(Photo Credit: Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
If we all took a brief moment to drift back to this past offseason, many would find it tough to believe that the Dodgers are already dipping into the plentiful stash of pitching at the Triple-A level. After all, at the point when the calendar flipped to 2016, quite a few of the more impulsive fans were hastily calling for a trade of lefty starter Alex Wood.
Now, as we embark upon June, the landscape of the Dodgers’ starting pitching rotation takes on an even newer identity. Another projected timetable for the return of Hyun-jin Ryu is once again pushed back, while young arms like Zach Lee, Ross Stripling, Carlos Frias, Jharel Cotton and Jose De Leon continue to work hard on the farm waiting for a potential phone call from the front office.
Despite the high number of adjustments the Dodgers have made in the rotation already, there have been a few constants. Clayton Kershaw could very well be off to his best start ever in terms of the quality of his pitching, and appears poised to dominate his peers in the ERA, WHIP and strikeout departments once again. It’s always difficult to put into words the true value of Kersh. Believe it or not, he’s quickly approaching an elite level similar to that of some guy named Koufax, and at the age of 28, already has a plaque waiting to be etched with his name in Cooperstown.
With one-third of the season already a part of history, it’s safe to say that Japanese righty Kenta Maeda has been a contractual steal and is exceeding most expectations. The level of success for the remainder of the season could conceivably boil down to one advanced scouting department against another, but for the most part, Maeda has already shown he has what it takes to flourish in the MLB. Upon arriving stateside, pundits questioned his durability with regards to a suspect medical record, but so far in 2016, his health has been a non-issue.
Southpaw Scott Kazmir has shown Dodgers fans an almost even mix of both brilliance and disappointment. Against the Reds on May 25, he flashed signs of dominance, striking out 12 and allowing only four hits in six innings of work. In contrast, only five days earlier against the Padres, Kaz buried himself with seven walks, while surrendering two homers and five earned runs over 5-2/3 innings. He’s revealed assuring signals of his former All-Star years, but has yet to show any signs of long-term consistency.
Since returning from the disabled list, right-hander Mike Bolsinger has given fans the general overall feeling of mediocrity. His last outing against the Cubs showed promise, but all signs are pointing to a repeat of 2015, when he finished 6-6 with a 3.62 ERA and a 3.91 FIP.
Fans of the Blue seem to be worried about lefty phenom Julio Urias, but he is a rookie, after all. There are a significant number of similarities to Kershaw’s opening season, so there’s no need to panic just yet. He’s shown in his performances that he has the talent, and he just needs a little time to learn the nuances of major league hitters before his natural baseball gifts begin to bloom.
Wood appears to be in line for an absence of about two months, and may be needed in some capacity come August if the Dodgers are in place to contend. Despite being on an innings limit, Stripling could return to the big league rotation if an emergency arises. Frias also provides plenty of experience as both a starter and a reliever, while De Leon and Lee should be fresh enough if called upon down the stretch.
It seems troublesome to show confidence in a trio of Kershaw/Kazmir/Maeda in any type of playoff scenario, but at almost the 60-game mark in the 2016 campaign, the Dodgers have yet to prove that they are a club worthy of playoff aspirations. Several other areas such as offensive consistency and bullpen effectiveness need to be addressed; however, if the Boys in Blue can continue to hold it together, the club certainly has plenty of valuable bargaining chips to make a splash in the trade market in July. While there’s always the hope of healthy returns for Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson and Ryu, the first third of the year has already proven that it’s not wise to depend on such possibilities.
In the meantime, there’s no time left in the “feeling-out” process for the front office, the coaching staff or the players. The season is passing by quickly, and a certain hated team to the north continues to extend its divisional lead.
If the Dodgers want to play through October, there must be a time of consistent winning.
And that time is now.