Normally when the pitching staff of the Dodgers gives up four runs over nine full innings, there’s no reason for concern, as the team’s potent offense is strong enough to cruise past such a deficit.
However, when the bats show up to a game quiet, four runs surrendered by a starting pitcher typically snowballs into criticism and concern about the upcoming postseason.
Indeed, the concern seems to be valid. In recent starts, Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw just haven’t been the same pitchers they were that led them to All-Star selections in the first half of the season. Hyun-Jin Ryu was skipped over on his last turn, hoping that a little rest would reignite his mojo which once drew him consideration for the NL Cy Young Award.
And, as far as the fourth starter goes, well, there really isn’t one.
Kersh has given up a whopping 28 home runs this season which puts him in a tie for the fourth-most in the National League, just four behind Yu Darvish, the NL’s worst at 32 surrendered. And, Kershaw’s first inning struggles have led to suggestions about assigning him a personal “opener,” so the three-time Cy Young Award winner can jump into the game in the second or third inning and cruise straight through the late frames.
CK has made 27 starts this season. Over his first 21 games, he carried a 12-2 record with a 2.63 ERA with 141 strikeouts over an even 137 innings of work. Opponents hit .218 against him. He surrendered 15 homers during that time.
Here’s the scary thing: Over his last six starts, Kersh has allowed 13 long balls with a .262 opponents batting average. In that same time frame, he has tallied a 3-3 record with a 5.24 ERA, meaning the squad’s mighty offense typically came through to pad his record with the extra few wins.
Many wonder if a full season has caught up with Kershaw, leaving some to ponder over how much firepower is left in the 31-year-old veteran’s tank.
Buehler has been a little more consistent, but there’s still a bit of a fall off. Through his first 22 games, the 25-year-old righty tallied a respectable 3.08 ERA. But, over his last seven games, he has posted a 3.83 ERA. Another concern for Buehler is the length of his outings, which may have been the reason skipper Dave Roberts stretched him out to six innings on Saturday night. During his last seven games, he has averaged right around 5-1/2 innings pitched after averaging nearly 6-1/3 for the season.
Strikeout pitchers like Buehler sometimes see their respective pitch counts escalate in a hurry, but 5-1/2 innings with a questionable middle-relief crew could pose a potential danger.
At the halfway mark of the year, Ryu didn’t just earn his way onto his first-ever All-Star squad, he was also selected to make the start. At that point in time, in 17 starts, he had a 10-2 record with a 1.73 ERA with 99 strikeouts over an even 109 innings of work—that’s an average of more than 6-1/2 effective innings per start.
Ryu was excellent in his last start against the Mets and Jacob deGrom on Sept 14, despite earning the no-decision, as his offense was not able to click with the bats. Ryu threw seven full shutout innings, allowing just two hits and no walks while striking out six.
Nevertheless, it was his four starts prior to that outing which caused most of the worry. Over those four games, Ryu threw exactly 19 innings, allowing 21 earned runs on a whopping 31 hits, giving him a 9.95 combined ERA in those contests.
Ryu’s 27 starts this year are the most he’s made since he was 26 years old in his rookie year back in 2013. Last season, he made just 15 regular season starts.
There’s been some speculation that the rotation order in the NLDS could be Buehler first, Ryu second and Kershaw third. The reasoning is that Buehler has been the most effective of the three lately and that Ryu has thrown much better at Dodger Stadium. In this scenario, Buehler would throw a prospective fifth game if there’s a need.
As 2019 could ultimately be remembered as the year of the Los Angeles offense, we all know how important pitching is in the playoffs and how critical it is for the entire rotation to be firing on all cylinders.
Especially if the bats decide to be a bit temperamental.