Walker Buehler is 24 years old, averages 97 mph with his fastball and has started all of 23 games in the majors.
What the numbers don’t tell you about is the rip-roaring, world-beating attitude that helped turn Buehler into one of the top prospects in baseball, endeared him to teammates and encouraged Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to hand the rookie righthander the ball for the team’s biggest game of the year to date: Game 3 of the NLCS against the Brewers on Monday.
Buehler’s start comes as the series, tied at 1, shifts to Dodger Stadium, where he had a 1.93 ERA in the regular season.
“Obviously, 50,000 Dodger fans behind you doesn’t hurt,” he said. “And sleeping in the same city that you’re going to play in and not having to fly anywhere is big. But that’s what you’re supposed to do. You protect your home field and try and win games there and go on the road and try and win some there.”
The Dodgers did a bit of that over the weekend at Miller Park. Their comeback attempt in Game 1 fell a run short but their rally against the Brewers’ bullpen in Game 2 was enough to eke out a one-run win. The road split turned the NLCS into a five-game series in which Los Angeles has home-field advantage.
Aside from locale, Buehler will have at least one other external variable in his favor: catcher Yasmani Grandal. On Friday, Grandal had one of the worst defensive games for a backstop in postseason history, committing two errors and allowing two passed balls. Austin Barnes got the start Saturday, though Roberts said it wasn’t because of Grandal’s issues.
Now Grandal will be back in the starting lineup. It’s a small sample size — and catcher’s ERA is a statistic of questionable value — but Walker had a 1.94 ERA with Grandal behind the plate (106 2⁄3 innings) and a 4.99 ERA with Barnes (30 2⁄3 innings). That’s good enough for the Dodgers.
"[Grandal has] had a lot of innings from Walker and we like that battery,” Roberts said.
Buehler also pitched NLDS Game 3 against the Braves in Atlanta and allowed five runs in five innings. It was his shortest outing since August, an outlier after a second half in which he had a 2.03 ERA.
But no, Buehler has not been agonizing over the video, trying to rectify whatever went wrong. “I know what happened and I was there,” he said. “I’m more of a positive feedback guy. So the only games I want to watch are the good ones and move forward and stick with what I have.”
Then again, Buehler hasn’t done much video-watching either way lately, good or bad.
“I think everyone is pretty well-versed in the idea of tapes, and I guess back in the day you would have a VHS tape,” Buehler said. “But to be honest with you, man, the kind of roll I’ve been on the second half, I feel like I’ve thrown the ball pretty well and haven’t really needed to do a whole lot of that.”