Dodgers @ Rockies September 22, 2021: Buehler looks to bounce back in Colorado

Photo: Daniel Brim

It was a very up and down game last night, but the Dodgers (97-54) managed to win the series opener against the Colorado Rockies (70-80) in extra innings by a score of 5-4. Still trailing the San Francisco Giants (98-53) by one game in the NL West with just eleven games to go, the team likely needs to sweep Colorado and Arizona (48-103), as the final six games of the year against the San Diego Padres (76-74) and Milwaukee Brewers (91-60) will be tough. It’s very unlikely that the Brewers are able to grab the top seed in the National League over the Giants or Dodgers, and the Padres will likely be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs by the time the Dodgers play them again, so hopefully those two series will be easier than it appears on paper.

Once again, everyone loves scoreboard watching but the Dodgers can only control their own games. Tonight features NL Cy Young candidate Walker Buehler, up against the most talented starter on Colorado in German Marquez.

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5:40 PM Denver
CF Betts LF Tapia (L)
SS Seager (L) 2B Rodgers
2B T. Turner CF Blackmon (L)
1B Muncy (L) SS Story
3B J. Turner 1B Cron
C Smith 3B McMahon (L)
LF Lux (L) C Díaz
RF Raley (L) CF Hilliard (L)
P Buehler (R) P Márquez (R)

Very rarely will the Dodgers use identical lineups in consecutive games, but as they face the right-handed Márquez tonight, they’ll deploy the same lineup as they did yesterday against the right-handed Antonio Senzatela. Makes my job easier. For the Rockies, C.J. Cron had three more hits yesterday, two going for extra bases. Apparently he only has an .847 OPS against the Dodgers this season, but it feels akin to the way that Daniel Descalso, David Peralta, and Eduardo Escobar hit against the team the last few seasons.

Last night, the team managed five runs on nine hits and no walks. The lack of walks was surprising for a team that leads the National League in walks with 571 (3.8 walks per game). They were facing Senzatela who really fills up the strike zone, so it makes some sense. After two hits yesterday, Trea Turner is batting .318, fighting for the National League batting title, while his former teammate Juan Soto is right on his heels at .316. Gavin Lux continues his run of form, with two more hits yesterday. He’s hitting .500 over his last eight games and 30 plate appearances. Luke Raley managed just one hit with two strikeouts, but his one hit did end up continuing a two out rally and he managed to eventually score. Albert Pujols drove in the eventual winning run in the top of the tenth inning with a one out pinch hit single, scoring Lux, against the right-handed Jhoulys Chacin. As a pinch hitter with the Dodgers, Pujols is now slashing .406/.444/.594, a 1.038 OPS and 174 wRC+ in 36 plate appearances.

It’s the same game plan as yesterday, just with a different starter on the mound. Márquez is much tougher to hit than Senzatela, but he also walks significantly more batters, which plays into the Dodgers’ strengths.

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Here’s how Buehler and Márquez matchup.

In his last time out, Buehler received just his fourth loss of the year, going six innings and allowing three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out five. Although he earned his MLB-leading 26th quality start, he didn’t seem to have his best stuff, and was outdueled by Luis Castillo. He’s faded a bit as of late, struggling with location, and over his last four appearances, he’s had one strong start, two mediocre starts, and one awful start. That translates into a 5.09 ERA, 4.38 FIP, and a 1.30 WHIP over that stretch.

Including this start, Buehler has either two or three starts left in his 2021 regular season. Going into those final starts, here’s how he ranks among starters in the National League. Prior to today’s start he’s fourth in innings pitched at 192.0, and first in Quality Starts at 26, with the next closest being Sandy Alcantara with 22. He’s fourth in fWAR at 4.9, third in bWAR at 6.0, third in ERA at 2.39, seventh in FIP at 3.20, fourth in WHIP at 0.96, and third in batting average allowed at .195. Exceptional season. He’d likely need an incredible finish to his season with some help from the other Cy Young contenders in order to end up winning, but even if that doesn’t happen he’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball and has carried this team all season.

Aside from Kyle Freeland in 2018, Márquez has been the best starter for the Rockies over the last four years, and is still just 26 years-old. Among 177 qualified starters since 2017 when Márquez had his first full season, he’s 13th in fWAR at 15.6, just behind Clayton Kershaw (16.2), Justin Verlander (17.1), and Chris Sale (17.8). He’s had a 4.20 ERA and 3.82 FIP over that stretch, but that just shows how difficult it is to pitch in Coors Field. This season, his 51.1% ground-ball rate is the sixth highest in baseball among qualified starers, while his 15.5% home run to fly ball ratio is the seventh highest, demonstrating the importance of keeping the ball on the ground while pitching in Colorado. He’s struggled with command this year, with the sixth highest walk rate of qualified starters at 8.2%, something the Dodgers should be able to take advantage of. He seems to be more comfortable at home, with a 3.16 ERA and 3.50 FIP at home, compared to a 5.38 ERA and 4.13 FIP on the road.

He’s really been struggling as of late, with a 7.08 ERA, 5.78 FIP, and a 1.57 WHIP over his last seven starts and 34.1 innings. Last time out he allowed six runs on eight hits and two walks with one strikeout in four innings against Washington. He’s made just one start against the Dodgers this season, coming on opening day, going four innings while somehow allowing only one run on six hits and six walks. I don’t remember that game but that seems impossible.

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This is a bummer, especially with an exciting division race going on. Hopefully those two are back soon. Tim Neverett and Ned Colletti will be on the call tonight, and it’s undetermined who will be the primary broadcasters until Joe and Orel can return.

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AJ Pollock suffered a hamstring injury back on 9/4, but he’s apparently made a quick return and is ready to go for the final few series. Unfortunately Shane Greene was designated for assignment to make room for Pollock. He made nine appearances and recorded one save.

Gavin Lux in center field might be interesting tomorrow. With Lux hitting really well and with Pollock returning, the team can handle Chris Taylor being out for a little while.

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First pitch is at 5:40 PM PDT on SNLA.

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!