For Dodgers’ Walker Buehler, Game 3 start could serve as signature moment

Getting you set for a very pivotal Game 3 in the 2020 World Series, where Walker Buehler and Charlie Morton will pitch head-to-head, and statistically, are both two of the top playoff pitchers this century.

Walker Buehler has pitched Game 3 of a World Series before. His start went well, and yet it was entirely forgettable.

Trailing 2-0 in the 2018 World Series to the eventual champion Boston Red Sox, Buehler — then a 23-year-old rookie — allowed just two hits with seven strikeouts in seven scoreless innings. He was in line for the win, a win the Los Angeles Dodgers desperately needed to get back in the series.

Los Angeles did salvage a victory, but … it came 11 innings later. The game wrapped up at 3:30 a.m. on the East Coast, and the arguable hero was losing pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, who slugged through the final six-plus innings for the Red Sox.

As great as Buehler was, it wasn’t his moment in the sun. But Friday can be.

Buehler and the Dodgers enter Game 3 of the World Series (Friday at 8:08 p.m. ET on Sportsnet and SN Now) knotted with the Tampa Bay Rays. He has been spectacular this post-season, particularly in the NLCS (11 innings, one run allowed, 13 strikeouts), when he might’ve won series MVP if not for Corey Seager’s home run rampage.

Clayton Kershaw is still the ace of the Dodgers, but Buehler is the heir apparent. If he can put L.A. back in front in this series, it won’t be forgotten.

Before Friday’s first pitch, here’s what else you need to know:

Don’t sleep on the other starter

Enough about Walker Buehler — this is a heavyweight pitching matchup on both sides of the rubber.

Charlie Morton, 11 years Buehler’s senior, has already earned a World Series ring facing the Dodgers and we reckon he wouldn’t mind another one.

With the Houston Astros in 2017, Morton started (and won) Game 4 of the World Series, before closing out Game 7 by pitching the final four innings. For anyone out there who enjoys a good revenge subplot, plenty of Dodgers hitters from that 2017 team are still around: Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor and Austin Barnes. That should make for delectable theatre.

Morton has long been a playoff stud (career 2.84 ERA in 57 innings), but that sentiment is particularly true in the past two years. The savvy right-hander has won all five of his starts in that span, with a 0.70 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings.

Right now, he’s riding a scoreless streak of 10 2/3 innings, which includes his ALCS Game 7 start against the Astros (another revenge plot of sorts).

In that game, Morton threw his curveball — with an elite spin rate in the 89th percentile — more than any other pitch. If he chooses to lean on it again, who can blame him? Morton generated a 31-per cent whiff rate with his curve this year. Oh, and it can do this to professional hitters:

Rays get their 'Lowe' factor back

Remember Brandon Lowe, the Rays’ best offensive player in 2020? Yeah, he might be back.

Lowe, who posted a .916 OPS and was on a 40-homer pace this season, was a complete non-factor in Tampa Bay’s first 15 playoff games. He posted a .107/.180/.161 slash line, with just six hits and 19 strikeouts. The struggle was real.

Fortunately for the Rays, Lowe found his groove on Wednesday, hitting a pair of home runs in their 6-4 win. On those two swings, amazingly, he tripled his output of extra-base hits for the month.

Lowe wasn’t the Rays’ only notable hitter in need of a reboot. Yandy Diaz and Willy Adames, who along with Lowe comprise the team’s top-three players based on OPS+, entered the World Series with a combined slash line of .109/.268/.124.

Through two games, the trio is 5-for-20 with three extra-base hits, a walk and three RBIs. Still room to improve, but they’re at least trending in the right direction.

The Texas Dodgers?

Since the divisional round of the playoffs, the Dodgers have called Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, their home — and it hasn’t taken long for Seager and Bellinger to get comfortable.

Including the regular season, the Dodgers have played 15 games in Arlington. The Texas Rangers, meanwhile, played a full 30-game home slate.

If L.A. wants to leave Texas with a championship, Seager and Bellinger might have to do a little more damage. Clearly they're capable of it.

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