June 25, 2024

Why the Dodgers’ pitching plan won’t change for the MLB playoffs


LOS ANGELES – Circumstances called for a reassessment, but Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts wasn’t happy about it. Clayton Kershaw had put together the worst start to his illustrious careerfollowing a two-month period in which he was clearly limited by a bad left shoulder, but Roberts did not deviate from his plan.

Kershaw, Roberts said Saturday evening and repeated again Sunday morning, will make his next scheduled start against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 4 on Thursday, if this National League Division Series even gets there.

“In order for us to accomplish what we want this year,” Roberts said, “we need Clayton Kershaw to start baseball games.”

And therein lies the vulnerability of these Dodgers, a 100-win team that is anything but a juggernaut because of the uncertainty throughout its starting rotation.

The Dodgers entered the postseason with hope compensate for a glaring deficiency through unconventionality, using opening and bridge starters as well as a heavy dose of high-impact relievers to earn victories in October. It’s a volatile schedule born out of necessity, but its success depended on Kershaw delivering four to five quality innings on his starting days. That’s why the results of his outing in Game 1 on Saturday night – six runs allowed and one out recorded, making him just the fourth starting pitcher in postseason history with such a line – were so concerning.

Kershaw is the only man left from the Dodgers’ starting rotation this season. Dustin May And Tony Gonsolin underwent season-ending surgery; Noah Syndergaard fought hard before being relieved; Walker Buhler didn’t make it back from his second Tommy John surgery in time to help; Julio Urias went on administrative leave following allegations of domestic violence; and mid-season activities Justin Verlander And Eduardo Rodríguez fall through.

The Dodgers knew Kershaw would be limited in the postseason, but they expected him to be effective. On his When they returned from a six-week stint on the injured list in early August, they spread Kershaw’s starts out, shortening them to about five innings each. He performed well under these conditions, posting an ERA under 3.00 despite a fastball that mostly measured around 88 mph.

That, the Dodgers thought, would be enough for a pitching staff that would demand a lot from a foursome of rookies that included Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot, Emmet Sheehan And Michael Grove.

Now the Dodgers don’t know what to expect from their winningest pitcher.

Kershaw emphasized Saturday that his problems in Game 1 were not health-related. “Just bad pitching,” he said. Roberts noted that Kershaw’s stuff was relatively sharp; All 17 of Kershaw’s fastballs were between 90 and 91 mph. That’s cause for optimism, but also cause for concern given the damage done to him by an overly aggressive offense.

“I think that’s fair,” Roberts said when asked if it was more concerning that Kershaw was struggling despite an increase in speed. “I would still bet that stuff is good than that stuff is bad and not spicy. So now it’s all about how we attack these guys. It’s a game of adaptation. That’s it really. I still stand by the fact that he is healthy. That stuff.” played, and now we just need to make better pitches.

The Dodgers were celebrated for their regular-season performances as well as reprimanded for their postseason shortcomings, most notably their elimination from the division series by the Washington Nationals in 2019 and the San Diego Padres in 2022. Despite being considered one of the most successful franchises of this era, they have been frequently targeted fell short of expectations in October, a label that has followed Kershaw for most of his career. But the circumstances are completely different now. The Dodgers are noticeably shorthanded and the 35-year-old Kershaw doesn’t seem right.

A longtime scout who regularly watched Kershaw pitch said his team was “losing about a third” in the final two months of the regular season. The metrics support this. Stuff+ evaluates the physical properties of pitches based on, among other things, speed, spin rate, movement and release point, where 100 is the league average. Kershaw’s Stuff+ was 110 from 2021 to 2022. From April to July of this season, it was 108. From August to September, it was down to 83. In other words, 17% below the league average.

On Saturday, he combined that with center-cut fastballs and an inadequate feel for his breaking pitches.

The scout said, “Degraded stuff and poor location is a bad combination.”

Miller, the 24-year-old right-hander with electric skills but no postseason experience, will take the ball against Cy Young contenders Zac Gallen in Game 2 from Dodger Stadium on Monday night. Roberts said he “couldn’t even sit here and tell you what Game 3 looks like,” even though Pepiot and Lance Lynn Tag-teaming two-thirds of them is an option.

If the Dodgers win at least once after that, it’s back to Kershaw.

You don’t have much choice.

“There are certain people that get you here and they have to get you over the finish line,” Roberts said, “and that’s his role in our ball club.”

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