The Dodgers have a 99.6 percent chance of making the playoffs. They have a 93.4 percent chance of winning the division. It’s a fair time to talk about the postseason rotation.
Five-plus weeks ago, the season itself was looking somewhat bleak, and the rotation was in shambles. Clayton Kershaw‘s rehab had been shut down, Rich Hill was still in Oakland and Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda were spearheading the rotation. Now Kershaw is set to make his return tomorrow, Hill is scheduled to start the day after, and Kenta will get the ball to close the series.
But what about the fourth starter?
Well, Kazmir came out of his Triple-A rehab start (ironically, a playoff game) after allowing three runs and retiring just two hitters.
During his rehab start tonight, Kazmir suffered a setback with his right neck/rib cage area. He's returning to LA for further evaluation
— Alanna Rizzo (@alannarizzo) September 8, 2016
Not that Kazmir was the best option to be the No. 4 starter in the playoffs, but I doubt he sees the mound the rest of the season and postseason. The injury doesn’t sound good and, quite frankly, the Dodgers have more productive pitchers than Kazmir already on the roster.
This also doesn’t mean Julio Urias will be in contention for a postseason rotation spot, either. He’s on an innings limit and will be shut down soon, as well he should be. It’s unfortunate, though, as he’s probably the Dodgers’ third- or fourth-best starting pitcher at present.
Despite Kazmir’s injury and Urias’ pending unavailability, things look solid up front.
Kershaw is set to pitch for the first time on Friday in Miami against Jose Fernandez. His rehab outing with Rancho Cucamonga was really good: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K. He said he felt good, and if he’s anything close to what he was before he hurt his back, the Dodgers are in good shape there.
While Hill has only made a couple starts for the Dodgers, they’ve been really good outings. He has yet to give up a run, allowed eight baserunners in 12 innings and struck out 11 hitters. Much Internet ink has been spilled by folks smarter than myself about Hill and his elite-level of pitching, which makes him a great No. 2 starter come October.
Maeda has been quite good in 2016 — underrated, even. Kenta actually leads the club in innings pitched, is striking out a quarter of the hitters he faces and has limited the damage that comes with issuing walks, so he makes sense to be the No. 3 starter.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess who would get the ball in a playoff game. With Kazmir and Urias ruled out, who’s next? My choice would be for a healthy Brandon McCarthy, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be healthy and more like the pitcher he was in his first four outings rather than the pitcher he was in his last four. Ross Stripling has pitched admirably this season after being forced into the rotation, but this is his first full season since Tommy John surgery and he’s already at 107 innings on the season. He’s probably running on fumes, as evidenced by his sub-91 MPH average fastball velocity in his last two starts. That’s … concerning.
After McCarthy and Stripling, there is a veteran journeyman, a younger pitcher who was coming into his own before he — wait for it — got hurt, and a couple rookies.
Bud Norris has the Veteran Presents that managers like when it comes to postseason pitching, but aside from solid strikeout rate, he has been quite bad. He should be ruled out for the rotation, if not the entire postseason roster.
Alex Wood would be a great addition to the rotation. He was pitching more like his Atlanta days before getting hurt, but it has already been stated he’s coming back as a relief option, which is good news for the bullpen, but not so much for the rotation.
Brock Stewart and Jose De Leon are on opposite ends of this. Stewart, who has pitched well in his last two starts, is at 143 innings overall on the season. Despite being an older prospect at 24, he probably doesn’t have a ton of innings left in the tank (although, he averaged 93.2 MPH on his fastball Wednesday night).
De Leon is an interesting case. Since he missed so much time early on, his innings count is down. However, he has made just one start and it’d be crazy to count on him to be anything in the playoffs, right? Not so fast.
Sure, his start was against the Padres and he threw four non-fastballs/changeups, but this comes down to the numbers (innings) and the quality of pitcher available. He’s the best pitching prospect in the system, has the confidence and poise to handle such an assignment, and teams might be caught off guard in terms of scouting. Yes, there are scouting reports on De Leon, but actually seeing a pitcher for the first time — especially in October — can be beneficial to the young pitcher and team. Of course, with any proposition like this, it also has the potential to blow up in the Dodgers face, but this is the reality this team is faced with right now.
We’ve reached the point when De Leon is a legitimate postseason rotation option in a 7-game series. That is almost unbelievable. I didn’t think he’d debut this season, mostly because of the roster crunch, but the Dodgers found a way to get him on the roster and it might end up paying off. Then again, it remains to be seen how he handles any future starts before declaring whether he’s postseason-rotation worthy.
Much like the last three seasons, it’s Kershaw, his “1B” and everyone else. Here’s hoping Clayton is the pitcher he’s capable of being and Hill’s blister doesn’t flare up again this season, because if those two don’t perform up to their abilities, it doesn’t matter who the No. 3 or 4 starter is in the postseason.