Dodgers @ Giants September 5, 2021: Buehler looks to lead Dodgers to full game lead in the NL West

After splitting the first two games of this decisive series, one of these two teams is leaving San Francisco with a one game lead in the NL West. The Dodgers (86-50) haven’t been up a full game in the NL West since April 25, when they were 15-7. Both teams have a relatively average strength of schedule remaining over their last 25 games, so a one game lead is big, especially as both teams have the ability to go on runs that are hard to keep up with. To close this series, the Dodgers will have the best starting pitcher in the National League on the mound in Walker Buehler, while the Giants will have another bullpen game, starting with Dominic Leone. Unfortunate for them.

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4:08 PM San Francisco
2B T. Turner 2B La Stella (L)
1B Muncy (L) 1B Belt (L)
RF Betts 3B Bryant
3B J. Turner LF Wade Jr. (L)
SS Seager (L) SS Crawford (L)
C Smith RF Yastrzemski (L)
LF Taylor C Casali
CF Bellinger (L) CF Duggar (L)
P Buehler (R) P Leone (R)

The Giants are 5-6 over their last eleven games, and have a league worst 72 wRC+ and .627 OPS over that stretch. To be fair, they’ve faced some very strong pitching, but are now just 11-9 in their last 20 games. Over that same stretch, the Dodgers are a league best 16-4, and also hold the best record in baseball over their last 30 games at 23-7.

The team had scored more than five runs just once since August 16, so last night they did the impossible and scored six. With 26 games left, hopefully they won’t go on an offensive drought like that again. Today would be a good time to score over five runs again. With AJ Pollock out for at least two weeks, it’s likely that Cody Bellinger is going to be playing nearly full time despite his abysmal offense as of late. Since his two homer game on August 11, Bellinger has slashed .129/.151/.171, for a .322 OPS and -12 wRC+. League average OPS for a pitcher is .282. He’s a great baserunner and elite defensively in center field, but a .322 OPS is entirely indefensible. He has 23 plate appearances since August 12 against left-handed pitching, and is 1-22 with one single, one walk, and eight strikeouts. Theoretically, it should be nearly impossible to remain that bad.

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Here’s how Walker Buehler has performed, compared to the Giants’ bullpen.

Last time out, Buehler threw seven innings of two-run ball against Atlanta, allowing four hits and two walks with five strikeouts. He allowed a run in both the third and fourth innings, but as usual, composed himself and threw three more scoreless innings, resulting in another very strong two run quality start. Overall, there should be just a couple starts left until you can really take an in depth look at where he stands in the Cy Young conversation. Briefly looking, he’s second in innings pitched in the NL at 176.0, trailing only Zack Wheeler (182.2). He’s leading in ERA at 2.05 with the next closest being Brandon Woodruff at 2.35, and his 0.91 WHIP trails only Max Scherzer (0.86). He’s thrown 24 quality starts out of 27 total starts, with Adam Wainwright being second in the NL at 19. He’s been the best pitcher in the league by a pretty wide margin, especially as of late. He has a league leading 1.46 ERA since the All-Star Break, accompanied by the third lowest FIP at 2.48, trailing just Gerrit Cole (1.53) and Corbin Burnes (1.94). He’s been incredible for the Dodgers, and will be looking for his eleventh start in a row pitching at least six innings for a relief staff that has been worked pretty hard as of late.

The Giants will have the the 29 year-old Leone as the first man out of the bullpen for them. He’s been fantastic this season, with a 1.62 ERA over 38.2 innings with 13 holds, becoming one of the top arms out of the Giants’ bullpen. He has a fastball, slider, cutter combo that works well for him, but his walk rate is through the roof. He’d fit well on the Dodgers’ relief staff in that capacity. His 12.4% walk rate is extremely high, with 20 walks and 38 strikeouts in those 38.2 innings. It’s hard to be a trustworthy high leverage reliever walking as many batters as he does, but as everything for the Giants this season, it’s worked thus far. Predictive stats don’t love him because how often he issues free passes, resulting in a 3.50 FIP and 4.12 DRA. That gap between his FIP and ERA of -1.87 is the sixth highest of 219 relievers with at least 30 innings pitched.

Outside of Leone, the Giants have had one of the best bullpens in baseball this season. Amidst other things, this is a huge reason behind their success. Their offense has been very good, starters have been surprisingly strong, and the bullpen has been nearly lights out to close out close games. It’s how they’ve gotten where they are today. Overall, their 3.08 ERA is the second lowest in baseball, their 3.70 FIP is the fifth lowest, their 1.08 WHIP is the lowest in the league, as is their 7.3% walk rate. Their only “weakness” would be featuring just a 22.8% strikeout rate, ranking 23rd in baseball. Besides Leone, almost all of their top options feature well below league average walk rates.

Yesterday they used eight pitchers, and then five high leverage guys Friday night. I don’t know enough about them to know who’d be available for them. The best option for the Dodgers is to get to guys like Leone early and let Buehler comfortably pitch deep into the game.

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Eventually the Dodgers will start replacing innings that were covered by the bullpen with guys like Clayton Kershaw, Tony Gonsolin, and Danny Duffy. David Price might be headed to the IL eventually (I’m surprised he hasn’t already) but still, some pitching reinforcements are inbound in the relatively near future.

Moving Pollock to the IL works well to recall Mitch White who wouldn’t have been available until Thursday without an IL move.

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Getting Albert Pujols some playing time against left-handed pitchers works well for everyone, as some members of the offense can rest to avoid left on left matchups.

No clue who the Dodgers will start to matchup against these four yet, but the team should have the advantage in most of these games except for possibly against a resurgent Wainwright.

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First pitch is at 4:08 PM PDT on ESPN.

About Allan Yamashige

Just a guy living in Southern California, having a good time writing about baseball. Hated baseball practice as a kid, but writing about it rules. Thanks for reading!