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World Series Preview: The Dodgers pitching situation

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MLB: NLCS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta Braves Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays won the American League pennant. The Rays have made it back to the World Series for the first time since 2008.

It was not have been as comfortable ending for Rays fans once securing a 3-0 lead, but are you not entertained? It went to game seven and through it wasn’t a cake walk it never really felt like the Rays were going to lose once Charlie Morton shut down the Houston Astros in the first and Randy Arozarena did his thing with a two-run homer that would put the Rays in the driver’s seat for the rest of the game.

The path to the World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers wasn’t easy either. They trailed the Atlanta Braves three games to one before they won the final three games.

In the end with expanded playoffs the chalk played out as the teams with the most wins during the regular season ended up in the World Series. This is how it was meant to be.

The big story line for this series will center around former Rays general manager Andrew Friedman. He was instrumental in exorcising the devil out of the Devil Rays in becoming the Rays in 2008 and the run that followed.

Friedman has taken his lessons learned with the Rays and applied them on a bigger scale with one of the biggest budgets in the game. For this reason the teams will look very similar despite the Dodgers having the bigger names.

The Dodgers will have home field advantage for the series and be the home team for games 1, 2, 6, and 7 due to the better regular season record.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Matchups:

Game 1 - Tuesday 8:09 PM: Tyler Glasnow vs Clayton Kershaw
Game 2 - Wednesday 8:08 PM: Blake Snell vs TBA

Game 3 - Friday 8:08 PM: Walker Buehler vs Charlie Morton
Game 4 - Saturday 8:08 PM: TBA vs TBA
Game 5 - Sunday 8:08 PM: Clayton Kershaw vs Tyler Glasnow

Game 6 - Tuesday 8:08 PM: Blake Snell vs TBA
Game 7 - Wednesday 8:09 PM: Charlie Morton vs Walker Buehler

These are just educated guesses for the starting rotation on full rest. In the playoffs and especially the World Series expect the unexpected on the mound. The Dodgers have had only two regular starters with Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, but they do have a variety of options as openers or bulk guys with Dustin May, Julio Urias, and Tony Gonsolin.

Clayton Kershaw is the undisputed best pitcher on the planet during the regular season over the last decade plus. Over 2,333.0 innings he’s posted a 2.43 ERA/2.75 FIP/2.98 xFIP and won three National League Cy Young Awards. The narrative is he’s been a much different pitcher in the postseason with a 4.31 ERA over 177.1 innings. Many times he’s been asked to pitch of short rest or out of the bullpen, but he’s also been kept in an inning too long on multiple occasions. He’s been treated in a manner that is the antithesis to the way that Kevin Cash manages. He’s a great pitcher and is fully capable of shutting down any offense. In the playoffs he’s struggled with back spasm that saw his start pushed back two days in the National League Championship Series. He allowed four runs in 5.0 innings in a lackluster start.

Walker Buehler is one of the best young pitchers in the game. In 365.2 innings he’s put up a 3.15 ERA/3.23 FIP/3.38 xFIP. In the playoffs he’s been even better with a 2.44 ERA with improved strikeout rates and more walks in 55.1 innings. He has a big fastball that sits in the upper 90s and hits 100. He’s primarily a fastball guy but will mix in a few cutters in the low 90s, sliders in the upper 80s, and curves in the low 80s.

MLB: NLCS-Atlanta Braves at Los Angeles Dodgers
Buehler ... Buehler ...
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Much like the Rays the Dodgers have used fluid pitcher roles to get through the rest of the games.

Dustin May has a magnificent red ball of hair that likely comes from his ability to throw fire. His fastball averages just under 100 mph. He pairs it with a mid 80s curve and low 90s cutter with all three pitches thrown about a third of the time in the playoffs. He’s added curveball usage and taken it from his fastball. It’s a sinking fastball that hasn’t lead to as many strikeouts as you would expect from a guy that averages almost 100. In 90.2 innings in the majors he’s averaged a 20.8% strikeout rate. In the playoffs he’s typically been used as an opener with a couple traditional relief appearances, but does have starter experience in the regular season.

Julio Urias was considered by many to be the top pitching prospect in the game. Due to injuries he’s yet to cross 80 innings in a major league season despite playing in parts of five seasons. He’s transitioned back from the bullpen to a starting role in 2020. He put up a 3.27 ERA/3.72 FIP/5.06 xFIP over 55.0 innings in 2020. In the playoffs he’s thrown 16.0 innings despite only picking up one start. He threw the final 3.0 innings to close out Game 7 of the NLCS for the Dodgers. Urias has seen an uptick in velocity this year averaging around 95 mph. He’s mostly a two pitch pitcher with a low 80s slider being his breaking ball of choice. He will throw an occasional changeup in the mid 80s, but the usage is limited almost entirely to right handed batters.

Tony Gonsolin was tabbed with bulk man duties in game seven of the NLCS. He mostly pitched as a starter in the regular season posting a 2.31 ERA/2.29 FIP/3.80 xFIP over 46.2 innings. He gets his fair share of strikeouts and limits walks. In the playoffs he’s made one appearance as a starter and once as a bulk guy. He’s allowed seven runs in 6.1 innings during the playoffs.

MLB: NLCS-Atlanta Braves at Los Angeles Dodgers
Gonsolin
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Their bevy of pitching options includes traditional relievers too. Kenley Jansen has been the closer for most of the last decade for the Dodgers, but he has some intriguing options surrounding him.

Jansen has been shaky as the closer for the last few years at least if you follow the narrative surrounding the Dodgers. He’s definitely taken a step back from the 2010-2017 run that saw him as one of the top relievers in the game. He’s posted a low to mid 3s ERA/FIP/xFIP for the most recent three seasons. There was talk about moving him out of the closer role earlier in the playoffs, but his most recent outings have been his most productive. He’s a sinker/cutter guy that has seen his velocity decrease from mid 90s to around 90-93 over the last few years.

The Friedman connection to the Rays can be felt in the Dodgers bullpen.

Dylan Floro, Adam Kolarek, and Jake McGee have been key contributors. McGee is in the discussion for greatest relievers the Rays have had despite never being their closer. After some shaky years in Colorado McGee has bounced back with the Dodgers after being released earlier this year. After posting his career worst 19.4% strikeout rate in 2019 he posted a career best 41.8% in 2020.

League Championship - Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Seven Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

McGee is remembered by Rays fans as a one pitch pitcher. He threw his fastball over 95% of the time with pinpoint control and elite velocity. The velocity isn’t there but after a couple years of increasing the slider usage to around 15% his rebound in 2020 followed with relying on his fastball 95% of the time. He’s back to doing what he did when he was at his best. The velocity is down to 94-97, but that’s been plenty to get batters to get strikeouts.

Kolarek might best be remembered as a first baseman for the Rays for a play, but the side arm lefty has been a capable LOOGY for the last few years. His role was lessened due to the batter minimum, but he posted solid results with a 0.95 ERA/3.14 FIP/3.67 xFIP in 19.0 innings this year. He’s not a strikeout guy, but he also won’t walk batters. In the playoffs he has allowed two runs in 2.2 innings.

Brusdar Graterol is the most interesting arm back there. He came over in the Mookie Betts trade from the Minnesota Twins after the Boston Red Sox initially backed out of the deal due to his medicals. The Dodgers took him order to get the deal to finish line. Graterol has averaged near 100 mph with his fastball this year and in the playoffs that has been over 100. He throws a slider around 90 mph as his secondary pitch in a 65/35 mix. Despite the elite velocity he hasn’t struck out many hitters much like his teammate May. In 23.1 innings this year he posted a 14.8% strikeout rate that is way below average. He has limited walks with a 3.4% walk rate, but it looks like there should be more whiffs out of the package.