candidate. But Roberts felt that starting Buehler on Thursday will give his club its best chance to win this series. He admitted that Buehler pitching at home — in Game 1 and possibly Game 5 — was part of the equation. Buehler had mixed results in last year’s postseason, including seven scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. He has a 3.38 ERA in two career starts against the Nationals.
The manager did not reveal his starter for any other game. There is a certain level of gamesmanship between teams this time of year. There is no competitive advantage to giving the opponent extra time to prepare. That’s what led Roberts to crack a joke and smile when addressing reporters Wednesday afternoon.
“I don’t think the Nationals have announced Game 2 or 3, have they yet?” Roberts said. “There’s no point.”
He added that the Game 1 result will not affect his decision for Game 2. It’s already been made. This matchup is, at its core, a clash of the NL’s best rotations. The Nationals, after Corbin, have Aníbal Sánchez, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to use in some order. Sánchez is the most logical option after both Scherzer and Strasburg pitched in the wild-card game Tuesday. But Strasburg could be ready for Game 2 after throwing just 34 pitches against the Brewers.
The only certainty is that hits should be hard to come by. Buehler acknowledged as much when discussing this series in the context of baseball’s tactical shifts. Many teams are favoring short starts before leaning on versatile bullpens. Here, that will not apply.
“Successful teams have to have good, successful starting pitching,” he said. “And whether that’s ... 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.”
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