In a baseball world of openers and bullpen games and platoon-related trickery, Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night should be a bit of a treat: a matchup of two bona fide starting pitchers.
The Dodgers will go with righthander Walker Buehler, their 26-year-old flamethrower whose most recent start — six shutout innings against Atlanta in the NLCS — was his best of the year. The Rays will counter with righthander Charlie Morton, a 36-year-old curveball specialist who has shown no signs of slowing down in his late-career renaissance.
Eventually, yes, the bullpens take over. But for at least a few innings, the reliever carousel will pause. The starters are actual starters, good ones to boot — especially in October.
Buehler has a 2.44 ERA in 10 career playoff starts. Morton has a 2.84 ERA in 12 such games.
With the Fall Classic tied at one win per team, they will be vying for a series lead after a much-needed, much-appreciated day off Thursday.
"It’s always helpful," Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. "Where we’re at as far as this is the World Series, everyone should be taxed. That’s just the way it is."
The playoff version of Morton has been especially effective against the Dodgers (1.74 ERA in two starts in the 2017 World Series) and with the Rays (0.70 ERA in five games over the past year-plus).
That performance has lent itself to length, too. He has lasted at least five innings — a nice, deep outing by 2020 postseason standards — in each of his three starts this month.
"Every outing we’ve given him the ball in the postseason for the last two years, he’s been pretty outstanding," Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. "When you build that type of a track record, you just continue to have so much confidence in the person."
Is Morton a different pitcher in the playoffs? Maybe, he allowed.
"Probably I’m more anxious," he said half-jokingly. "It’s not possible to be the same person that you are in all environments. And that’s very human, because we adjust to our environment, we adjust to what’s going on around us. That’s just inherent.
"Look at my stuff, look at my locations, look at my pitch mixes and then figure out if that’s actually different than how I pitch in-season. Maybe I have extra adrenaline and that allows me to maintain my stuff."
Buehler had only a so-so regular season, including a 3.44 ERA — higher than the past two years — and trouble pitching deep into games. He also has been dealing with blister issues. That he got through the sixth inning last time, plus threw 100 pitches the time before that, were positive developments.
The Rays are "more of a manufacturing team than a pure slugging team," he said. Whatever their approach, Roberts will make sure Buehler is acting like his regular self before the game Friday.
"My time knowing Walker all these years, he’s easygoing, always," Roberts said. "If he came in like Clayton [Kershaw, who is intense,] on his start day, I’d be a little bit more concerned. Walker comes in and ramps up his focus, but early on he’s just jovial."
Enjoy the starting pitchers while you can watch them.
Game 4 on Saturday will be Dodgers swingman Julio Urias against a Rays pitcher (or pitchers) to be announced. Cash said he expects Ryan Yarbrough to handle "a chunk" of that game, maybe not in a starting role, but he hopes Morton pitches deep so the Rays have options.
Kershaw goes for the Dodgers in Game 5, perhaps against the Rays’ Tyler Glasnow. That would be a Game 1 rematch.
And then in Game 6, the Dodgers are looking at another bullpen game. That is basically what they did in their Game 2 loss.
"There was plenty of guys we could’ve started and let them go a little bit longer," said lefthander Alex Wood, a starter by trade who mostly has been a reliever this year. "That was what we thought had the best chance to win the game. It doesn’t always turn out the way you plan it."