In what has been a very competitive National League Division Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers suddenly find themselves on the brink of elimination after dropping two consecutive games to the Washington Nationals.
After holding on to a one-run lead in Game 1 behind a strong performance from the bullpen, the Dodgers struggled to produce runs in the following two contests while the Nationals received timely hitting from key members of their starting lineup.
As the Dodgers look to save their season heading into Game 4 for the second year in a row, manager Dave Roberts faced a difficult decision: who would take the mound in an absolute must-win game?
Rookie sensation Julio Urias had been scheduled to start, but with the season on the line, Roberts had the option of turning to the best pitcher in Major League Baseball, Clayton Kershaw. And that’s exactly what Roberts elected to do.
That leaves Kershaw in a very familiar situation. Just last season, on short rest, he started on the road against the New York Mets in a win-or-go-home game and tossed seven strong innings — sending the series back to Los Angeles for a Game 5.
However, the circumstances aren’t exactly identical when comparing the two postseasons.
For one, Kershaw is only a little over one month removed from returning to action after a two-month stint on the disabled list. He is still working his way back and has looked rusty at times in recent starts.
Last season, he managed to remain healthy for the entire year and was on top of his game from start to finish. Thus, making the decision easy for former manager Don Mattingly to give Kershaw the ball in Game 4 on short rest.
Secondly, the Dodgers don’t have Zack Greinke to follow Kershaw in a potential Game 5 this time around.
The current Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher was in the midst of a historic campaign and also maintained his health for the entire season, which justified sending him to the mound on short rest for a winner-take-all bout at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers do have Rich Hill this season, and he statistically has been one of the best pitchers since 2015. But he has battled multiple injuries — including a summer full of blister flareups — and starting him on three days’ rest just doesn’t seem like a wise choice.
Hypothetically, the Dodgers could start Kershaw in Game 4 and then Urias on the road in Game 5 with Hill logging some innings in relief on short rest.
However, that would put a lot of pressure on a rookie who has just 18 career appearances under his belt, and it is unknown how Hill would physically respond should the scenario arise.
With that being said, Los Angeles had one logical option, and that was sticking with the original plan: Giving Urias an opportunity to shine in the spotlight on Tuesday where he’s most comfortable.
Starting a recently-turned 20-year-old in a crucial playoff game may sound ludicrous, but it might not be as far-fetched as one thinks.
The young left-hander only has 77 Major League innings to his name, but nine of those were against the Nationals this season. Urias allowed three earned runs and punched out 10 batters.
Yes, it’s a small sample size, but Urias has faced the same group of batters on two separate occasions since the end of June. Not much has changed in regards to Washington’s lineup, though the team is missing Wilson Ramos, and Trea Turner has since emerged as the everyday center fielder.
Not only that, but Urias (albeit another small sample size) has enjoyed much more success while pitching at Dodger Stadium. In 38.1 innings, he posted a 3.05 ERA with 44 strikeouts, compared to a 3.72 mark with 40 punchouts in 38.2 innings away from Chavez Ravine.
What’s more, the Nationals are starting Joe Ross, who is coming off a lengthy stay on the disabled list. Urias matches up better with Ross, as opposed to facing one of the best pitchers in the MLB, Max Scherzer, on the road in Game 5.
Allowing Urias to start in Game 4 would have kept the possibility alive of Kershaw taking the mound on regular rest for a deciding contest. But, that’s over and done with. If the Dodgers are going to go down, it will be with their ace on the mound.