When the Los Angeles Dodgers were attempting to catch the Colorado Rockies in the National League West standings down the stretch of the 2018 season, they aligned their starting rotation to ensure Walker Buehler could start a potential tie-breaker on regular rest.
Sure enough, the Dodgers and Rockies required a Game 163 to determine the division, and Buehler delivered. Weeks later, he started on the road in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series, and the Dodgers won yet again.
Now the 25-year-old is being entrusted to prevent the Dodgers from suffering an unceremonious exit from the 2019 MLB postseason. “I guess this will be kind of my third of those scenarios, so something I’m familiar with,” Buehler said of his NLDS Game 5 start.
“And getting to do it at home certainly helps and there’s not a lot to it. We got to win a game and if we don’t, we go home.”
In setting their 2019 NLDS rotation, the Dodgers purposely had Buehler start Game 1 so he would be in position for the scenario the team finds itself in. Part of the reason behind Clayton Kershaw getting the ball in Game 2 was so he could later pitch out of the bullpen.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts envisions Kershaw being an option to “piggyback” Buehler in the event length is needed from the bullpen. Though, Roberts also conceded, “I’m going to have a hard time taking the ball out of Walker’s hand.”
“I think it also helps to know that you got everyone else behind you,” Buehler said. “It’s kind of all hands on deck and go as long as you can, as good as you can and try and get out of it as clean as you can. So we’re excited.”
For all their success during the past several seasons, the Dodgers have continued to face mounting pressure and scrutiny over the franchise’s World Series drought now reaching 31 years. Buehler, however, doesn’t view Wednesday’s game in a negative light.
“I think the thing that’s kind of lost in playoff baseball is that it’s really fun and I think the pressure and things like that, if you spin it in your head the right way it can make it more fun,” he said.
“I think that anybody’s going to feel pressure, I think it’s more about what you do with it and I think that’s for you guys to write about and to judge, not for me to really say.”