It’s Aug. 9 and it feels entirely too early to be thinking about any part of the postseason roster. But when you look at the standings and see they’re clear of the second-place Diamondbacks by 18 games and clear of everyone else in the National League by nine games, I think it’s OK.
After failing to land a big-name reliever at the trade deadline (apologies to Adam Kolarek), the Dodgers have signaled to the rest of the NL and baseball that they’re relying on internal options to strengthen what has been the weakest part of the best team in baseball.
This isn’t an especially new tactic, as they’ve moved starting pitchers to the bullpen come playoff time in recent seasons, but the fact that some bullpen spots might be occupied by relatively unproven rookies could be a new wrinkle.
Let’s break this down.
For last year’s NLDS, the Dodgers carried 12 pitches — four starters and eight relievers. Three of the four starters are locks (barring anything unforeseen) — Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The fourth spot could go to a number of guys. Ideally, it’ll be Rich Hill, who comes back healthy from a flexor tendon strain. If not, that could open the door for Kenta Maeda or Ross Stripling to remain in the rotation. What would be incredibly interesting and intriguing is if one of the young bucks — Tony Gonsolin or Dustin May — earned/claimed that fourth spot. Of the four non-Hill options, I might go with May because he has the stuff, makeup and potential to be more of a difference-maker than Maeda or Stripling. Also, Maeda fits better as a reliever than any current starting pitcher.
Let’s look at the surefire bullpen locks.
No arguments, yes? While Urias is scheduled to move to the rotation following this season, he’s going to spend the remainder of this season in the bullpen — a role that the Dodgers desperately need him to fill.
That leaves three remaining spots, if we’re going off last year’s model. Here are the candidates:
- JT Chargois
- Caleb Ferguson
- Dylan Floro
- Yimi Garcia
- Tony Gonsolin
- Adam Kolarek
- Casey Sadler
- Dennis Santana
- Josh Sborz
- Jaime Schultz
- Ross Stripling
There are a few easy dismissals here — Chargois, Garcia, Sadler and Schultz have almost no shot. You have to figure Kolarek is in because of his effectiveness against left-handed hitters. That leaves two spots for everyone else. Floro probably has the best claim to a spot because of his effectiveness over the last couple seasons, but he’s also a bit volatile (as all relievers are) and doesn’t miss as many bats as some other guys. If Ferguson could rediscover his 2018 form, he’d be a stone cold lock, but that doesn’t seem terribly likely at this point. Gonsolin is interesting because of his velocity, offspeed stuff and makeup. He has relief experience and has a chance to be a force out of the bullpen because of his swing-and-miss stuff. Stripling checks all the boxes: postseason experience, has pitched as a reliever, misses bats. For me, he’s in.
Santana is interesting. He has a high-spin fastball, which we know the Dodgers like. But, he has been nothing short of awful for Oklahoma City this season. He has pitched out of the bullpen twice in the last three days and has premium stuff, so the Dodgers might be looking at him for a bullpen audition some Sept. 1 (or earlier).
The TL;DR version: I’d give the final three spots to Gonsolin, Kolarek and Stripling. While it’d be nice to think Santana could be that guy, his performance this season has left a lot to be desired.
A sleeper — as mentioned by Future Dodgers on Twitter last night — is Victor Gonzalez. Gonzalez has been in the org since 2013 and has reinvented himself this season. He’s gone from Rancho Cucamonga (where I saw him sitting at 94 mph with a plus changeup) to Triple-A, where he has been great in a small sample. Overall, left-handed hitters have a .430 OPS against Gonzalez this season, and we know the Dodgers could use another competent lefty. We’ll see if he gets a look in September (he’s not on the 40-man). Here’s some video of him in action.
Victor Gonzalez has been magnificent since the beginning of July, tallying 16.2 IP between @TulsaDrillers and @okc_dodgers while generating 18 K/4 BB….with a 0.54 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. His K's are a thing of beauty 👇#Nasty #DodgersOnTheFarm pic.twitter.com/pUcMaSmoNn— Dodgers Player Development (@DodgerPlayerDev) August 9, 2019
For all the hand-wringing that went on after the Dodgers didn’t land Felipe Vazquez two Wednesdays ago, that projected bullpen doesn’t look too bad. It is asking a few guys to do things perhaps out of their comfort zones, but sometimes that’s what it takes to win a championship. Just look at what Nathan Eovaldi did last year with Boston and what Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton did in 2017 with Houston. Perhaps we’ll be referring to Gonsolin, Stripling and/or Urias (or maybe even May, if Hill is good to go) in that same manner.
This is subject to change, but things don’t look as bleak as they might initially appear.