Julio Urias’ oddly quiet breakout year couldn’t have come at a better time

This year’s Dodger team seems to have no weakness. Having just clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and tying the franchise record for wins in a season, there are a lot of things that have broken the right way for the Dodgers this year. However, as is the nature of baseball, there have been some bumps in the road of this historic season. A lot of the uncertainty has stemmed from the rotation, because as good as they’ve been it’s also been inundated by IL stints that would’ve decimated most teams. And that is why the contribution of Julio Urias and the sense of certainty he has provided cannot be understated, though it largely seems to have flown under the national radar.

The seasons that guys like Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, and first-year Dodger Freddie Freeman have put together have been talked about all season long (and for good reason), but it’s Julio that has quietly put together one of the most important campaigns a Dodger pitcher has had in recent memory. Through all the turnover in the rotation this year, it has been Julio who has been a staple on the mound every fifth day.

As well as this season has turned out for the Dodgers, it could have gone a lot differently. The season started with the Dodgers boasting a rotation of Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Urias, Andrew Heaney, and Tony Gonsolin, but Buehler was lost for the season after only 12 starts, and every pitcher listed in the initial starting rotation has missed significant time sans Julio, who has been Mr. Consistency.

Urias has brought an element of steadiness with 18 quality starts to date. He currently ranks in the top 10 of nearly every major statistical pitching category, including being the National League leader in ERA. More importantly for the Dodgers, he has started 29 games, missing only two starts all year when he was hit with a comebacker in August. After conquering his shoulder issues, Julio has been the picture of health this season and has anchored the Dodger rotation to the tune of a 2.25 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 8.6 SO/9.

Following his blowup outing against the Cubs back in July where he gave up five runs in two innings, Urias was written off as a Cy Young contender by people around the league and even many Dodger fans. There was an aura floating around that it was a two-horse race between Sandy Alcantara and maybe Gonsolin. But that day actually became a turning point in the season, as since that outing Urias has posted an incredible 1.33 ERA, 0.82 WHIP with 71 strikeouts across 74.1 innings. Meanwhile, the pitchers thought to be ahead of him have struggled. Over the same time frame, Alcantara has not been as dominant (3.19 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 88 strikeouts over 90.1 innings) and Gonsolin has missed significant time. This race was thought to have been locked up, but ESPN’s prediction method currently has Urias as the favorite for the Cy Young Award.

To some extent it’s a bit confusing then that Urias has been putting together the his stellar year so quietly, as he’s been at or near the top of ERA leaders all season while doing it on a team that has been in the spotlight all year. His stuff is not flashy, but he consistently gets guys out. Yet he wasn’t even an All-Star, and due to the innings gap between him and Alcantara, Urias doesn’t even seem to get real consideration for the Cy Young either.

Admittedly, there’s certainly something to be said for the innings argument in favor of Alcantara, but these are also two pitchers are in very different situations. The Dodgers are a lot more careful of how many innings Urias throws during the season than the Marlins are with Alcantara because Julio will be closing that innings gap when he is pitching in October.

The Dodgers and Julio have their eyes set on the ultimate goal of a World Series title. While it would be very nice for Julio to get the recognition he rightfully deserves, the Dodgers desperately need him to continue his dominance once the playoffs start, and they’re doing everything to ensure that happens because they need him healthy. As it stands, the Dodgers’ postseason rotation looks very dicey due to the aforementioned injury issues with the rotation. This is not meant to cause panic among the Dodger community, it’s just another reason to highlight the importance of Julio’s season.

Having Julio heading up the rotation and potentially getting the Game 1 start is a luxury the Dodgers are fortunate to have. It’s terrific timing that Urias has found the most success of his career this season when the Dodgers have needed him most. With the rest of the rotation having some questions associated with them, Julio will be called upon to be their ace in October. If he can continue to be a steadying force when he is handed the ball, the Dodgers will have an excellent chance to win their second World Series in the last three years.

About Shane Mittleman