NLCS: Dodgers head to Atlanta with Max Scherzer and Walker Buehler on full rest, but there are concerns

After falling behind three games to one, the Dodgers won Game 5 at home Thursday night to force a Game 6 in the NLCS against the Braves. For Atlanta, the task is simply to win one of the possible two remaining games in the series at home. From the Dodgers’ perspective, they need to win both games on the road. 

The vibe from the Dodgers’ clubhouse is likely twofold. First off, they have already done this. They faced a 3-1 series deficit last year against the Braves and won three straight before taking the World Series title. Of course they are going to believe they can do it again, even if the circumstances (actual road games with a full house of fans in attendance) are different. The second point, though, would be that the Dodgers have their starting pitching lined up. 

Max Scherzer is set to pitch Game 6. That sounds great. He’s Max Freaking Scherzer. He’s a future Hall of Famer. In his first nine starts since joining the Dodgers, they won all nine games and he had a 0.78 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 58 innings. 

Should the Dodgers win, Walker Buehler is ready for Game 7. He was 16-4 with a 2.47 ERA this season. In the 2020 postseason, the Dodgers went 4-1 in his starts and he pitched to a 1.80 ERA. He threw six scoreless innings with the Dodgers facing elimination in Game 6. 

Again, it looks like things set up well for the Dodgers. 


There’s always a “but,” isn’t there? 

In this case, we have multiple buts. 

With Scherzer, we need to keep in mind he’s 37 years old. Even if he’s been what seems like a machine for most of his career, he’s still a 37-year-old human being. That right arm has 2,500-plus innings of mileage on it just in the Major League Baseball regular season. After an abbreviated 2020, is it possible he’s getting tired? He allowed 10 runs on 17 hits in 10 1/3 innings in his last two regular-season starts. He gutted through 4 1/3 innings in the Wild Card Game despite not having great command. He was vintage Mad Max in his first NLDS start and then looked great in his Game 5 relief outing. In Game 2 of the NLCS against the Braves, he was pulled after 4 1/3 innings and 79 pitches, however, and afterward said, “my arm was dead.” (via

He’ll be on extra rest for Game 6 and it’s entirely possible he’ll be Vintage Mad Max again. We just can’t say there are no concerns. 

Buehler was used in short rest for the first time in his career in Game 4 of the NLDS and was given a short hook after 4 1/3 innings. He mostly looked good and there wasn’t much reason for concern. But then in Game 3 of the NLCS, Buehler coughed up four runs on six hits in just 3 2/3 innings to the Braves. He walked three and struck out three. Only 43 of his 76 pitches were strikes. 

There’s also a workload concern. Buehler worked 177 innings between the minors, regular season and postseason in 2018. His total was 195 in 2019. In 2020? Just 61 2/3. This year he’s currently sitting at 222. He’s in uncharted territory after a huge dip due to the pandemic (and injury). How much further can he go before experiencing the dead arm Scherzer did? 

Buehler will be on regular rest for Game 7, if the Dodgers win Game 6, but there’s enough here to wonder if he’ll be compromised. 

We’ve already seen funky results in the NLCS in terms of the winning team versus how the pitching lined up. The Dodgers lost a Scherzer start. The Braves won a bullpen game against Julio Urías. The Dodgers won a bullpen game against Max Fried. Conventional wisdom says the Dodgers will have the advantage in Games 6 and 7 due to Scherzer and Buehler, but the context of behind both the series these two pitchers in their current state says that’s anything but a sure thing. 

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