Originally published by DodgerBlue.com
Heading into 2021, Walker Buehler had already established himself as the ace for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he was still looking to take the next step and jump into the elite tier of pitchers.
It was a goal of Buehler’s to become a 200-inning pitcher and lead a rotation. His previous career high was 182.1 innings in 2019, which he was unable to build on in the shortened 2020 campaign, but last season presented the opportunity to achieve a personal goal.
The 27-year-old got off to a strong start, which included six shutout innings during the Dodgers’ home opener in a 1-0 win. In April, he pitched 31.1 innings with a 3.16 ERA that was inflated by a five-run outing against the Cincinnati Reds in his final outing of the month.
Buehler had another shaky start by his standards on May 11, when he allowed four runs in seven innings. But after that he went on a run that pushed him into the National League Cy Young Award discussion.
From May 17 through Aug. 31, no starter in baseball had an ERA lower than Buehler’s 1.57 mark over 131.2 innings. The next closest, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Corbin Burnes, had a 2.47 ERA in 109.2 innings. Buehler was pitching a tier above other aces in the game.
That run included three consecutive months of finishing with an ERA below two. In June, he posted a 1.85 ERA in 39 innings, and in July he pitched to an ERA of 1.67 in 32.1 innings.
Also July, Buehler was named to the All-Star Game for the second time in his career, however, he was only selected as an injury replacement. He capped off July by being named NL Pitcher of the Month.
In August, Buehler somehow stepped his game up even more as he threw 40.1 innings with a 1.56 ERA, which made him the Cy Young favorite, but he wasn’t focused on winning it.
“It’s not something that I really care about. I want us to win games, win the division, get to the playoffs and do what we did last year and what we set out to do every year,” Buehler said. “If I somehow put us in a position and have that type of year to be in that conversation, that’s great.
“But at the end of the day it’s about winning games, and that’s my big focus.”
Once September came, Buehler finally began to regress. He opened by allowing six runs in just three innings against the San Francisco Giants. Later in the month, he allowed five runs in just 3.2 innings against the Colorado Rockies.
He finished the month with an ERA near five and no was no longer the Cy Young favorite. The award eventually went to Burnes, who led MLB with a 2.43 ERA.
Despite the rough month, Buehler finished the season as one of baseball’s best pitchers with a 2.47 ERA, 3.16 FIP and 5.5 WAR. He also reached his goal for the first time in his career, finishing at 207.2 innings pitched.
Buehler’s late-season struggles carried a bit into the postseason. In Game 1 of the NL Division Series, he allowed three runs in the first inning and blamed himself for the Dodgers’ loss.
In his Game 4 on short rest, Buehler was better, allowing just one run in 4.1 innings as the Dodgers won consecutive games to advance to the NL Championship Series.
His struggles really came out in the NLCS as Buehler made two starts and allowed eight runs (six earned) in 7.2 innings as the Dodgers were eliminated by the Atlanta Braves.
He finished the postseason with a 4.91 ERA in 18.1 innings over four starts.
Buehler’s 2021 highlight
Buehler’s best moment(s) of the season was his three-month stretch from June through August, but the run was really started by his May 17 start.
During that outing, Buehler pitched seven shutout innings and allowed only one hit while striking out seven. The only negative in the start was four walks.
“Pretty amazing. I never had the opportunity to face him in the past, but just to see him and the electric stuff that he has, just unbelievable,” Albert Pujols said about Buehler’s start.
Buehler will once again lead the Dodgers’ pitching staff and be a key piece to their success this upcoming season.
He should be in the Cy Young conversation and could win his first award if able to remain consistent throughout the season.
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