By Chris Camello
LOS ANGELES – There might not be a team that has been dealt more devastating blows to their starting rotation this season than the Los Angeles Dodgers. Just when it seems like their pitching staff is rounding into form; more bad news is splattered across social media.
The Dodgers (87-55) have had a plethora of issues with their starters all year losing key rotation pieces like Dustin May (UCL/flexor surgery) and Tony Gonsolin (Tommy John surgery) for the season; being without Clayton Kershaw (shoulder injury) and Ryan Pepiot (oblique/rib injury) for large stretches; and then recently losing ace Julio Urias to administrative leave amidst an investigation into a domestic violence incident.
Walker Buehler has even been ruled out for a potential September return after missing all year recovering from Tommy John surgery. He recently ramped up his recovery and threw two perfect innings in a rehab assignment down in Triple-A Oklahoma City, but the Dodgers insisted he sit out the rest of this season and come back healthy in 2024.
Losing Urias to a non-baseball incident that could jeopardize his career in LA and perhaps the MLB and no hope of getting Buehler back were really tough blows for Dodgers fans to absorb.
Combine that with Kershaw clearly not comfortable on the mound and Lance Lynn hitting his first rough patch with the team and giving up even more home runs, the Dodgers are left with a lot more questions at a time when teams want concrete answers.
So which starters can the Dodgers turn to and legitimately depend on in the playoffs?
The answer is whoever is pitching their best at the end of September.
It sounds like an answer that can roll somebody’s eyes out of frustration or just plainly being annoyed, but the fact is great teams that seem dialed in after 162 games don’t always deliver when the stakes are highest in October.
In many instances, teams who clinched a spot on the final week or days of the regular season take advantage of the mental reset that comes with playoff baseball when everything starts at 0-0 again. It’s essentially a new season.
The uncertainty about what to expect from the Dodgers in the postseason is refreshingly different compared to years past, where they seemingly had all of the answers in their lineup and their pitching staff only to fall short of a World Series championship or a quick exit.
They were a dominant team last year finishing 111-51 and setting a whole bunch of regular season team records and looking like the team to beat in the NL.
Then they got stunningly upended by their NL West rival San Diego Padres, who barely clinched in the final week of the season, but was playing meaningful baseball for months. After a Wild Card series win against the New York Mets, they rode that momentous wave into LA against the Dodgers, a team who took 14 of 19 from the Padres during the regular year, and knocked them out in four games in the NLDS.
Can’t a similar situation happen with the Dodgers, a team who wasn’t expected to win the division after losing many core pieces last offseason, has dealt with numerous injuries, and has depended on rookies and wily veterans to play integral roles?
All the Dodgers have done this season is prove people wrong and further cement their position as one of the best-managed teams in the league. Few teams can deal with all of the issues they’ve had and still run away with the division and close in on another 100-win season.
They have young pieces in the rotation that have shown they aren’t afraid of the moment and will be ready when called upon. Bobby Miller and Ryan Pepiot could end up being Game 1 and Game 2 starters in the NLDS. Who the heck had those two slated as even on the active roster back in March, let alone starting the most crucial games of the year?
However, they are the hottest hands right now for the Blue Crew’s rotation and manager Dave Roberts will have to strongly consider them if they finish September out with a bang.
With a little extra rest, maybe Kershaw’s shoulder can improve so he can feel more comfortable on the mound. Maybe a mental reset and everything back to 0 might be what Lynn needs to forget about the 40 homers he’s given up this year.
Maybe Roberts utilizes lefty Ryan Yarbrough and rookie righty Emmet Sheehan as bulk bullpen pieces who handle the game after an opener.
Maybe the vast array of relievers the Dodgers have continue to do what they’ve done since mid-June: be one of the most reliable pens in the game.
Another ace in the hole the Dodgers have is a potent, versatile offense that can score in a variety of ways, but most importantly, 1 through 9, each of those guys has shown an ability to come up with a clutch hit at a key time. That will also help give this pitching staff some margin for error.
There are too many examples in playoff baseball through the years where an average Wild Card team gets hot at the right time and runs the table unexpectedly. Whether it be the 2019 Washington Nationals, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, or any of the three San Francisco Giants teams that won a World Series (2010, 2012, 2014), it’s not always about what they did in the regular season, but if they got hot at the right time and took advantage of an unsuspecting opponent.
After years of being the heavy favorite in the postseason, the 2023 Dodgers might benefit from the lower expectations because of the concerns with the rotation. They won’t have as big of a target on their backs, hungry to prove doubters wrong, and maybe a few of these inexperienced rookies might embrace the moment and establish themselves as true gamers.
Like the old tagline says, “You can’t script October.”
Chris Camello has been a Los Angeles-based sports writer and reporter for 10 years covering the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Angels, USC basketball, and LA Sparks for Nitecast Media. He has also written for the Southern California News Group covering high school sports throughout Los Angeles and is currently the co-host of "The Outlet Forum," a podcast covering everything in the world of hoops. You can follow Chris on Twitter X (@Chris_Camello) or Instagram (@ccamello1).