Dodgers @ Rockies September 23, 2021: Scherzer on the mound as the Dodgers look to stay alive in NL West battle

In a position where I had said the team needed to sweep Colorado (71-80) and Arizona (48-104), the Dodgers (97-55) proceeded to lose 5-10 against the Rockies. It happens, and you can’t win every game, but unfortunately they’re in a situation where they need to. At the end of the day, the offense was able to survive Walker Buehler going less than six innings for just the third time this year, but didn’t give the bullpen enough breathing room to get out with a win.

The Dodgers have now gone 34-12 (.739) a 120-win pace, since the beginning of August when they trailed the San Francisco Giants (99-53) by three games, and have gained one game on the Giants since then, who have gone 34-14 (.708). With ten games to go, it’s highly possible both teams manage 105+ wins. Pretty insane stuff. Trailing by two games with ten to play, the Dodgers probably need to go 8-2 at the least to have a shot at tying the division. 9-1 is better and 10-0 is even better. Expecting the Giants to go 5-5 over their next ten games when they’ve been on a .700 pace for nearly two months isn’t realistic. At this point, every game is going to be a must win, and to win their fourth consecutive series, Max Scherzer is on the mound up against the left-handed Kyle Freeland.

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5:40 PM Denver
RF Betts LF Tapia (L)
SS Seager (L) 2B Rodgers
2B T. Turner 3B McMahon (L)
3B J. Turner SS Story
1B Muncy (L) 1B Cron
LF Pollock RF Hilliard (L)
C Barnes CF Hampson
CF Lux (L) C Nuñez (L)
P Scherzer (R) P Freeland (L)

Last night, the team had managed to plate three runs on five hits through 3.2 innings, but managed just two hits for the rest of the game. Not gonna cut it. Mookie Betts had just one hit yesterday, but continued his 13 game hitting streak, and is back in right field with Gavin Lux starting in center field. Lux is in center for the first time in his career, because AJ Pollock is back in the starting lineup for the first time since 9/4, after suffering a hamstring injury in San Francisco. Of 207 players with at least 350 plate appearances, Pollock is 41st in baseball with a 130 wRC+, and 21st in batting average at .295. Over his last 49 games and 188 plate appearances, he’s slashed .351/.404/.591, for a 167 wRC+ and .995 OPS.

Will Smith has been playing a lot recently, and considering his relative struggles against left-handed pitching, it makes sense to get him a day off after a night game. For reference he has a .738 OPS and 95 wRC+ against left-handed pitching, compared to a .957 OPS and 156 wRC+ vs. RHP. Barnes has a .732 OPS and 97 wRC+ since 7/20, so he hasn’t been terrible. Trea Turner (.318) has a nine game hitting streak, but because Juan Soto (.321) is incredible, he now trails in the hunt for the batting title.

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Here’s how Scherzer and Freeland matchup.

In his last outing, Scherzer allowed just two hits and two walks with seven strikeouts over seven shutout innings, picking up his seventh win as a Dodger. His streak of 25 innings without a walk was snapped, but he’s still gone an even more impressive 37 innings without allowing an earned run. He hasn’t allowed a home run since 8/21 and hasn’t lost a game since May. He has a 0.78 ERA, 1.35 FIP, and 0.66 WHIP in nine starts with the Dodgers spanning 58.0 innings, with 79 strikeouts and just seven walks in that span. He’s made five starts in his career in Coors Field, featuring his worst ERA of any park he’s pitched at more than once, at 5.88. However, three of those five starts came before 2010, and he’s only been to Colorado twice since then, and most recently in 2016. Additionally, Scherzer has pitched to Barnes in four of his nine games this far, spanning 28.2 innings, allowing no earned runs with 13 hits, three walks, and 39 strikeouts.

With a 0.81 WHIP, Scherzer is looking to post one of the lowest individual WHIP seasons of the modern era. Over a full season, since 1944 there have only been two seasons with a lower WHIP than what Scherzer currently has. Justin Verlander in 2019 was at 0.80 and Pedro Martinez in 2000 at 0.737. With just a couple starts left, here’s how Scherzer is looking among National League starting pitchers. He’s first in ERA at 2.08, third in FIP at 2.83, first in WHIP at 0.81, second in strikeout rate at 35.1%, second in strikeout to walk rate at 29.7%, first in batting average allowed at .170, third in wins at 15, third in fWAR at 5.5, and second in bWAR at 6.5. Prior to his start today, he’s 15th in innings pitched, but likely to crack the top ten after today.

For Freeland, in his last time out, he allowed no runs on seven hits and one walk over six innings against the Nationals. That was a bounce back start, as prior to that he had given up eleven runs in his last 10.1 innings, taking losses in both of those starts. Unlike both German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela, Freeland understandably performs worse at home. He has a 5.36 ERA, 5.25 FIP, and a 1.47 WHIP at home, compared to a 3.84 ERA, 4.46 FIP, and 1.36 WHIP on the road. Also unlike both prior starters, Freeland does not do as good of a job at keeping the ball on the ground, likely one of the main reasons he’s struggled at home over his career. His career home run to fly ball ratio is 17.2% at home, compared to 11.6% on the road. Freeland has allowed batters to hit .267/.336/.408 while he’s on the road, compared to .277/.337/.474 in Colorado. Everything is always more complicated than it seems, but it seems the only real difference is that the fly balls are turning into home runs.

He’s faced the Dodgers three times this year, with some decent success. He faced the team twice directly after the All-Star break, allowing four earned runs on eleven hits over 13 innings, although he did receive the loss in both of those starts. His most recent appearance against the team was in Los Angeles at the end of August, where he allowed two runs on four hits over six innings and picked up his fifth win of the season at the time.

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Old friend Mike with a great piece on how good Scherzer has been with the Dodgers.

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Hopefully this injury that he’s been battling clears up soon. If Cody Bellinger hadn’t needed to go on the IL, and with the return of Pollock, Taylor could’ve been placed on the IL to give him time to rest, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

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When the Dodgers initially acquired Scherzer, it wasn’t cut and dry as to who would be the best option in a Wild Card game between Buehler and Scherzer, but their inverse performances the last few weeks have answered that question.

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First pitch is at 12:10 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!