The Dodgers are crawling towards the finish line. As October approaches, Dave Roberts has a few decisions to make. He’s already moved Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu to the bullpen because the Dodgers already have four starters, but the East Asian duo can possibly make or break the Dodgers’ postseason.
When I say that, I don’t mean the Dodgers’ October run is completely dependent on them. That’s all on Clayton Kershaw of course. However, Maeda and Ryu could rescue a couple of games for LA in case their starters can’t go deep into games.
In 2016, the Dodgers were extremely short-handed in their starting rotation. As a result, Roberts was forced to rely on his bullpen, which he’d done all season long, too much.
The over-exposure in a long series ended up with the Dodgers unable to produce answers for opposing hitters. This year, the Dodgers have the fortune of going into the postseason with six, maybe seven capable starters.
Since it appears Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Rich Hill and Alex Wood will grab postseason starts, that leaves Maeda and Ryu to come out of the bullpen.
Out of the four starters, Kershaw is the only pitcher with significant experience and success in the playoffs. Darvish and Hill have the stuff to be a solid two and three, but their minimal experience isn’t good enough. They both have had a decent start each, but Hill’s other two starts ended in early losses, and Darvish was hammered for five runs in five innings in his other start.
Ironically, Hyun-Jin Ryu is the next-best pitcher in October with a 2.81 ERA in 16 innings spanning three starts. He’s shown glimpses of his pre-injury self throughout the season, but he’s not quite the same. His location is there but struggles to put hitters away at times. The ability to miss bats is essential in the modern postseason strategy.
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Kenta Maeda’s postseason story is a bad one. It was evident during September last season that he was suffering from fatigue since the Major League season is longer than the J-League.
By the time October rolled around, he had nothing to offer. He too, at times this year, showed glimpses of brilliance. However, he’s had a more rocky road than Ryu, flirting with perfection in one start and then giving up seven runs in three innings the next.
To re-write their stories, Maeda and Ryu can help the Dodgers in a way that may not seem significant when they do, but in the grand scheme will be the difference between falling short again and going all the way.
Let’s hope this doesn’t happen, but say one of the starters doesn’t last very long and gets in a jam in the third or fourth inning. Rather than throwing out a reliever per inning, Roberts has the option to throw another starter in there.
He may use one of the Tonies or Brandon Morrow to get out of the jam, but after that, he can use Maeda or Ryu for another three or four innings.
This allows Roberts to conceal and rest his bullpen. Last season demonstrated that exposure and information were vital to a postseason series win. The more the Dodgers’ bullpen is kept a mystery to opposing teams, the better.
Ryu and Maeda have experience coming out of the bullpen this year. They’re small sample sizes but good ones. Ryu’s gone four shutout innings to record his first career save. Maeda’s gone five innings in two appearances, also earning a save, and only giving up a run.
Depending on Roberts’ trust in them, they could also pitch in winning efforts, whether the Dodgers are up by one or five. Moral of the story is, Maeda and Ryu can be the x-factors this postseason.
In 2016, the Dodgers lacked pitchers who could go more than an inning. This season they have a handful who can save bullpen arms for when they are needed the most.