Column: Why are Dodgers in control of World Series? Star starters didn’t pitch Game 2
There was little for the Dodgers to celebrate on Wednesday night.
Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May succumbed once more to stage fright. The bullpen inspired minimal confidence. Mookie Betts was kept in check, which effectively shut down the Dodgers offense for most of the game.
Hidden in the avalanche of concerns that surfaced in a 6-4 defeat to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 2 of the World Series, there was a minor but nonetheless important victory.
Julio Urías didn’t pitch.
This column has often been a place to examine the team’s problems and shortcomings, but that feels entirely unnecessary at the moment.
Because the Dodgers remain in control of the series.
Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May weren’t effective early for the Dodgers, who fell behind and never recovered in a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in World Series Game 2.
That’s worth repeating, even at the risk of coming across as a homer or angering readers who believe in jinxes: The Dodgers remain in control of the series.
They’re in control because of their rotation, an advantage manager Dave Roberts protected by ensuring Urías would be available to start, or at least pitch the majority of the innings, in Game 4.
“We feel great,” Roberts said.
Roberts recited the names of his next three starters, which explained why he felt how he did.
Walker Buehler. Urías. Clayton Kershaw.
No matter how much strategies have evolved, the rhythms of games continue to be established by starting pitchers. The last two nights were reminders of that.
Kershaw was dominant in Game 1 and the Dodgers cruised to a lopsided victory.
Rays starter Blake Snell struck out nine in 4 2/3 innings in Game 2 and the Dodgers spent almost the entire night chasing the game.
The series is about to take a sharp turn back in the Dodgers’ favor.
With the series even at one game apiece, Buehler will start for the Dodgers in Game 3 on Friday.
Buehler wasn’t entirely himself in the first two rounds of this postseason when he was troubled by multiple blisters on his pitching hand. But his most recent start was his best, as he delivered six shutout innings against the Atlanta Braves in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.
The Rays will counter with Charlie Morton, but the advantage belongs to the Dodgers.
If Buehler is the team’s most dependable big-game pitcher, a close second has to be Game 4 starter Urías.
Urias has posted a 0.56 earned-run average in 16 innings spread over four games. In a five-inning relief appearance in the NL Division Series, he limited the Padres to an unearned run. He made his first start of the postseason in Game 3 of the NLCS when he held the Braves to a run over five innings. Four days later, he pitched the last three innings of a Game 7 victory.
Kershaw will return to the mound in Game 5. In the opening game of the series, he exploited the all-or-nothing approach of the Rays, striking out eight and giving up only one run over six innings.
Kershaw could have remained in the game, but with the Dodgers ahead by seven runs, Roberts decided to remove him with his pitch count still at 78. The early substitution should help in Game 5.
Again, advantage, Dodgers.
Something to think about: If the Dodgers win Games 3 and 4, Kershaw will be in position to win the game that secures their first championship since 1988.
Their bullpen has continued to be untrustworthy, but the schedule should assist them. Unlike the previous rounds, there are days off in this series, the first of which comes Thursday.
Roberts, who made the right calls to the bullpen in the NLCS, will be able to better line up his pitchers.
“You look where are relievers are set with the off day tomorrow, we’re in a great spot,” he said.
For the sake of argument, consider the possibility the series extends to six games, or, heaven forbid, seven.
Photos from Game 2 of the World Series between the Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays from Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
While Gonsolin or May would be lined up to pitch Game 6, another intriguing alternative has emerged in Alex Wood.
Injuries limited Wood to only two starts in the pandemic-shortened regular season. But he pitched a scoreless inning in Game 3 of the NLCS and fired two more zeroes Wednesday night.
In the 2017 World Series, he was the only Dodgers starter to pitch well against the sign-stealing Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
“This entire postseason, he’s pitched really well,” Roberts said. “And I just really like the way he attacked the zone. He’ll get a couple days off and then we’ll kind of reassess after that for him.”
And if there’s a Game 7?
The Dodgers start Buehler.
In other words, something cataclysmic would have to happen for them to lose this series, which remains theirs to lose.
Is Texas the Dodgers new home away from home? Plenty of Dodgers fans were in attendance for Game 2 of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
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