Walker Buehler Blows Away Rays in Game 3
Prior to taking the hill in Game 3 of the World Series on Friday, Walker Buehler had started on the game’s biggest stage just one other time. Back in 2018, he delivered a masterpiece in Game 3 against the Red Sox -- striking out seven over seven shutout innings in the only game that the Dodgers would win in the series.
He may have been even better this time out. Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes certainly thought so, noting afterwards, “That might have been the best I've ever seen his stuff, really”.
Buehler set a new personal best for strikeouts in a postseason game, punching out 10 Rays over six dazzling innings of one-run baseball. He carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning until Manuel Margot delivered a one-out double. He would come around to score on a two-out double off the bat of Willy Adames, producing the lone run that Buehler would allow in the contest.
The right-hander expressed his confidence after the game, telling reporters “I think the more you do these things, the calmer you get… I don’t want to keep harping on it, but I enjoy doing this, and I feel good in these spots.” Buehler generated 18 swings and misses in the contest -- 12 of those on his fastball which averaged 96.9 mph in the game.
Buehler became the first pitcher in World Series history to strike out 10 or more batters while working six innings or less. He also set a new Dodgers franchise record for most strikeouts in a single postseason with 39. Should the series be forced to a decisive Game 7, he’ll take the ball once more with an opportunity to add to that gaudy total.
Dodgers’ skipper Dave Roberts echoed a strong sentiment for his hurler after the game, telling reporters, “I haven’t wrapped my head around all that he’s accomplished in such a short period of time… Being a big-game pitcher and really succeeding on this stage, there’s only a few guys currently and in history. He’s in some really elite company. I’m just happy he’s wearing a Dodger uniform.”
With as good as Buehler was in this one, he still required the support of his offense -- and they stepped up in a big way behind him. Rays’ starter Charlie Morton had built up quite the postseason resume of his own, having allowed just two runs total through his first five postseason starts with the Rays. The relentless Dodgers lineup got to him early and often in this one.
Justin Turner got things started in the first inning, lining a 1-2 pitch over the wall in left field to give the Dodgers an early lead. Morton battled back to work a 1-2-3 second inning and struck out the first two batters of the third inning before running into trouble. There, he lost command of a breaking ball that hit Corey Seager in the foot to put a runner on base. Turner followed with a double into the left field corner to put a pair of runners in scoring position. Max Muncy -- who has been an RBI machine during the postseason -- came through with another big two-out hit for the Dodgers, this time plating a pair with a ground ball single up the middle.
They weren’t content with a three-run lead though, and got right back to work in the fourth inning. Cody Bellinger got things started with a leadoff single, then advanced to third on a single by Joc Pederson. Catcher Austin Barnes then dropped down a beautiful squeeze bunt to first base to plate Bellinger with the Dodgers’ fourth run.
As they have so often during the postseason, the Dodgers came through with another clutch two-out hit as Mookie Betts drove in Pederson with an RBI single to extend their lead to 5-0. Betts then swiped second base for the second time in the game -- making him the first National League outfielder since Deion Sanders in 1992 to record two games with multiple stolen bases in the same World Series. He’s also just the 12th player in MLB history to do so.
The Dodgers tacked on their final run in the sixth inning as Austin Barnes tagged John Curtiss for a solo homer. In doing so, he became just the second player in World Series history to record a sacrifice squeeze RBI and a home run in the same game -- joining Hector Lopez who accomplished the feat for the Yankees in Game 5 of the 1961 World Series.
He also became the 11th different Dodgers hitter to blast a home run during this postseason -- joining Betts, Seager, Turner, Muncy, Bellinger, Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, Will Smith, Edwin Rios and Chris Taylor.
As a team, the Dodgers have hit two or more home runs now in six consecutive games. That’s the longest such streak in a single postseason in MLB history. If you include spanning postseasons, the 2019-20 Yankees are the only other team to do so.
It’ll be up to Ryan Yarbrough -- who gets the start for the Rays in Game 4 on Saturday -- to put an end to the Dodgers’ power binge. He’ll go toe-to-toe with Dodgers’ left-hander Julio Urias who has allowed just one earned run while posting a 16/3 K/BB ratio over 16 innings during the postseason.
The Dodgers entered the World Series as overwhelming favorites to bring home their seventh World Series Championship in franchise history -- and first since 1988. Thanks to the heroics of Buehler and Barnes on Friday, they’re now just two wins away from doing so.
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Boomstick Seeks Two-Year Deal
LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported Friday that 40-year-old slugger Nelson Cruz is “believed to be seeking a two-year deal” this offseason.
Cruz turned 40 in July, so he'd be 42 at the end of a two-year contract. However, he's coming off a season which saw him post a .303/.397/.595 batting line with 16 home runs over 214 plate appearances, so you can hardly blame him for wanting a two-year pact.
In fact, over his last 137 games, Cruz is hitting .320 with 50 homers, 95 runs scored and 119 RBI over 587 plate appearances.
Whether or not the universal designated hitter remains in place in 2021 would greatly affect Cruz's market, and it was Neal who reported previously that the DH is set to be used only in the AL next season "as of now." However, that can still be negotiated this offseason.
From a fantasy perspective, there’s no real reason to believe that Cruz’s production is about to fall off of a cliff -- despite his age. There were some cracks in the armor during the 2020 season though. While he still posted elite numbers, he did notice a small drop in barrel rate (18.70% to 15.0%), hard-hit percentage (51.4% to 46.5%) and max exit velocity (117.0 to 114.4%) when compared to 2019 -- but he was still elite in each of those categories. When glancing at his Baseball Savant page, there’s still an awful lot of red.
Ultimately, the only thing that pushes Cruz down in fantasy drafts every year is the fear of that sudden decline -- along with the fact that he’s utility only. He’s a player who is typically very under-valued in the early draft season (usually as late as the sixth or seventh round of 15-team drafts), then as things get closer to Opening Day he creeps up into the fourth round.
Regardless of where he lands, he’ll once again provide elite power production and counting stats to go along with a plus average -- though he won’t add anything in stolen bases. As long as he stays healthy, he’ll once again deliver ample profit -- even at the fourth round cost that he’ll ultimately fetch in March.
Quick Hits: According to Alex Coffey of The Athletic, A's third base coach Al Pendrique will not return for the 2021 season. The Athletics plan to give someone else in the organization an opportunity to fill that role… Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Red Sox have interviewed Padres coach Skip Schumaker for their managerial vacancy… Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes noted that Diamondbacks bench coach Luis Urueta has also been interviewed... Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal indicated that the Red Sox will not be interviewing Rays coach Matt Quatraro for the position... The Mariners claimed right-hander Domingo Tapia off of waivers from the Red Sox… Peter Gammons of MLB Network reports that the Tigers have expressed interest in Athletics quality control coach Mark Kotsay for their managerial opening… The Diamondbacks claimed left-hander Taylor Guilbeau off of waivers from the Mariners...The Mariners sent Gerson Bautista outright to Triple-A Tacoma.