(Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
If there’s one department that has been inconsistently consistent for the Dodgers over the course of the 2016 season, it’s undoubtedly the starting pitching rotation.
It was only towards the end of last winter, just shortly after the club signed Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda, that many fans were calling for a trade of Alex Wood because of the rotation being overcrowded. Resident ace Clayton Kershaw would be the headliner while southpaw Brett Anderson brought up the rear. Sandwiched in between would be Kazmir and Maeda, along with lefty Hyun-jin Ryu, who, at the time, was throwing well and poised to join the rotation by Opening Day.
Then there was an entire slew of secondary starters. Right-handers Zach Lee, Mike Bolsinger and Brandon Beachy were determined to climb the depth chart, in addition to Carlos Frias waiting in the wings as a highly valued swing man. And even looking towards the middle of the season, Brandon McCarthy would be set to return at some point, along with the potential emergence of triple-digit flamethrower Frankie Montas.
The stars were in perfect alignment — at least as far as starting pitching depth and talent were considered.
Further down the organizational ladder were the kids. Julio Urias, the prized-possession of the farm system, would be monitored closely in Triple-A in perhaps his final season on an innings limit. Second in the prospect rankings was Jose De Leon, who many thought could make his big league debut before Urías. Ross Stripling was fresh off more than a year of recovery from Tommy John surgery, while a converted middle infielder named Brock Stewart was just learning how to throw a slider at the High-A level.
Nobody had even a clue as to how things would play out. Things were almost approaching the panic level when the front office gave Nick Tepesch a shot to start in the bigs, while later sacrificing a few top quality relief arms to acquire the services of one David “Bud” Norris.
In the present moment, it’s very difficult for a fan of the Dodgers to realize just how incredible of a season 2016 has become. For a group that was widely considered underachievers for most of the first half, much praise from the pundits has arrived in the second half of the season, as the team presently has quite often been referred to as overachievers. The number of injuries alone may stand in the record books for many years to come. Removed from the rotation picture are a group of veteran pitchers who were believed to have the tools to lead the club to a fourth-straight divisional title, only to open the door for a handful of rookies just getting their feet wet at the big league ranks.
Maeda, who conceivably could be the hero of the entire staff, isn’t considered a newcomer to the professional level by any means, but is still considered a rookie by MLB standards. Fresh off his 14th win of the season on Monday night, Maeda would probably be considered a front-runner for National League Rookie of the Year if it wasn’t for some kid called Seager wowing the whole baseball world.
It truly is a fantastic story. Maeda leads the team with 27 starts on the year after being shunned by a large number of clubs as a free agent in the offseason with what was believed to be a suspect medical history. On top of that, Stripling and the 20-year-old Urias are fourth and fifth on the club in regards to starts, having logged 13 apiece. And the scouting directors have trusted the stuff of Stewart and De Leon enough to afford both the rookie righties opportunities to make valuable contributions as well.
It certainly is a remarkable time to be in a position to write about the Dodgers. As we have seen from the onset of the season, the home stretch of the current campaign will likely have its own surprising conclusion. Yet possibly the most amazing point of all is regardless of how this masterpiece of a novel reads out over the final chapters of the year, 2017 and beyond are shaping up to be even better.