Considering what a mess the Dodger bullpen was a month ago, seemingly undermining every strong effort the starting pitchers made, you might be surprised to see the Los Angeles pitching staff has coalesced more than a little bit. The relief corps still won’t frighten any opponents (yet), but there is some order in the court.
Honestly, this staff can do the job in a vacuum — the question will be, can it do the job in a tornado?
The front four (4)
Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu: Ryu’s return from the disabled list has been a success, with a 2.67 ERA in six starts. Because he’s also the Dodger pitcher least suited for relief, he seems to have cemented a spot in among the first four in the Dodger starting rotation.
Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling, Alex Wood: Maeda is a swingman in name only — there isn’t really a scenario where he starts a game for the Dodgers in 2018, unless they detour to the strategy of using an opener. The more interesting developments are with Wood and Stripling. Wood is still part of the rotation — no one, in fact, has made more starts or thrown more innings for the Dodgers this year — but his spot looks more tenuous after his disastrous outing Monday at Cincinnati, the worst start by a Dodger pitcher this season, and the delay of his next outing by at least a day.
Stripling pitched effectively for 3 1/3 innings Wednesday, and is barely a month removed from being in the rotation himself. The Dodgers seem to be back to tinkering with a six-man rotation, but it also wouldn’t shock to see Wood and Stripling form a tag team over the remainder of the regular season. If the Dodgers make the playoffs, all three of these guys figure to be in the bullpen.
Update at 2:05 p.m. The Dodgers just announced that Stripling would remain in the rotation, starting Sunday, while Wood would go to the bullpen.
The closer (1):
Kenley Jansen: Jansen actually hasn’t had a save opportunity since September 1, but the Dodgers will ultimately still live and die with him at the end.
Get the lefties out (1):
Zac Rosscup: His emergence since being picked up off waivers in mid-July has been most unlikely, but over the past month, Rosscup has faced 24 batters and has allowed only three singles and a walk — while striking out 13. Unless Tony Cingrani, who hasn’t pitched since June 6, makes a late move off the disabled list, the 30-year-old Rosscup is the left-handed specialist.
The set-up men (4):
Scott Alexander, Pedro Báez, Caleb Ferguson, Dylan Floro: Since the well-publicized bullpen meltdowns of August, this unit has stabilized, with Alexander, Báez and Floro each holding opponents to a sub-.500 OPS. That’s not to say any of them are reliably dominant, particularly in games when the Dodgers can’t afford to allow a single run. But, right now, these are the guys — yes, even Báez. Ferguson also seems to belong in that group, though his September stats (18 batters, nine baserunners, two homers) don’t back it up.
That’s 13 men right there — the top candidates for meaningful action during the stretch run, as well as for a 12-man pitching staff if the Dodgers make the playoffs.
But what about? (6)
John Axford, JT Chargois, Josh Fields, Daniel Hudson, Ryan Madson, Julio Urías: Fields has made four appearances in September after missing two months, and is making progress. He might be first in line if any of the aforementioned set-up men blow up over the final two weeks (and, really, what are the odds that none will?) In a showdown between Báez or Ferguson and Fields, it could still be Fields that wins.
Ostensibly, the 38-year-old Madson is healthy, but so far as a Dodger, opponents are 8 for 17 with a walk and a sacrifice fly against him. Though six of his 10 outs have been strikeouts, he still has quite a bit to prove. Madson hasn’t pitched a full scoreless inning since August 7.
It’s getting very late for Urías to become a factor, especially considering he didn’t get into Wednesday’s 8-1 romp on two days’ rest. If he’s essentially a relief pitcher on a starter’s schedule, he’s not relevant in 2018. But for now, he remains ahead of Axford, Chargois and Hudson — pitchers who remain on the disabled list with 16 games to go in the regular season, but haven’t been ruled out for the year.
No, really, what about? (1)
Pat Venditte: A unique combination of sideshow and afterthought this year, the ambidextrous Venditte — no lie — had more callups for the Dodgers (seven) than games pitched (five) through the third week of August. But on August 24, Los Angeles used him in an 11-1 blowout victory, and starting that night, he (like Rosscup) has allowed only four of 24 batters to reach base. Still, Venditte has only five strikeouts in that time, and he hasn’t entered a major-league game since May with the score margin less than three runs. He’s there, but it still might be surprising to see him entrusted in a big moment that wasn’t extra innings.