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Facing the best: Yankees likely to face elite arms in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Dodgers are awesome.

You know this, I know this. The boys in So Cal are the toast of the National League yet again, riding absolutely incredible starting pitching, led by possible NL Cy Young winner Hyun-Jin Ryu, and a potent offense, led by possible NL MVP Cody Bellinger. Must be nice, eh? Must be nice. The Dodgers, 83-44, are a whopping 19 games up in the NL West and are up 8 on the Atlanta Braves for home field in the NL.

It would come as little surprise to any playoff team in the American League to find the Dodgers waiting in the World Series. The Dodgers have claimed the NL pennant two years in a row, losing first to the Houston Astros and then the Boston Red Sox in the Fall Classic last season. Frankly, the Braves, Chicago Cubs or anyone else taking down the Dodgers would be an upset. (Then again: the playoffs are random.)

From ownership down to the guys in short-season ball, the organization has one goal: a championship. This weekend, the Dodgers get a look at a potential Fall Classic foe in the New York Yankees. Should the Bombers square off with the Dodgers in the World Series, we’d bear witness to quite a battle. Yes, the Yankees’ deep, ultra-utilitarian offense versus the Dodgers tremendous rotation.

Let’s take a look at Ryu, Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw, shall we?

Three starters, three approaches


Gotta start with Ryu, right? How’s a 1.64 ERA look? How’s a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 7 grab ya?

The lefty is in a tight battle with Max Scherzer for the Cy Young, though you might not guess so from how they work. Ryu isn’t a strikeout machine and he doesn’t throw gas; he’s clever and an expert at keeping hitters off-balance. Ryu is really, really good at working all throughout the zone and changing speeds. He puts the ball where it needs to be. Period. His stuff is good, but not as good as the others in his current class of production, but his approach might be better than them all. The 2019 version of Hyun-Jin Ryu is awesome.

How will the Yankees fare against him?

This is a trite answer, but it all may depend on the advanced scouting. Ryu isn’t Scherzer or deGrom or Buehler; he can’t just toe the rubber and bludgeon you with raw power. The art of pitching is screwing up a hitter’s timing, and Ryu focuses squarely on that. If the Yanks can keep at-bats alive long enough to see fastballs, they can do damage. Hitters can’t play into Ryu’s hands. Meaning? No quick outs, no swings out of the zone. If you give him easy groundouts and control of most counts, seven innings will fly by and you’ve done nothing.


Walker Buehler might be the scariest of the three; a fire-breathing machine, punching out hitters in droves (29 percent strikeout rate) with a hard fastball (96.6 MPH) and a lethal slider (34 percent whiff rate). He fits the image of a traditional playoff stopper more than Ryu or Kershaw, who rely more on feel. Buehler is power. Pitching in the cold of October is harder on the hurlers who rely more on pure feel to get outs, but that isn’t likely to affect Buehler the same way.

How will the Yankees fare against him? 

The Yanks are no stranger to power pitchers. Chris Sale and Blake Snell both operate in the AL East, after all. The key with Buehler will be to work him. Remember how the strategy against Pedro Martinez during his prime was to bleed him? You gotta wear these beasts out. No easy outs. No first-pitch groundouts. (Familiar, eh?) Work long counts, draw some walks, make him work. Against pitchers like these, offenses must make every out hard-earned.


Clayton Kershaw is arguably the game’s greatest active pitcher. The three-time Cy Young winner and former MVP rode one of the sport’s greatest peaks to an unquestioned Hall of Fame career. Among active hurlers, only Scherzer is in his league. (Justin Verlander‘s prolonged renaissance gives him an argument.) It appeared that the great lefty had turned down a new road in his career last season, driven primarily by a dip in velocity (nearly 2 MPH). Well, the velo has only gone down since, but his production remains the same. Kershaw is aging just like you’d expect a pitcher of his peak would. Quite gracefully. His xFIP this year is 3.47; last year it was 3.19. Not freaking bad.

How will the Yankees fare against him? 

Kershaw’s postseason record isn’t sterling, relative to his regular-season work: 4.32 playoff ERA, 2.41 regular-season ERA. The approach against Kershaw is to force him into fastball counts and make him throw one over the plate. If you play Kershaw’s game — if you give him the advantage in the count and let him expand the zone — you will lose. He is better at it than you. But if you’re in 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 counts against him, you can find pitches to hit. The Yanks are good at hitting mistakes.

This weekend could be a preview

It appears the Yanks will get to dance with Ryu and Kershaw, barring an unexpected change. I assure you, the Yankees will be taking notes.

Adam Adkins podcasts and writes about baseball at AdkinsOnSports.com. His most recent Ode to a Pitcher breakdown covered Aroldis Chapman.