Dodgers rotation has questions, but could dominate in playoffs

As the 2016 season has progressed, one of the few true narratives has been the disarray of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ starting rotation. They lost their anchor and perennial all-world candidate, Clayton Kershaw, for a large chunk of the year. Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, and Alex Wood have also dealt with their share of injuries.

The Dodgers traded for Bud Norris and Rich Hill while turning to rookies in Jose de Leon, Brock Stewart, and Julio Urias for stretches of the season. The only consistent hand in their rotation has been the first-year Japanese standout, Kenta Maeda. All of these factors combined to form the “Dodgers starting rotation is a big problem” narrative.

The playoffs are looming, and with each passing day it seems more definite that the Dodgers will be the National League West division champions. There may be validity to the idea that they have gotten to such a point in spite of their pitching. However, October is not May or June, and it would behoove people to take a closer look at the rotation the Dodgers will bring into the postseason.

It starts with their ace, the man whose stats remain as ludicrous as ever: Kershaw. The dominant lefty will bring with him a 1.89 ERA, an ERA+ of 206, a FIP of 1.72, and a WHIP of 0.750. All impressive numbers, but what impresses the most when it comes to the Dodgers’ kingpin is that he’s only walked one batter for every 16 that he struck out. It’s old hat to write, but yet again Kershaw is showing why he is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.

Rich Hill doesn’t have the pedigree of Kershaw, and it scares some to realize that it was only one year ago that he was pitching for the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League. But that was 2015. It’s now 2016, and Hill has done nothing but provide quality work since his return to Major League Baseball. Opponents are only hitting .181 against Hill while lefties are hitting a measly .163 with an OPS of .390(!).

In the 19 innings he’s pitched with the Dodgers, Hill has an incredible WHIP of 0.421. It’s a small sample size, sure, but his combined WHIP when adding in his time with the Oakland Athletics remains under one at a 0.958. The former Chicago Cubs farm hand has provided a much needed boost to a once maligned Dodgers rotation.

A 20-year-old left-handed hurler from Mexico, Julio Urias has had lofty expectations foisted upon him for some time now. In talking to Dodgers fans about Urias before the season started, he was their golden goose. In three minor league seasons, he had been everything the Dodgers wanted. He put up formidable stats and he worked on his repertoire to be more major league ready. It was only a matter of time. But then, the time came and Dodgers fans took pause; in his first month in the majors, Urias was battered to the tune of a 10.13 ERA and a 3.375 WHIP.

Injuries allowed the youngster to stick around, and while there was progression it appeared as if for every two steps forward he would take one step back. That is until August, when Urias posted a 1.99 ERA and held opponents to a .246 batting average against. The smooth throwing Urias is still young and still prone to mistakes, but the Dodgers have to be happy as me-with-a-piece-of-pecan-pie that he’s found his groove heading into the playoffs.

Maeda has been ‘Mr. Consistency’ in the Dodgers rotation this year. He doesn’t throw hard–his four-seam tops out at 91mph–but Maeda fits the label in how he works over hitters. He mainly relies on the aforementioned four-seam and a slider. He paints the left side of the plate with those pitches. The longer the game goes, the more he relies on them.

By the third time through the order, he throws his four-seam/slider combo 62% of the time. The former Hiroshima Carp standout carries his consistent ways into the results he gets. Righties are hitting just .216 against him this year, while lefties aren’t much better at .235. ‘Mr. Consistency’ keeps plugging away, doing the same things over and over again, with the same consistently good results.

It’s more than likely that these are the four men who will make up a Dodgers playoff rotation. It’s a scary quartet for sure, but there are some big caveats in place. While I’m less with Maeda, as he has considerable playoff experience with the Carp, how will Urias fare under the bright lights of the playoffs? Is Kershaw back to his regular self or will his back injury continue to cause problems? Can Rich Hill stay on the mound despite his continued blister issue? Can a rotation with only one consistent pitcher win in the postseason?

Those are valid questions that this group will have to answer, come playoff time. If the rotation is healthy and the other questions sort themselves out, the rest of the National League playoff teams may just have a Los Angeles nightmare on their hands.