In order to win in October, teams need to have great pitching. It’s the tireless phrase we have heard time and time again by baseball analysts who always acknowledge the value of having dominant starters and a reliable bullpen. This may be the most overused line when it comes to playoff baseball, but it is very true.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are in a position to go on a deep playoff run that could see them play in their first World Series since 1988. We know the Dodgers have enough offense to help them secure a National League pennant with a star-studded lineup that seems to be peaking at the right time and producing more games in double digits.
The big concern for the boys in blue is can their pitching get them past their National League foes and into the World Series? It has been a roller coaster year for the Dodgers’ pitchers with inconsistencies in both the back end of the rotation and the bullpen.
In order for LA to play in the Fall Classic, they know they will have to rely on their starting pitching which features their version of a Big Three.
Ace Clayton Kershaw is having a memorable season boasting a 20-3 record, a 1.80 ERA, and will be the likely winner of his third Cy Young Award and a finalist for NL MVP. Right-hander Zack Greinke is having another terrific year in his second season with the Dodgers with a 16-8 record, a 2.74 ERA, and a 1.15 WHIP. South Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu has had a great sophomore campaign with a 14-7 record and a 3.38 ERA and is trying to come back from a shoulder injury in his throwing arm.
Veteran righty Dan Haren has emerged as the fourth starter for the Dodgers despite an up-and-down season. The 34-year-old currently has a 13-11 record and started off the season very well for LA in April and May before struggling in July and early August. However, he has bounced back and given the team more productive starts in the last two months. Haren has put them in a position to win when he is on the mound which is all you ask of a fourth starter.
The success of LA may hinge on their bullpen which has been shaky throughout the regular season. The main issue for the Dodgers is the consistency of their middle relievers and setup men who have struggled at times to get the ball to closer Kenley Jansen.
Jansen has been the best reliever for LA this year and has been dominant at times compiling 43 saves in 48 opportunities and a 2.84 ERA. However, finding stability in the setup role has been an on-going battle for Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.
Brian Wilson came into the season as the set-up man for the Dodgers after a re-establishing himself last year, but has struggled with a 4.82 ERA and 29 walks in 58 games. Brandon League has pitched better this season than he did in 2013 but he has still had rough outings where he puts himself into difficult jams.
Pedro Baez has been a nice surprise since being called up from the minor leagues and has gradually increased his role within the bullpen. However, Baez is still young and has not developed a secondary pitch to go along with his explosive 99 MPH fastball. Also, it could be too much to ask of him to get critical outs in an intense playoff atmosphere.
Left-handers JP Howell and Paco Rodriguez are the likely candidates to take the ball in the later innings for the team. Next to Jansen, Howell has been by far the most consistent reliever for LA with a 2.23 ERA and an opposing batting average of .181. He is capable of getting both left-handed and right-handed batters out because of his changeup.
Rodriguez has only appeared in 17 games this year spending most of the season in Triple-A and has recently dealt with a strained back muscle. However, he is showing that same steadiness he displayed in 2013 and the Dodgers could certainly use another situational lefty in their bullpen for the postseason run.
The Big Three of Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu will be tough to beat in any series, short or long. They could mask some of the issues in the bullpen by going deep into ball games. However, Mattingly knows in order to win, a team needs reliable relievers. At times, the Dodgers’ pen has been good; however, they have also struggled to maintain a strong level of efficiency and quality production.
The Dodgers may have enough pitching to reach the World Series, but will need this bullpen to step up and harness some of that October magic.