Dissecting the Playoff Rotation Scenarios
With only 12 games left in the season, the Dodgers remain a game out of first place in the National League West. While the Giants remain an obstacle in the way of the Dodgers extending their streak of eight consecutive National League West titles, the Dodgers have punched their ticket to the postseason, one way or another. In this article, I'm going to lay out the three scenarios for how they should line up their starting pitching, ranging from the best to the worst.
Dodgers Win the NL West and Advance to the NLDS
Obviously, this is the best case scenario, with the Dodgers outright passing the Giants, winning the NL West and securing home field advantage vs. the team that wins the Wild Card Game in the NLDS. In this case, the Dodgers could do a number of things with their starting pitching. Either Max Scherzer or Walker Buehler will pitch game one, the other will pitch Game two, Julio Urias and Clayton Kershaw will get games three and four (in either order), and then whoever starts game one will pitch game five. This is somewhat self explanatory, and the Dodgers can't really go wrong here. I would personally go Scherzer-Buehler-Urias-Kershaw-Scherzer to get Scherzer two starts in the series because he's been the best pitcher in baseball down the stretch and to have Urias available out of the bullpen in a potential game five. In theory, Buehler could start game one, but I'd go with Scherzer personally. He's been untouchable recently and Buehler has faltered a little bit. No wrong answer, though.
Dodgers Play Game 163 and Maybe the NL Wild Card Game
In an actually somewhat likely scenario, considering the incredibly tight division race in the NL West, the Dodgers would play the Giants in San Francisco to determine the winner of the division. Having to do the same thing in 2018, the Dodgers beat the Rockies behind Walker Buehler and a couple of home runs, but these Giants, especially at home, are another task entirely. The Dodgers could have Buehler start this game, considering his playoff (and Game 163) resume, but I'd have to throw Scherzer simply because he's just been better (than anybody in baseball) down the stretch. Ideally, the Dodgers win this game and avoid the Wild Card Game, but were they to lose and have to play the Wild Card Game in Los Angeles, they would have Walker Buehler ready to go. This way, there is the cushion of having Buehler if things go wrong in Game 163, but they can also go all-in in Game 163. Additionally, the Dodgers could move Julio Urias into a bullpen role for one or both of these games, a spot he absolutely thrived in last year, and give him his rotation spot (which he's more than earned) back in the NLDS, or just keep him in the bullpen. Tony Gonsolin is another possibility for an arm in the bullpen, but it's more likely he'd stay a starter considering his stuff doesn't play up out of the 'pen and he's less used to that role. Regardless, in this scenario the Dodgers would have to win 1 of 2 games with Scherzer and Buehler pitching, which is a pretty good spot to be in.
Dodgers Host the National League Wild Card Game
This would be unfortunate to say the least. It would not only break the Dodgers' streak of winning 8 consecutive NL West titles, but it would also put a (almost definitely) 100+ win team in the position of having to play 1 single, random, baseball game to determine the fate of their season simply because another team in their division was a tiny bit better. The Dodgers, if this comes to fruition, will own the second best record in baseball but have to deal with this folly (but that's another conversation). Say this happens; it's not particularly unlikely at this point. The Dodgers simply have to start Max Scherzer in this game considering well, how freaking good he is. All he's done as a Dodger is shove, and shove, and shove his way to a 0.78 ERA with the Dodgers. He's recently dominated every team in the Wild Card hunt while Walker Buehler, the other ace of the Dodgers, has struggled a little bit (at least in comparison to his usual standards). While Buehler has the nearly immaculate playoff resume, Scherzer has just been on another level recently and is also a big game pitcher. You can't really go wrong with either, but Scherzer just seems like the obvious choice at this point. As I mentioned earlier, Julio Urias (or MAYBE even Buehler or Kershaw) could be waiting in the bullpen in case things go wrong early or he's a better match-up than Blake Treinen or Kenley Jansen to close out the game.
Honestly, the pitching for the Dodgers has been so dominant recently it's more than likely that they will perform well enough for the Dodgers to either claim the division or win the wild card game. The rest relies, as it always seems to with the 2021 Dodgers, on the star-studded yet maddeningly inconsistent offense. However, recently they've been scoring more runs, which is an encouraging sign for all three of these scenarios.