With reinforcements incoming – Los Angeles Dodgers entering ‘Terminator’ mode
The Los Angeles Dodgers have gone into Terminator mode and it might be scary to even consider, but they are about to get deeper and better with pitching reinforcements.
We’ll get to the latter in a second. First, where were we? Oh yeah, Terminator.
With yet another seemingly easy win over a team in playoff position on Tuesday night (10-3 over the Twins), here’s the checklist of Dodgers’ superlatives right now:
- They have the best record in baseball at 76-33.
- That’s a pace to win 113 games, which would set the franchise record by a decent margin (last year’s 106 wins are tied for the most Dodgers wins in a season with 2019; previously the 105 wins from the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers was the record).
- They have a 16-game lead in the NL West, easily the largest divisional lead.
- The current winning streak is nine.
- They are 16-3 since the All-Star break.
- They’ve won 31 of their last 36 games.
Good grief, Dodgers, we get it. You are awesome at baseball.
Of course, they are in the both enviable and unfortunate position where the regular season doesn’t much matter, as discussed in this week’s MLB Power Rankings. Whether 2022 is a success or failure entirely comes down to how the Dodgers perform in October (and early November). Remember, manager Dave Roberts guaranteed they’d win it all back in March. The funny thing is, it wasn’t even that big of a story. Of course they believe they’ll win the World Series. It would be a negative if they didn’t.
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Speaking of negatives, they must have at least one, right? It’s entirely plausible something could derail them in the playoffs, much in the same way they lost in the NLCS in 2021 and the NLDS in 2019. In looking at the roster, I immediately zeroed in on the late innings.
The closer is Craig Kimbrel. He’s converted 20 of his 23 save chances. The Dodgers as a team have only blown 11 saves. Only three teams have fewer and one of those (the Tigers) rarely has leads to blow.
This is to say that on the surface level, it doesn’t really feel like there’s a problem. Maybe there isn’t. It’s just that Kimbrel seems incapable of a clean inning. In 39 innings this season, he has given up 41 hits, 17 walks and two hit batsmen. His 1.49 WHIP is awful for a closer. He allows an opposing batting average of .261, which is 18 points higher than the league average. The .339 on-percentage he gives up is 27 points higher than the league average.
The eye test lines up here. Hell, if anything, it’s worse. The majority of the time, it seems like he has no idea where his pitches are going to end up and it’s akin to pulling teeth just to throw strikes and record outs.
I’ve found myself thinking that even though the Dodgers are going to win 110-plus games, their season is going to end in the middle of October with Kimbrel on the mound and an inferior team celebrating. After all, running the gauntlet of playoff teams with a questionable closer is much more difficult than surviving regular-season games.
On the other hand, the Dodgers have plenty in their favor right now. First off, there are still eight weeks left in the season for the Dodgers to work on the late innings — and, to reiterate, they don’t exactly have a blown-save problem. Secondly, there are some serious pitching reinforcements on the way.
- Remember Dustin May? The 6-foot-6 power righty with the bushy red hair and beard, right? He needed Tommy John surgery last May, but he’s nearly back to the rotation. He’s now made five rehab starts, including four with Triple-A Oklahoma City in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. And he has a 1.69 ERA with 26 strikeouts against five walks in 16 innings. He threw 68 pitches in his five innings Tuesday, allowing a run (a solo homer) on three hits while striking out eight. I know I was talking about the bullpen above, but May sliding back into the rotation helps the pitching depth as a whole and it’s all pieces of a big puzzle. Plus, May would give them five healthy starters (along with Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin, Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney) when it’s possible they’d get Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler back before the playoffs. They only need four starters for the playoffs, so any excess here can be used to bolster the bullpen.
- Blake Treinen is on his way back from shoulder discomfort. He’s only thrown three innings this season, but he was stellar in a full 2021 season. He’s thrown to live batters within the last week with the Dodgers and will head out on a rehab assignment starting Friday. A September return is likely, barring any setbacks.
- Righty Brusdar Graterol, 23, has an electric arm and could figure as a late-inning fireman in the playoffs. He’s also been out with a shoulder injury and is slated to join Treinen on a rehab assignment with Oklahoma City starting on Friday.
- Right-hander Tommy Kahnle has flashed big upside for both the White Sox and Yankees in the past. He’s essentially been hurt since 2019 and is fighting his way back from a forearm injury. He’s now thrown three bullpen sessions, working his way up to 25 pitches last Friday. He could return in September as well.
- Lefty Danny Duffy could make rehab assignments later this month and return in September.
- Buehler, of course, is the huge name here. The plan all along has been an MRI on his elbow in early September. He might be out for the season, but he could also come back in late September. They could stretch him out as a starter, or look to use him in short relief. Regardless, his presence only makes them better and certainly beefs up the depth.
At the very least, the Dodgers are going to get May, Graterol and Treinen back. They could also add Kahnle, Duffy, Buehler and Kershaw. We’re talking about the pitching staff with the best ERA in the majors getting more than a handful of needle-moving arms back.
Also, let’s sing the praises of Evan Phillips. The 27-year-old right-hander has a 1.43 ERA, 2.29 FIP, 0.82 WHIP and 52 strikeouts against 11 unintentional walks in 44 innings. He’s held opposing hitters to a paltry .160/.229/.227 slash. He’s stranded 16 of the 19 runners he’s inherited. He’s gotten better as the season has worn on. In his last 27 appearances, Phillips has allowed just one earned run on 11 hits in 26 innings while striking out 30.
Even if we tossed Kimbrel aside, it’s not difficult to envision a lock-down bullpen in the playoffs behind Phillips, Graterol, Treinen and, say, May and Buehler.
We all know the phrase, “embarrassment of riches” and that’s the case here. The Dodgers have the best offense in the NL and arguably in baseball. They’ve pitched like one of the best staffs in baseball despite a good number of serious injuries and a closer with baserunner issues. They are set to get back a handful of top-shelf arms before the playoffs, too.
Terminator mode? Yeah, I’d say so. They won’t be unbeatable, but it’ll be an awfully tall order to take them out.
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