Dodgers Are Starting to Have a Good Pitching Problem (Again)

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 24: Hyun-Jin Ryu
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 24: Hyun-Jin Ryu /

We knew the Dodgers had pitching depth, and earlier in the season it was hard to find starts for everyone. It’s starting to become even more challenging.

When healthy, the Dodgers have seven capable starters, maybe even nine depending on how you view Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart. But they aren’t fully healthy right now, so the current rotation figures to be Yu Darvish, Alex Wood, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda.

Those last two names are key because they are starting to give Dave Roberts things to think about once Clayton Kershaw, and maybe even Brandon McCarthy, return. With Los Angeles expected to go to a four-man rotation of Kershaw, Darvish, Hill and Wood come October, neither Ryu or Maeda, health permitting, will be starting a playoff game.

But October is still two months away, and Dave Roberts will have a problem soon once Kershaw and/or McCarthy return. Who will they kick out of the rotation? Will they go back to their notorious DL dance? Do Kenta and Hyun-Jin even deserve to be slotted out in favor of McCarthy?

The answer to the last question is “definitely not.” Before going on the DL, McCarthy was trending downwards during his last two starts. He gave up ten runs, 16 hits and three walks in just 8.2 innings. To be fair, he had been exceeding expectations all season before those two starts with a healthy 3,12 ERA. However, the two bumps have caused it to inflate to 3.84.

Because of this, it’s only fair that we give him the benefit of the doubt and let him course correct because he had been great for LA up until then. However, with the way Ryu and Maeda are throwing the ball, Roberts should not, in theory, pull them in favor of him, so it makes for a tough choice.

In Ryu’s last five starts he has a 2.60 ERA and is coming off his best start in a long time. He went seven scoreless and allowed just five hits and a walk against the hated San Francisco Giants. He was under the spotlight of Sunday Night Baseball and matched Madison Bumgarner, one of the best around, pitch for pitch.

He’s seen his ERA drop from 4.42 to a more respectable 3.83 during this stretch. You may be frustrated with him at times but don’t forget that in his first two seasons here (2013 & 2014) he sported a 3.16 ERA across 344 innings and was the perfect number three starter behind Kershaw and Zack Greinke before injuries hit him in 2015 and 2016. And he’s given up just five runs in 16 postseason innings (2.81 ERA), so if he returns to peak form, the Dodgers could possibly have five capable starters for the playoffs.

And Kenta? Since being reinserted back into the rotation on June 27, he’s posted a 2.20 ERA in six starts and is coming off his best outing of the season as well. He went to a hitter-friendly park in Atlanta and threw seven shutout innings while allowing just two hits and a walk. His ERA has dropped to a respectable 3.79 over the past month.

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And just like Ryu, don’t forget that he was a dependable Dodgers starter as a rookie last season before wearing down in the playoffs.

So, it’s not like this is a fluky streak from either. They’ve proven to be quality middle-of-the-rotation arms that happen to be the fifth and sixth starters for the best team in baseball. It was a treat to see them both go seven innings in their most recent starts and I expect them to build off that.

If they keep dealing like this, Dave Roberts might have to consider going to a six-man rotation to give both guys their innings while simultaneously giving extra rest to his top four. At the same time, a six-man rotation would be best for Ryu and Maeda because they perform best on extra rest.

Putting one of them back into the bullpen won’t help because starters are creatures of habits and shifting them from that routine can affect them for the worst, both physically and mentally (especially when they’re throwing the ball this well). It’s a problem to look at, but a good one.

Next: Gonzo Might Have Something Left in the Tank

What’s better than two elite and two great starters? Two quality ones added on at the end.