Scherzer’s out. For the Braves, what could possibly go wrong?

Fans react as Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) is removed from the mound during the fifth inning of Game 2 of the NLCS Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Fans react as Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) is removed from the mound during the fifth inning of Game 2 of the NLCS Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Max Scherzer in Game 6. Walker Buehler in Game 7. That was the Dodgers’ path to victory in this careening series. Was, we emphasize.

The Los Angeles Times reported Friday night that Scherzer, three times a Cy Young winner, won’t start Saturday’s Game 6 at Truist Park. Remember when he said after laboring through 4-1/3 innings in Game 2 that he had a dead arm? Apparently that wasn’t just a euphemism.

So: If not Max, then who? The answer came Saturday morning, the Dodgers tweeting that Buehler, maybe this year’s Cy Young winner, would start Game 6, as opposed to Game 7, their logic being unassailable: lose Game 6 and there’s no Game 7. Here we note that Buehler labored through 3-2/3 innings in Game 3, yielding six base runners and four runs, two earned.

(Remember Austin Riley’s fly ball that Gavin Lux dropped? MLB reversed the scorer’s decision that it was, LOL, a double. It is, as the watching world knew from the moment it occurred, a big fat E-8. Two earned runs became unearned.)

Time for ciphering. Game 3 was Tuesday. Buehler didn’t work Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. That’s three days. Saturday is the fourth day, and now he’s set to pitch, no longer on full rest.

Starting pitchers the Dodgers have under contract: Trevor Bauer, the reigning Cy Young winner now on administrative leave; Clayton Kershaw, thrice a Cy Young winner who has suffered another ailment of some sort and is on the injured list; Scherzer, who wasn’t himself in Game 2; Buehler, ditto in Game 3, and Julio Urias, winner of 20 games but whose lot it has been to be used 20 times in postseason – we exaggerate for dramatic effect – a starter and reliever.

(Oh! Almost forgot! There’s also Cole Hamels, who toiled 3-1/3 innings for the Braves last season. The Dodgers signed him for $1 million in August. A week later, he was placed on the 60-day disabled list.)

(Oh! Did forget! There’s David Price, a Cy Young winner who didn’t make the Dodgers’ postseason roster until Friday, when he was chosen to replace Joe Kelly. Price faced 24 batters over the regular season’s final month, so we can assume he’s rested. His salary for 2021 is $32 million, half of which is being paid by the Red Sox.)

The team that mints Hall of Fame pitchers has been reduced to Buehler on short rest and a bullpen that has, among other things, worked the entirety of Games 1 and 5. In this series, the Dodgers have seen 13 different pitchers make 35 total appearances. That’s seven per game. That includes Kelly, who started Game 5 and exited with a sore arm after retiring two hitters and serving up a home run to Freddie Freeman. Kelly threw 24 pitches. On the bright side, 14 were strikes.

This isn’t to say the Dodgers are doomed. They’re still the Dodgers. There just aren’t as many of them. The Braves have been forced into a bullpen-only game themselves, and none of their card-carrying starters – Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Charlie Morton – has excelled in this NLCS. It would be just like the dastardly Dodgers to activate Sandy Koufax and have him throw a two-hitter. (Hey, he’s on 55 years’ rest.)

Or, put another way, it wouldn’t be unlike the Braves to fall on their faces two steps from the finish line. Even by Braves’ standards, Game 5 was dire. They led 2-0 with one out in the first. Kelly couldn’t complete his scheduled inning. Their starting pitcher was Fried, owner of the lowest ERA in the sport since the All-Star break.

Final score: Dodgers 11, Braves 2.

This is baseball, the sport in which so many oddities occur that the best we can offer in hindsight is, “That’s baseball.” All the Braves need to reach their first World Series since 1999 is to go 1-1 at home over a weekend that could see Albert Pujols take the mound to start Game 7 and toss underhand. For the Braves, what could go wrong?

Don’t answer that.

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