(Photo Credit: Kelvin Kuo/AP)
Whenever the front office group of the Los Angeles Dodgers has been faced with any type of impactful decision facing the 25-man roster during the 2016 season, it’s very safe to say that the crew almost always takes the subtle approach, leaving no stones unturned while doing all the required homework; yet it sometimes seems as though their thinking is totally outside the box compared to the average fan’s typical perspective.
But when the club is mandated to hand in its playoff roster before the beginning of the NLDS in just two short weeks, several of the biggest choices of the year will be made in the team’s quest to advance to the later rounds of the postseason.
Without a doubt, the plan for the Dodgers’ playoff pitching rotation will headline the baseball blogosphere on the days leading up to the NLDS opener. Although there hasn’t been any direct announcement by management, it’s surely safe to assume that Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill will all share the spotlight. However, when considering the fourth spot in the playoff rotation, there’s such a large gray area, and a number of different pitchers may assume the spot, including the possibility of alternating options from series to series.
Technically, it’s certainly possible to field an NLDS roster with three starters. Whoever starts the opener would simply return on short rest to start Game 4. Kershaw has done it on a few occasions in the past. But with the thought of Kersh’s recent back injury, along with Hill’s dreadful blister history and Maeda’s comfort with throwing on five days’ rest, the front office may decide to designate a long man or even a separate pitcher to start the fourth game.
So who will management choose?
Veteran lefty Brett Anderson was given a chance to stake his claim against the Rockies in the series opener, and is potentially lining up for another start next Wednesday in San Diego. Anderson did not factor into the decision in Thursday’s contest, but allowed four runs on six hits and a walk while striking out two in five innings of work. He made his return from a month-long absence due to a wrist sprain, allowing three runs during a second-inning rally before yielding a solo home run to DJ LeMahieu in his final inning.
Southpaw Scott Kazmir will also audition for the role in Friday’s contest, and after being one of the few stalwarts in the rotation for the first half of the season, probably deserves a look more than most of the others. Kazmir has a 4.59 ERA in 25 starts for the Dodgers this year, with 134 strikeouts and 52 walks in 135 innings of work. He last pitched on August 22 and was eventually diagnosed with thoracic spine inflammation. He threw 60 pitches in his last sim game, and is expected to go for about 90 or so on Friday.
“Kaz feels good and he’s in a good place. We have to see what we have with him. He’s a guy we have high expectations for, and we have all season,” skipper Dave Roberts said. “It’s been a tough year for him, but where he’s at we’re confident he can regain his form and pitch well for us.”
Roberts indicated that Jose De Leon and Brock Stewart are still under consideration to start at some point down the stretch, as well as being included on the playoff roster. Our initial thought was that Ross Stripling would hold down the fourth spot, but a few relief appearances recently along with some hints from Roberts may suggest otherwise.
“What I like about Stripling, in either role, is his pitch mix. He has different weapons to get hitters out lefty or righty. He can throw a strike when he needs to,” Roberts explained.
Julio Urias could also be considered, despite already coming close to a predetermined innings limited and being bumped from the regular season rotation almost two weeks ago. In 17 appearances for the Dodgers this year which included 14 starts, Urias has tallied a 3.53 ERA with a 9.6 K/9 in 74 major league innings. Coupled with 45 innings at the Triple-A level, the 20-year-old youngster has now logged 119 innings this season. As far as raw talent is concerned, Urias may be the star of the group of contenders, and based on his gradual line of improvement over the course the season, could be in a good spot to throw well in the playoffs.
Whatever the case may be, there’s still nine games left on the schedule, as the front office crew will be afforded all the time they need to make the necessary critical decisions for all of the components of the 25-man roster. Please be sure to check back over the weekend as we plan on revealing our first rough draft of the playoff roster projections.