As fans of the Dodgers, we’re often spoiled as far as perennial playoff appearances go. Los Angeles has made the postseason for eight years straight. 2021 will be no different, although we’re still not sure whether the team will need to advance past a one-game Wild Card.
We must drift back to the 2012 season to find the last year the Dodgers didn’t clinch a spot.
2012 was the season when Don Mattingly steered his club to a mediocre 86-76 record, landing in second place to the Giants in the NL West, who eventually went on to win the World Series.
Regardless, for most of the past eight years, the playoff rosters varied greatly from the Opening Day versions. Some changes are to be expected through major injuries and trades, but 2021 has certainly become a year where the roster looks tremendously different.
Over the course of the entire year, the team has employed more than 60 different players on the active roster.
I realize this post is mainly about the bullpen, but it’s worth taking a quick peek at the rotation, because it had major implications on the makeup of the relief crew all year long.
On Opening Day, this was how the starting rotation stacked up:
Obviously, May was lost for the season because of UCL surgery, and Bauer never came back after his assault allegations. And, as it turned out, Buehler is the only member of the current rotation not to have spent time on the injured list so far this year… knock on wood.
Here’s how the Opening Day relief crew was set up:
Nelson was lost for the season in early August. Alexander may very well be gone for the year after being transferred to the 60-day IL two weeks ago. Gonzalez is lost somewhere in the minors after being one of the team’s most reliable relievers last year.
Knebel, as we all know, made an incredible recovery to slide back into one of the team’s most important relief roles. As it turned out, Gonzalez and Alexander have essentially been swapped for Justin Bruihl and Alex Vesia.
Since his return, Knebel has thrown to a 2.51 ERA and a 1.206 WHIP, which are a bit substandard when considering his optimal performances earlier in the year. Still, Knebel remains one of the big three alongside Jansen and Treinen.
Bruihl, Vesia and the still-emerging Phil Bickford remain the big question marks for the playoffs, if solely for the reason of them approaching unchartered ground in their respective careers.
Bickford stands out because prior to the 51 appearances he made this year, the most he made in any other season was 23 across three levels back in 2016. That season was significant because 22 of those 23 appearances came in the form of starts, which resulted in 120 innings of work. Still, Bickford only threw 32 innings in 2019 after seeing virtually no action at all last year.
Heading into the playoffs, there’s a good chance the bullpen could stack up like this:
Should the club decide to go with nine or ten relievers (at least for a prospective Wild Card contest), the final few weeks of the regular season could be a huge audition for Bruihl, Shane Greene, Mitch White and Evan Phillips, with one or two starters being bumped back to the bullpen.
Whatever the case may be, it will certainly be interesting to watch the usage of the entire crew, as the team could be forced to overuse some of its best options amid a tight division race. Hopefully, there will be no resulting fatigue.