Their 4-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday night, however, was a reminder they still might have another ace in the hole.
Hours after the team announced Buehler will undergo season-ending elbow surgery next week, Julio Urías helped soften the blow, grinding through five shutout innings to continue a second-half run as good as almost any pitcher in baseball.
In his last six starts, Urías recorded a 0.95 ERA and perfect 6-0 record. He has flashed renewed life with his fastball and an all-important ability to work out of jams.
Entering the season, he might not have been the obvious candidate to anchor the rotation, after Buehler was tabbed the opening day starter and Clayton Kershaw re-signed with the club as a free agent.
But with Buehler now done for the year, Kershaw continuing to nurse yet another back injury, and the rest of the Dodgers pitching staff lacking extensive postseason starting experience, there might not be a more important pitcher in the Dodgers clubhouse than 26-year-old left-hander — who, in manager Dave Roberts’ view, has reached another level with his performance over the last month.
“It’s the consistency,” Roberts said. “I think that every starter is gonna have some bad ones and that happens. But the elite guys, their really bad ones aren’t that bad and they still give you some length.”
That was the case for Urías on Monday night.
Lacking his normal command early, he began the first inning with a walk and single. He yielded another base hit to the leadoff man in the second. In the third, the first two batters reached base again.
Yet, Urías escaped the jam each time, burying the middle of the Brewers order in the first, dialing up a double-play grounder in the second and striking out a couple of hitters in the third.
“I thought it was a grind,” Roberts said. “But when he needed to make pitches he did.”
Eventually, Urías started to get in sync.
In the fourth inning, he stranded a one-out single while also surpassing 96 mph with his fastball four times — something he hadn’t done once in his first 22 starts this season.
In the fifth, he completed his outing by retiring the side in order, setting up the Dodgers (80-34) to complete their 10th shutout of the campaign and become the first team in baseball to reach the 80-win plateau.
“It wasn’t my best night,” Urías said in Spanish, “but was still able to get through five innings and we still won the game, which is the important thing.”
Even after grinding against the Brewers (61-53) on Monday, Urías continues to look like not only the Dodgers’ best pitcher, but one of the hottest arms in the majors.
His 0.95 ERA since July 16 — the first of his dominant six-start run -— ranks third among qualified big leaguers, behind only Dylan Cease and Blake Snell. His 38 innings in that span are also third most, behind Max Scherzer and Logan Webb.
And no one can match Urías’ unblemished record in that stretch, after he got run support on a Freddie Freeman solo home run in the first, a Will Smith sacrifice fly in the fifth and a Gavin Lux opposite-field two-run blast in the sixth.
On the season, Urías is now 13-6 with a 2.40 ERA, more than half a run lower than last year when he finished seventh in Cy Young Award voting.
“I know he’s not an All-Star,” Freeman said of Urías, who was snubbed from the midsummer classic this year, “but I mean, we got to be getting close to being in the Cy Young race here. … Left arms don’t come around like that very often.”
Even after his 2021 regular-season performance, the Dodgers still used Urías in a hybrid role last October.
When the playoffs roll around this year, though, they might not have any choice but to hope he can help carry the rotation.
Lately, he’s looked more than capable of doing it.
“He’s been a constant for us,” Roberts said. “So when you have a guy at the top of the rotation, that can do what he does and for the most part spell the bullpen and put us in a position to win every time he takes the mound, it’s certainly helpful. That’s what he’s become.”