Even with nine games remaining on the regular season schedule, the Dodgers still have plenty of work to do before they begin preparing for any type of playoff appearance. Still, the club is experiencing success in just about all aspects of play right now, but lately, it’s been the starting pitching that’s been the most effective and dominant.
Last year’s playoff rotation consisted of the primary trio of Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish and Rich Hill, with Alex Wood as the fourth. At that point in time, Hyun-Jin Ryu was just beginning to get healthy, yet he was still overlooked for a spot on the 2017 playoff roster. Darvish was having all sorts of problems—one game he would tip every single pitch he was throwing and the next his mechanics would be a pure mess. In turn, the opposing teams who did their homework on Darvish found no problem with capitalizing on his weaknesses. Kershaw was the leader of the crew, and Hill was his typical inconsistent self, having only surrendered five earned runs in four outings; but he didn’t last more than five innings of any of the four starts he made.
After Game 7, many folks argued that it was the starting pitching—especially the presence of Darvish—was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Los Angeles.
The 2018 version, however, is a different story. Kershaw is still Kershaw, albeit with a slightly slower heater. Ryu is pitching the best baseball of his life—whether or not the fact that he’s in his walk year has anything to do with it is anybody’s guess. But the biggest difference is the presence of one Walker Buehler, who, like it or not, may emerge as the club’s new ace at some point during his 2019 campaign.
Through 21 starts and 124-2/3 innings pitched this season, Buehler has a 2.74 ERA, a 0.979 WHIP, a 10.3 K/9 and a 3.0 WAR. Although he had a similar strikeout rate, Darvish had a 3.86 ERA, a 1.163 WHIP and a 0.6 WAR for his 2017 regular season campaign. I think it’s safe to say that Buehler is miles ahead of where Darvish was last year, and the beauty of it is that Buehler seems to be getting better every single time he takes the mound.
A little over a week ago, I put together a quick story ranking the arms in the Dodgers’ current starting five. I had Kershaw as the No. 1, Buehler as the two and Ryu as the No. 3—and I’m still sticking to that ranking. As good as Buehler’s been, Kersh is still the ace of this team right now, and he certainly deserves to be the primary option if the team does indeed make a playoff push this year.
Currently, many pundits have the Cubs as the favorites to run the gamut in the National League playoffs, but I’m not so sure they have the better rotation, at least when it comes to their Top 3. One would guess the Chicago big three is Jon Lester, Cole Hamels and Kyle Hendricks (with Jose Quintana waiting in the wings); but every single member of that particular trio has an ERA above 3.40 for the season. Hamels has a 2.42 ERA since arriving in Chicago, but he has a 3.90 mark for the year and a 5.18 mark for the month of September.
As far as the Dodgers go, nobody in the group of Kershaw, Buehler and Ryu has an ERA above Buehler’s mark of 2.74. As a matter of fact, Kersh has a mark of 2.45 and Ryu has a ridiculous figure of 2.18. What’s even more impressive is that Ryu has given up just two earned runs over his last four starts. On paper, the Dodgers seem to have the Cubs—and everybody else, for that matter—beat, at least in terms of the Top 3.
While it’s a bit foolish to look ahead, it’s probably safe to say that the Dodgers match-up with the best clubs in the NL when it comes to starting pitching. Not many clubs who will be around for the postseason can make that same claim, as they will need to depend on other aspects of their games to find success.
For the Dodgers, though, their bullpen and their anemic offense are completely different stories.