Can Dodgers Field a Formidable Starting Rotation for Playoffs?

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(Photo Credit: Jae C. Hong/AP)

With 71 games remaining on the schedule and the hot stove just beginning to percolate, many fans of the Dodgers are wondering if the squad has what it takes to make a playoff run in the second half of the year — most specifically in the starting pitching department.

Staff ace Clayton Kershaw appears to be on a fast track to recovery, and once he rejoins a pitching staff that has seemingly become crowded in recent times, it’s probably safe to say the rotation could be in the best shape it’s been all year.

In addition to the returns of Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu, both Alex Wood and Brett Anderson are on schedule with their respective rehabilitation programs, and if everybody’s able to stay healthy over the next several weeks, not even the bullpen will have enough spots to accommodate the Dodgers’ overflow of starting arms.

As it stands now, overall, the Dodgers starters have not fared that badly thus far in 2016, despite their inability to absorb more innings pitched. They rank fifth in the National League as far as team ERA for starters with a 3.77 mark, trailing only the Giants, the Mets, the Nationals and the Cubs. At 1.17, the club’s WHIP for its starters is tied for third, the team’s opposition batting average of .234 ranks third, and its OBPA also ranks third at .296, generally trailing Washington and Chicago in most of the traditional categories.

The scary thing, however, occurs after taking a quick glance at a few of the club’s advanced pitching stats for the starting crew. The Dodgers’ Component ERA Ratio Percentage for the starting staff ranks dead last in the NL at 85.24. The ERC% is a calculation that attempts to forecast a pitcher’s ERA from the number of hits and walks allowed rather than the standard formula of average number of earned runs per nine innings. This stat can be highly suggestive of how well a bullpen succeeds with the runners on base from which they inherit from the starters, in turn having a direct effect on that particular starter’s ERA.

The team’s Defense-Independent ERA Ratio of 87.35 ranks second to last in the NL. The DIP% projects what the team’s ERA would have been, if not for the effects of defense and luck on the actual games in which the club pitched. Combined with the traditional stats, several of these advanced calculations are handy tools in painting a much better picture of the real mathematical layout of the team’s true performance, which in this case can probably be determined as right around average — a far cry from where a team with playoff aspirations wishes to be.

As far as the rotation lineup when the team returns from break, the Dodgers will start out with Bud Norris on Friday to open the series at Arizona, followed by McCarthy on Saturday and Kenta Maeda on Sunday. After a travel day on Monday, Scott Kazmir will throw in the opener at Washington on Tuesday, with Ryu scheduled to start on Wednesday.

Kershaw has been knee-deep in rehab work, and although he does have a firm return date in mind, he was reluctant to reveal the target to the media just to prevent any type of controversy if he so happens to beat it or miss it.

Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts has suggested that Kershaw could possibly skip the usually mandatory rehab starts on the farm, so the general feeling right now is that he should be back in about a week or two once the team heads out on the road Thursday. It is presumed that Kersh will slot into the spot of whoever is throwing the poorest at that particular time. It’s also worth mentioning that Norris appeared in 12 games in the Atlanta bullpen and was quite effective before returning to the rotation and subsequently being shipped to Los Angeles.

While the Dodgers have a bit of a lead in the Wild Card race right now, anything could happen in the next 71 games. The club may make a strong divisional run at the Giants, or it could fall out of the playoff race completely. Assuming that some type of birth in the postseason is clinched, and considering the personnel on the club at the present moment, management would probably run out Kershaw, Maeda and Kazmir for a five-game series, with McCarthy being used as a fourth possible option. When contemplating a conceivable playoff matchup against a staff like that of Washington, San Francisco, Chicago or New York, the aforementioned combination doesn’t seem appealing in the least. Remembering that the Dodgers threw both Kershaw and Zack Greinke in last year’s NLDS, any type of prospective rotation with the Dodgers’ current pitchers for this year playoffs would appear to be somewhat unfavorable.

When all the starters are healthy, including the returns of Wood and Anderson, the club would have about eight different starters to choose from in assembling a playoff rotation, yet outside of Kershaw and maybe Kenta Maeda on a very good day, there really aren’t many enticing options. Like we said many times before, although the Dodgers are very, very deep in many spots when healthy, the depth seems to be flooded with complete mediocrity when evaluating the talent.

Despite all of this, the Dodgers won their final three contests heading to the break, and have won a total of ten of their last fourteen games. Obviously, the focus is winning one game at a time on the road to September, but many fans are wondering if the front office will make a series of moves to assemble a competitive squad for the postseason, or hold on to the valuable resources they have and focus on making a stronger run next season.

Signs reflecting the direction of the team should be arriving withing the next two to three weeks. Fasten your seat belts and stay tuned — either a huge dose of excitement, or a big blast of more mediocrity and disappointment are certain to land in a clubhouse near you very soon.

 

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