What to watch for in the NLCS: Dodgers turn to Buehler for high-stakes Game 3

As Arash Madani reports, the Dodgers quasi dynasty is in danger of ending down 0-2 to the Braves, but they have total belief in their ace Walker Buehler to get it done in Game 3, and turn this NLCS around.

Riding high off their clash-of-the-titans win in Game 5 of the NLDS, the Los Angeles Dodgers have returned to Earth with a thud. The Dodgers found themselves on the wrong end of two walk-offs to begin the NLCS, and now the Atlanta Braves are in great shape as the series shifts to the West Coast.

At home, and with their only rested starter on the hill, the Dodgers are treading into must-win territory for Game 3 on Tuesday (5:08 p.m. ET on Sportsnet and SN NOW). Here’s what you need to know:

Let’s talk about the starters

Walker Buehler has already delivered once with the Dodgers’ season on life support, and they need him to do it again.

Facing elimination in Game 4 of the NLDS, Buehler allowed just a run in 4 1/3 innings against the Giants. He was on three days’ rest then, and he’s on six days’ rest now. Buehler is also facing a Braves bunch he saw twice last October, when he held them to one run in 11 innings (0.82 ERA).

Following Monday’s off-day, both bullpens will be as fresh as possible. But there’s urgency on the Los Angeles side to save some arms. The Dodgers are destined for a bullpen game later in the series, and a superb start from Buehler could ease the pressure on that group.

For Atlanta, 14-year veteran Charlie Morton will pitch in his fourth LCS over the past five seasons. The three previous series were on the AL side (with the Astros, then the Rays), including last year’s pennant-winning run for Tampa Bay. Morton started twice in the 2020 ALCS against Houston, capping 10 2/3 scoreless innings with a Game 7 win.

Of course, he went on to face the Dodgers once in the World Series, and they were far less forgiving. Morton was roughed up for five runs in 4 1/3 innings, taking a loss in Game 3.

The winning pitcher for Los Angeles that night? Walker Buehler.

Just-In Time?

Neck pain limited Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner to one at-bat in Game 2, but manager Dave Roberts expects to have the 2017 NLCS MVP back in the lineup on Tuesday.

Turner needs to do more than just be in the lineup, though. The Dodgers are waiting on their franchise leader in post-season home runs (13) to show up with a big swing or two.

So far during this playoff run, Turner has a .107/.194/.214 slash line in eight games. He did homer once, but he has only two other hits to go with it (along with seven strikeouts). In last year’s NLCS against Atlanta, Turner reached safely in all seven games, posting an .859 OPS with three extra-base hits.

‘Joctober’ rages on

In the wake of their World Series victory last fall, the Dodgers let outfielder Joc Pederson walk to free agency.

Who else wonders if they’re regretting that right now?

Pederson has turned October into “Joctober” before — he enjoyed a .979 OPS in the Dodgers’ two previous playoff runs — but Los Angeles had always been the beneficiary. Equipped with a pearl necklace and the bat of ex-teammate Anthony Rizzo, Pederson has already collected three homers and seven RBIs in six playoff games with the Braves.

One player rarely makes the difference over the course of a series or post-season run, but Pederson is making a worthy case. In last year’s NLCS, he batted 7-for-18 (.389) and drove in three runs for the Dodgers. Now, he’s dealing even more damage from the other side.

We’ve been here before

As you’ve surely noticed, we’ve made a few references to this NLCS being a rematch of last year. And in that series a season ago, the Braves also carried a 2-0 lead into Game 3 (before losing in seven).

That series was played at a neutral site (Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas), so the setting has changed. And some of the biggest names from back then — Ronald Acuña Jr., Clayton Kershaw, Max Muncy — aren’t contributing this time around.

The vibe entering Game 3, however, is the same: The Braves can apply a world of pressure with a win, while the Dodgers can get back into the thick of the series with a victory of their own.

Last year’s NLCS Game 3 was a major statement game for the Dodgers, who blew out the Braves, 15-3. That’d be quite a deviation from norm of this series, in which neither team has led by more than two runs (and only 14 total runs have been scored).

Maybe Justin Turner’s return to the starting lineup ignites the Dodgers’ offence. Or maybe Charlie Morton exacts his revenge on the reigning champs. For as much as the Dodgers want change in this series, the Braves are content to see things stay the same.

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