June 21, 2024

They think they’re smarter than everyone else.

Here’s their chance to show it.

They think they can reinvent a 100-plus-year-old game.

Here’s a stage on which they can prove it.

With Julio Urías on administrative leave in the wake of his arrest for suspicion of domestic violence and Walker Buehler officially ruled out from pitching this season, Andrew Friedman and his assistants are dealing with a major crisis.

The Dodgers don’t have starting pitching. More precisely, they don’t have the kind of starting pitching necessary to win in the postseason.

This is my opinion, of course, not Friedman’s or his front office’s.

They think they can win without a front-line starter.

They think they can win with an assembly line of openers, swingmen and relievers.

They think they can win by making pitching change after pitching change to create favorable matchups.

In previous seasons, Friedman’s baseball operations department has almost gone out of its way to make these points, even when it didn’t have to. This year, they won’t have a choice but to do so.

Urías hadn’t pitched like a No. 1 starter this year, but he’d pitched like a No. 1 starter before, which meant the Dodgers at least had a potential No. 1 starter. Now, they’re unlikely to even have him.

The team’s only other dependable starter was Clayton Kershaw, who has been clearly limited by shoulder problems in recent starts. Kershaw’s scheduled start on Monday was pushed back to Friday, then Saturday.

With Urías expected to be unavailable and Kershaw’s condition uncertain, every postseason game the Dodgers play this year could be a bullpen game.

The Atlanta Braves have Spencer Strider and Max Fried. The Philadelphia Phillies have Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler.

The Dodgers will have rookie Bobby Miller and, if they’re fortunate, a version of Kershaw who might not be able to touch 90 mph.

Lance Lynn is back to pitching as ineffectively as he did before the Dodgers acquired him from the Chicago White Sox. Tony Gonsolin underwent major elbow operations in recent months.

The state of their pitching staff explains why it feels as if the Dodgers are already eliminated from World Series contention even when they are just days from clinching the National League West title.

No team with such an anemic rotation has ever won the World Series.

The 2002 Angels?

They had Jarrod Washburn.

The 2015 Kansas City Royals?

They had Johnny Cueto.

The most comparable case might be the 2020 Dodgers.

“I kind of see it looking a lot like that,” manager Dave Roberts said.

Those champion Dodgers had a legitimate No. 1 starter in Buehler, but Roberts argued, “If you look throughout the entire postseason, the innings covered by the ’pen or people outside of Walker was vast.”

The current Dodgers have something the 2020 Dodgers didn’t: an established closer.

Kenley Jansen was relegated to mop-up duty after struggling early in the 2020 postseason. These Dodgers will enter the postseason with the advantage of a designated ninth-inning pitcher in Evan Phillips.

The Dodgers will be helped by the schedule in the divisional round, as the two days off in the best-of-five series should allow the team’s most important relievers to pitch in a majority of the games.

But what about the best-of-seven National League Championship Series? Won’t the Dodgers turn into the 2020 Atlanta Braves, who held a three-games-to-one lead against them in the NLCS, only for their pitchers to run out of gas?

The Dodgers are banking on their depth, which should allow them to better distribute their workload, according to Roberts.

“Whether we have 12 pitchers or 13 pitchers on a particular series roster, it’s gonna be as much as we’ve leaned on every guy,” Roberts said. “We’re gonna have to do that because if you look at our starting staff, there aren’t really two or three guys that I can say, hey, we’re gonna run them out there for seven innings.”

Seven? The Dodgers will be lucky if any of their starters make it through the fourth.

“I still believe that collectively we have enough arm talent to prevent runs,” Roberts said. “It’s certainly not going to be on the traditional side, but I think we’re OK with that.”

What other choice do they have? The Dodgers don’t have arms. They think they have brains. Now, their championship ambitions depend on whether Friedman and his baseball operations department can figure out how to register 27 outs a game without any one pitcher recording more than a dozen of them. The playoffs for them have become a math equation — and the equation might not have a solution.

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