Hernández: No overthinking as Dodgers pick Julio Urías for Game 1

The Dodgers haven’t played a game this postseason, but they’ve already defeated their own worst enemy: themselves.

With Julio Urías named the starter in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the San Diego Padres, Andrew Friedman has broken with the most troubling of October traditions.

The president of baseball operations has abstained from reconsideration. He is not controlled by his fears of what could go wrong. He doesn’t put his vanity above what’s best for the team.

And in doing so, Friedman eliminated the front office as a potential obstacle for the Dodgers and paved the way for them to win their second World Series championship in three seasons.

Urías’ start in Tuesday’s postseason opener feels like a no-brainer as it positions the top pitcher on the team for potentially twice starting in the best-of-five streak. But nothing is ever that easy for the Dodgers.

Just last year, Friedman’s Frankenstein pitching experiment spectacularly backfired, leading to their elimination and costing them a World Series they should have won.

There were suspicions that the front office was back to its old tricks, as Friedman and manager Dave Roberts refused to name a Game 1 starter until Monday afternoon. The concerns were justified as team officials considered opening the series with Clayton Kershaw on the mound in place of Urías.

“We thought about it and we mixed up a lot of different scenarios,” Roberts said.

The rationale: Since Kershaw started Game 1, he would have lined up to start a hypothetical winning take-all Game 5 with regular break. The Game 2 starter could have been available in Game 5 after three rest days, a task 26-year-old Urías was arguably better at than 34-year-old Kershaw.

Ultimately, the Dodgers decided they were too good to make plans based on a worst-case scenario. They decided they didn’t need to prepare for Game 5, in which Urías was relieved to serve several innings due to Kershaw’s early exit.

You made the right call.

The Dodgers are a juggernaut and have won a franchise-record 111 games. They are a team that has dominated the Padres, having won 14 of their 19 regular season meetings and finished 22 games ahead of them in the standings. They’re a team that brutalized the Padres’ Game 1 starter Mike Clevinger, who was 0-2 with a 9.69 earned run average against them in three regular season starts.

The Dodgers should win, and they act that way.

The appointment of Urías as the starter of Game 1 was a statement in itself: we are the better team and we don’t have to resort to any gimmicks to win.

San Diego Padres' Manny Machado jokes with Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías.

The Padres’ Manny Machado, left, jokes with Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías September 28 in San Diego.

(Gregory Bull/Associated Press)

Team decision makers from Friedman to Roberts trust their players to perform as they should. They trust their Cy Young Award nominee to serve like a Cy Young Award nominee like they should.

“We felt that giving Julio regular rest for Game 1 and possibly Game 5 made the most sense,” Roberts said.

Urías won 17 games this year and finished with a NL-leading ERA of 2.16, including 1.26 after the All-Star break. He dominated the Padres, against whom he was 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four starts.

The elimination of Urías as a relief option in Game 5 also speaks to the confidence Friedman and Roberts have in their bullpens.

The Dodgers don’t have a closer, but they have a variety of high-octane weapons to pitch the late innings, including Evan Phillips, Alex Vesia, Tommy Kahnle and Brusdar Graterol. This isn’t the understaffed bullpen they had in their 2020 championship season, which required Urías to be closer part-time.

“To speak to the depth of the bullpen, it’s the most talented, up-and-down, ‘pen we’ve ever had, or just sort of an arm to stop runs,” Roberts said.

Compare that to last year when Urías was scheduled to start Game 5 of the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants. Urías had won 20 games, but the Dodgers capitalized on an opener in Corey Knebel. Urías entered the game in the third inning and pitched four innings in relief. Max Scherzer ended the game.

The Dodgers advanced to the next round, but the unforeseen consequences of that final game in San Francisco caught up with them. Scherzer’s first start against the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series was postponed, and his second was canceled. Urías’ lighter workload in the NLDS made him available to help out in the NLCS, but that also resulted in defeat.

A more hands-on approach this year doesn’t guarantee success. This isn’t basketball or soccer. The best team doesn’t usually win.

But if the Dodgers lose like that, if they’re eventually eliminated with Urías as the No. 1 starter, they’ll know they just got beaten. It happens. As painful as that is, that beats the alternative, which is spending another offseason wondering if they’re beating themselves.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2022-10-10/dodgers-padres-nlds-julio-urias-game-one-starter Hernández: No overthinking as Dodgers pick Julio Urías for Game 1

Emma Bowman

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