The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Buehler to be Heir Apparent to Kershaw as Dodgers Ace

If you watched the Braves-Dodgers National League Division Series game Sunday, you might be questioning the validity of my assertion in the title of this blog post.  Los Angeles Dodgers rookie pitcher Walker Buehler had a bit of a meltdown in the second inning of the game against Atlanta, yielding five runs as a result of uncharacteristically poor control.  It was looking like Buehler should have “taken the day off” like Ferris Bueller, but then he rebounded to pitch three more innings without yielding a hit while the Dodgers tied the game by the end of the fifth inning.

In any case, Clayton Kershaw’s not ready to be written off as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ No. 1 starter.  While he had a “down” year for him in 2018, he’s still a formidable ace, as evidenced by his recent sterling playoff performance against the Atlanta Braves in the second game of the NLDS.

But waiting in the wings for his turn at the top of the Dodgers rotation is Buehler, who showed in the tiebreaker game for the NL West Division title against Colorado that he’s ready for prime time.  He held the hard-hitting Rockies to just one hit in 6 2/3 innings, as the Dodgers won their sixth consecutive division pennant with a 5-2 victory.

Buehler’s ascent with the Dodgers has been quick, since it was only in 2015 that he was their first-round pick out of Vanderbilt.  He made his major-league debut last year in a late-season call-up with Los Angeles.  Then the 24-year-old right-hander was inserted into the Dodgers’ rotation in late April this season and was 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA in his first nine starts.

After going on the disabled list in early June for several weeks, he had a rough return to the rotation over his next four starts in which his ERA rose by a full point and he took two losing decisions.  However, he got back on track again by the middle of August and finished the season with an 8-5 record and a team-leading 2.62 ERA and 0.961 WHIP.  He was among the best pitchers in the National League for the last two months of the regular season.

In the critical tiebreaker game with the Rockies that decided the division winner, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went with rookie Buehler on the mound over some of his other veteran pitchers.  Buehler showed he had ice in his veins as he stepped up to the challenge.  Buehler responded by holding the Rockies hitless for 5 1/3 innings before yielding a single to Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon.  Buehler pitched into the seventh inning before being lifted with a 5-0 Dodgers lead.

Kershaw had missed most of May and June this season with two stints on the disabled list with back problems, but finished the season strong after getting back into the regular rotation on June 28.  He completed the season with a 9-5 record and his highest ERA (2.73) since 2010.  It was his third consecutive season in which he has been on the DL with back injuries which significantly cut down his typical number of innings pitched.  At 30 years old, he has experienced a drop in his fastball velocity and has had to resort to other pitches for his effectiveness.

2018 was Kershaw’s 11th big-league season, and it was the first of his most recent eight seasons that he hasn’t been in the Cy Young Award conversation.  (He was won the award three times and finished second twice.)  Kershaw has been the most dominant pitcher of his era.  He has the lowest career ERA for any pitcher with at least 1,500 innings in the live-ball era that dates back to 1920.  Yet despite his career success in the regular seasons, his Dodgers team still doesn’t have a World Series ring.

It’s too early to say Kershaw’s career is on the decline, or that he may soon be in another uniform. (He has two years left on his current contract, but has an early-out option he could exercise now.)

Whenever that happens though, Buehler will be there to step in at the top of the Dodgers’ rotation.  Yes, he stumbled in Game 3 of the NLCS.  The ice in his veins melted temporarily, but he’ll still be the guy the Dodgers will be counting on in the big games down the road.

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