With all the chatter lately about the playoffs and the Dodgers, you’d never know that the beginning of the 2019 NLDS is more than four weeks away.
Yet, with the way the standings and the remainder of the regular season schedule are playing out, there’s not much else to talk about, aside from which players are hot and who’s not at the moment.
As far as the playoffs go, one thing we briefly touched upon last week was the potential return of veteran starter Rich Hill. Both Dave Roberts and Andrew Friedman have already stated there’s a good possibility that the lefty has plenty of time to stretch out his arm before the beginning of the postseason, conceivably allowing him to contribute as the fourth starter in the playoffs, whenever the club should need him.
But, what happens if Hill isn’t ready?
Three possibilities exist—Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and Kenta Maeda. There could be more if you throw Ross Stripling or Julio Urias into the equation, but it appears that the team has no intentions of sliding either Strip or Julio into roles that will permit them to stretch themselves out properly.
The Dodgers seem content on moving Maeda back into a relief role once the playoffs commence, if not before. Roberts went on record more than two weeks ago saying that “there’s a good chance” Kenta will contribute as a reliever in the postseason, similar to what he has done in years past.
On top of that, the way Gonsolin has been throwing, a relief role could be his best chance of contributing to the team in the playoffs. Like Maeda, Gonsolin has been lights out lately the first few times through the opposition’s order. After that, he has a tendency to fatigue or become ineffective during the middle innings.
In Friday night’s game against the Diamondbacks, Gonsolin threw extremely well through five innings—he didn’t even surrender a hit until the fourth frame. In the sixth, going deeper and deeper into counts, it appeared as if he ran out of gas completely when two runs crossed the plate even before an out was recorded.
Similarly, in his August 24 start, Gonsolin did not allow the Yankees to get on the board until the fourth inning when Aaron Judge crushed a ball over the center field wall.
Before his MLB debut in June, multiple times we spoke about Gonsolin’s propensity for success out of the bullpen.
“He’s another one of those pitchers who could conceivably have more value as a reliever down the road, but management is still grooming him as a starter to maximize his worth. During his career, the righty has touched triple digits multiple times, but those cases occurred when he was throwing in relief. In a starting role, his four-seam usually settles into the 94-97 MPH range.
“It just might be Gonsolin’s diverse repertoire that keeps him in line as a starting pitcher, so long as he can maintain his command.”
According to MLB Pipeline‘s scouting report, “Gonsolin’s upper-80s splitter devastates hitters with the way it dives at the plate, and his low-80s curveball has become a consistent plus offering with nice shape. He also uses a mid-80s slider to give hitters a different look.”
Still, that doesn’t mean that he won’t have success as a starter—even in the 2019 playoffs. Anything can happen, especially if there’s a holdup in Hill’s rehabilitation.
Nonetheless, that leaves May, who had a rough outing in his initial appearance as a reliever against the Braves in that same August 18 game, still in the picture as a possible playoff starter.
While there’s definitely plenty of time over the next month to sort out all the possibilities, each performance by Maeda, Gonsolin, May and even Hill will count towards determining their roles for the upcoming postseason.
Stay tuned tomorrow as we plan to start a discussion surrounding the prospective foundations of a playoff bullpen.