The Dodgers selected Walker Buehler out of Vanderbilt University in the 2015 MLB Draft. The heat-throwing right-hander made his major league debut in relief in September 2017. He wouldn’t join the team the following month for their unforgettable postseason run, although he did take in some World Series action from the stands:
— Walker Buehler (@buehlersdayoff) October 26, 2017
Regular Season Recap
Amid tremendous hype and a flurry of Ferris Bueller jokes, the lanky kid from Kentucky made his first major league start on April 23 at home against Miami. He made a stellar first impression, hurling five scoreless innings and five strikeouts.
It was but a taste of what was in store. After Clayton Kershaw’s bicep injury in May, Buehler became the ace of the staff. With a four-seam fastball capable of reaching 99 MPH and a biting slider, he piled up strikeouts with ease in every start, often as high as eight or nine. His best game came against Colorado on September 19, striking out 12 in only six innings.
He capped off an incredible regular season with a clutch performance against the Rockies in game 163, twirling 6.2 shutout innings to secure the team’s sixth consecutive N.L. West title. The 2018 Dodgers overcame seemingly endless adversity thanks to many standout seasons and unlikely heroes. That said, it’s difficult to imagine them making the playoffs, let alone the World Series, without Walker Buehler.
The only thing approaching a downside for Buehler’s 2018 season was that he wasn’t able to win the franchise’s third straight N.L. Rookie of the Year award. He finished third in voting behind Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto. In all honesty, the vote was accurate, and Buehler’s accomplishments aren’t diminished at all by not winning the award.
How’d He Do in October?
If anyone had any doubts about how Buehler would handle the pressure of the playoffs, he certainly didn’t. Granted, the month didn’t begin well for the rookie ace. Starting game three of the NLDS in Atlanta, he was torched for five runs in the bottom of the second, four on a grand slam by ROTY Ronald Acuna. However, it should be noted the inning hinged on a misplay in center by Cody Bellinger, and that Buehler did settle down for the next three innings he pitched.
His NLCS, however, also got off to a rough start. Pitching game three at home, he was touched up for all four runs in a 4-0 loss, despite striking out eight. Game seven, fortunately, was a different story. 30 years to the day Orel Hershiser bulldogged L.A. to a championship in 1988, Buehler channeled his spirit with a gritty performance at Miller Park. After surrendering a solo homer to N.L. MVP Christian Yelich in the first, he shook it off and toughed out 4.2 gritty innings, striking out seven. While he didn’t get the win, his performance was indispensable in securing the pennant.
Fortunately, he saved his October best for the World Series. With the Dodgers trailing 2-0 heading back to Dodger Stadium, he took the mound for a must-win game three. Through seven innings, he made the best team in baseball look anything but, striking out seven and allowing no runs and only two hits. The only shame is he didn’t get credited with the win, which he deserved the world over.
What Lies Ahead
The better way of putting it would be, “What DOESN’T lie ahead?”. Buehler will likely become a perennial Cy Young Award candidate, and that’s just the beginning. There’s a strong case to be made for him to be Opening Day starter even with Clayton Kershaw’s return. His first All-Star Game, perhaps even as the N.L.’s starter, is a strong possibility as well.
Whether he earns all, some or none of these distinctions in 2019, Dodger fans can take joy knowing the present and future of the pitching staff rest with him.
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