With the way the first half of the NLDS opener against the Padres played out on Tuesday evening, fans of the Dodgers had much cause for concern, especially considering how their starting pitcher, righty Walker Buehler, was sporadically struggling with his command. In all, Buehler lasted just four full innings on a whopping 95 pitches, and by the time Dustin May took over in relief, Los Angeles found itself trailing by a 1-0 margin.
However, while both teams utilized their strong player depth throughout the game, it was the Dodgers who proved to be just a little more talented. Powered by a four-run seventh inning and a stellar bullpen showing, Los Angeles ultimately cruised to a 5-1 win. With ace Clayton Kershaw taking the bump on Wednesday night, the team is seemingly in the driver’s seat.
Here are three takeaways from the Game 1 victory:
THE OFFENSE IS STAYING PATIENT
Although it took almost six full innings for the Los Angeles offense to strike, it was patience once again that paid dividends. The Dodgers garnered an insane 10 walks in the opener, led by three from catcher Will Smith. Moreover, the Padres used nine different pitchers, which will surely be a factor down the road of the series.
“Obviously, they exhausted a lot of arms tonight by matching up,” said skipper Dave Roberts in the postgame. “The key for us, the more arms we can see, the better for us, especially in a five-game series.”
Added Roberts, “Offensively, we weathered it and continued to take good at-bats and broke out. It’s patience and trust in your players. I saw that each guy was taking good at-bats, and I just believe that if they continue to do so, we’ll break out.”
While the Padres still haven’t decided on a starting pitcher for Game 2, the odds continue to stack up in the Dodgers’ favor in all aspects of the game.
BELLINGER AND MUNCY SHOWING SIGNS OF LIFE
Coming into the series, some fans of the team were very concerned about two of the club’s most potent sluggers, Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy. Bellinger finished the regular season hitting just .239/.333/.455 after slashing .305/.406/.629 in his MVP campaign last year. Muncy hit .192/.331/.389 this year, which was down almost a full 60 points from his average in 2019. What’s more, with both players hitting smack dab in the middle of the lineup, there was potential for a cog, particularly if one of them continued to stay cold.
Nevertheless, both Bellinger and Muncy played key offensive roles in that explosive sixth inning. Muncy chipped in with a double, and Bellinger later rolled a single into right field that plated Justin Turner, stretching the Los Angeles lead to three. Additionally, both players each collected a walk. While they weren’t overwhelming outbursts, they still could be signs that both players are on the right track and could prove to be the start of something big as the postseason progresses.
THE BULLPEN LOOKS INPRESSIVE (FOR NOW)
Despite finishing 0.02 of a run shy of the MLB lead in bullpen ERA, the relief corps of the Dodgers faced plenty of scrutiny throughout the entire regular season. So far in the playoffs, the crew appears to be untouchable, as it has not allowed a single run over 11 full innings of work. Coincidentally,10 of those innings have come when Buehler has started.
“Before you guys ask anything, it’s hard to fathom what [Dustin] May, Victor Gonzalez, Blake Treinen and Kenley Jansen did tonight,” Buehler said after the game. “To come out and shut them down like that is a testament to what we do here, and I’ve got a lot of pride of being a part of this.”
Among the quartet, Gonzalez allowed the only hit. May struck out three batters over two full innings, touching 100 MPH on the radar gun on several occasions. Treinen had his sinker working well, punching out two batters over his 1-1/3 frames of work.
Even better, the breaks on Jansen’s cutter and slider were much improved compared to his other recent outings, and his velocity appeared to be trending in his normal 91-92 MPH range.