Late-season turnaround for Ryu Hyun-jin fuels hope for strong postseason

September 23, 2019

 The man who wears No. 99 has pitched his team to victory No. 100.

And the Los Angeles Dodgers will look to Ryu Hyun-jin to help them get 11 more wins in the postseason.

The South Korean left-hander threw seven solid innings against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Sunday (local time), giving up three runs and striking out eight in a 7-4 victory.

Ryu, who won his Opening Day start on March 28, helped the Dodgers get to the 100th win of the season with six games remaining. This was the Dodgers’ final home game of the regular season, and Ryu won 10 of his 13 games in 2019 at Dodger Stadium with a 1.93 ERA. He leads the majors with a 2.41 ERA overall.

Ryu even blasted a solo shot for his first career big league home run in this game. It knotted the score at 1-1 and began the Dodgers’ rally. It was surely entertaining to see the Dodgers’ bench explode for their stoic pitcher who kept a straight face amid the mad celebration among his teammates. But for more practical reasons, the Dodgers had to feel heartened by another strong outing by Ryu, who went through a dismal spell in August.

Ryu was sporting a tidy 1.45 ERA, best in the majors, after beating the Arizona Diamondbacks with seven shutout innings on Aug. 11. But over his next four starts, Ryu was roughed up for 21 earned runs in 19 innings and watched his ERA balloon by a full run to 2.45.

After skipping a turn in the rotation to work on his mechanics, Ryu tossed a gem against the New York Mets on Sept. 14, giving up just two singles in seven shutout innings. The Dodgers gave him an extra day off before his latest start, and Ryu responded with another quality outing while recording his highest strikeout total in a game in more than three months.

During his slump, Ryu struggled to locate his changeup, usually his bread-and-butter pitch. He hasn’t had much trouble with the pitch over his last two starts, as he’s been able to command it to induce weak grounders or strikeouts, the two home runs given up — the first on a cutter and the next on a changeup — notwithstanding.

The Dodgers have already clinched the National League (NL) West title and will head straight to the NL Division Series (NLDS). They currently own the best record in the league at 100-56, 4.5 games ahead of the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves. If things stay that way through the end of the season, the Dodgers will own the home field advantage throughout the postseason in the NL and will host the wild-card game winner to open the NLDS on Oct. 3.

Ryu started Game 1 of last year’s NLDS against the Braves and got the win thanks to seven shutout innings. And because Ryu has been excellent at home all season, it would make sense for him to go either Game 1 or Game 2 in this year’s NLDS.

Ryu will be part of a rotation that also features three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and third-year stud Walker Buehler.

The Washington Nationals and the Milwaukee Brewers are holding down the two wild-card spots, and the Chicago Cubs have fallen behind by four games after losing six straight games.

Ryu went 1-0 in two starts against the Nationals this season, with just one earned run allowed in 14 2/3 innings. He lost his lone start against the Brewers on April 20, when he gave up two earned runs on six hits, including two home runs in 5 2/3 innings. He did have nine strikeouts.

The NLDS is a best-of-five series. The winner will move on to the NL Championship Series, a best-of-seven affair. The World Series is also best-of-seven. The Dodgers have lost each of the past two World Series, and they’re trying to win their first title since 1988.