Dodgers @ Reds September 17, 2021: Walker Buehler starts in potential Wild Card preview against Cincinnati

The Dodgers (94-53) are coming off two consecutive series sweeps, one against the San Diego Padres (76-70), and most recently against the Arizona Diamondbacks (47-99). Naturally that’s a six game winning streak, currently the longest active streak in baseball. Thanks to the Padres, they’ve picked up significant ground on the San Francisco Giants (95-52), and now trail by just one game in the NL West with 15 games remaining. This is a huge series for the team as the Reds (76-71) are the most difficult team on their schedule, prior to the three game series against the Milwaukee Brewers (89-57) to close the season. Yikes. That’s a really tough final series in games that might be must win.

As important as these games are for the Dodgers, they’re even more important for Cincinnati. Regardless of what happens to the Dodgers, they’ll be in the Wild Card play-in game at the very least. The Reds however, are one of four teams fighting for the second spot in the Wild Card race, and currently trail the St. Louis Cardinals (76-69) by one full game. The two teams they’re chasing in St. Louis and San Diego play each other this weekend, while the team the Dodgers are chasing in San Francisco play a tough division leading Atlanta Braves (76-68) team. Come Monday, it’s probable that the standings in the NL playoff picture look significantly different. There should be very competitive games all weekend.

4:10 PM Cincinnati
RF Betts 2B India
1B Muncy (L) CF Winker (L)
2B T. Turner RF Castellanos
SS Seager (L) 1B Votto (L)
3B J. Turner 3B Moustakas (L)
C Smith SS Farmer
CF Bellinger (L) C Barnhart (L)
LF Lux (L) LF Schrock (L)
P Buehler (R) P Castillo (R)

These two teams are both tied for fourth in baseball in OPS at .778, but the Dodgers are fourth in wRC+ at 113, while the Reds are eighth with a 106 wRC+, docked for their hitter friendly home park. Regardless, they feature two All-Star’s in Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker, a future hall of famer in Joey Votto, NL Rookie of the Year front runner, Jonathan India, and old friend, shortstop Kyle Farmer. All of the aforementioned players outside of Farmer can really hit, with Winker (.955 OPS, 152 wRC+), Castellanos (.933, 143 wRC+), Votto (.909, 136 wRC+), and India (.835, 124 wRC+) all crushing opposing pitchers.

For the Dodgers, Cody Bellinger has looked better the last handful of games, with three hits in 15 plate appearances including two doubles and three walks with no strikeouts. It doesn’t take much offensively for him to be an incredibly impactful player, with his elite defense in center field and strong baserunning, he just needs to not be the worst offensive player in baseball, and he’s looked significantly better as of late. Hopefully that continues. Gavin Lux has looked relatively comfortable in left field which is great in the absence of Chris Taylor and AJ Pollock. Over his last five games, he has seven hits in 18 plate appearances, and even his outs have been hard hit and well placed. He’s still just 23, battled through a couple injuries this year, and like Bellinger, his speed is game changing and it doesn’t take much for him to be impactful either. For reference, Lux has 1.7 bWAR and 0.8 fWAR in just 91 games, even with an 85 wRC+ and .663 OPS. Justin Turner and Max Muncy have both looked more like themselves lately, with Muncy hitting four home runs in his last nine games including a 1.013 OPS and Justin Turner also with four home runs and a 1.033 OPS in his last nine games. Betts has also looked strong, hitting .400 over his last eight games with a 1.139 OPS and no strikeouts in his last 36 plate appearances. There’s not a ton new to say about Will Smith, he might just be the best catcher in baseball, despite what Salvador Perez is doing over in Kansas City. Corey Seager continues to hit as well, with a .995 OPS dating back to the end of August.

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Here’s how Walker Buehler and Luis Castillo matchup.

After his worst start of the season in San Francisco, Buehler responded Saturday with a strong performance as usual. He allowed two runs on six hits and two walks with five strikeouts in seven innings against the Padres. With just a few starts remaining, the NL Cy Young race is looking like a three horse race. His 2.32 ERA is now third in the National League, trailing Max Scherzer (2.17) and Corbin Burnes (2.25). He does however have 24 innings on Scherzer and 34 on Burnes. He’s fourth in innings pitched at 186.0 and is on pace to eclipse 200 for the first time in his career. He has 25 quality starts on the season out of 29 total, eight more than Scherzer (17), and nine more than Burnes (16). His WHIP of 0.95 is third, once again behind Scherzer (0.82), and Burnes (0.91). His batting average allowed of .192 is second (Scherzer .174). He’s fifth in the NL in pitcher fWAR at 4.6, with Burnes at a whopping 7.1 fWAR and Scherzer at 5.2. In bWAR he’s fourth at 5.8 with Scherzer at 6.0 and Burnes at 5.3. Regardless, the Reds are a tough task and gave Buehler one of his worst starts of the season back in April, where he allowed five runs over 6.1 innings.

Castillo has had a mediocre year for himself, and pretty subpar for a guy who was an All-Star in 2019, and had a stellar 2020 season as well. Last year he made 12 starts with a 3.21 ERA, at one of the most hitter friendly parks in baseball. His 2.65 FIP was fifth in baseball, and his strikeout rate was twelfth at 30.5%. Despite that, he was terrible to start this season, with a 7.61 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP through his first ten starts and 47.1 innings. Since then however, he has a 2.93 ERA, 3.47 FIP, and a 1.19 WHIP over 20 starts and 122.2 innings. That’s comparable to the year of Julio Urias, who has a 2.99 ERA, 3.25 FIP, and 1.03 WHIP. Obviously Urías has been the better pitcher and has done so over more starts, but the idea is that Castillo who has been good before, has been good for a significant amount of time now. His ground ball rate is the highest in baseball among qualified starters at 55.7%, a good way to limit damage in the homer friendly Great American Ball Park. He wasn’t as sharp last time out, going seven innings allowing four runs on eight hits and one walk while striking out five. He had a streak of five straight quality starts snapped, and he still hasn’t lost in over a month, which is astonishing for a pitcher that leads the league in losses, at 15.

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This is pretty cool, and is also why this season has felt like such a rollercoaster.

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Good news on Taylor, and it appears even better news with Pollock looking to return earlier than expected.

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With a few off days over the last two weeks of the season, Dave Roberts will have the ability to lineup rotations with more flexibility than usual.

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First pitch is at 4:10 PM PDT on SNLA and MLB Network.

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!