There is no one way to win in the playoffs. But there is one template that is usually idealized above all others.
Get a steady rotation with a pair of bona fide aces. Have a pair of dominant arms to drive the back of the bullpen. And have an opportunistic lineup with enough star power to withstand the grind of the postseason.
This year’s Dodgers team has eliminated the latter squared.
But when it comes to their pitching staff – both rotation and bullpen – they get a very different October blueprint.
Manager Dave Roberts knows this.
He acknowledged that after Julio Urías and Clayton Kershaw, the remainder of their playoff rotation is yet to be determined, with Tony Gonsolin’s lingering forearm pain causing the final uncertainty for a group that had already lost the starter on opening day.
Roberts has been non-committal about who will close out the games, still hoping for a few more injuries from an auxiliary corps that has battled its own share of injuries.
“I’m more encouraged with where it will be in a few weeks,” Roberts said when asked about the state of his team’s pitching staff. “I think there’s a chance in a few weeks we’ll be better than we are now.”
And yet he isn’t worried either.
On Wednesday afternoon, with the glow of last night’s win still on his smiling face, Roberts put an optimistic spin on his team’s pitching plans for the playoffs.
“Some kind of theme of our pitching staff, as we look out for, is that the sum is better than the individual parts,” Roberts said.
When asked if it matters — or if he’s concerned — that it might not be seen as the most prototypical path to get into the playoffs, Roberts shook his head.
“Not at all,” he said. “It’s about winning a baseball game, winning a series, avoiding runs, scoring runs. So however we can do that – whether it’s a little more creative or not normal, I don’t think we should worry about that. Neither do our players.”
Time will tell if Roberts and his front office bosses are right.
So far, the roster they’ve built has cut the regular season like a refined machine. .
“We’re putting another layer of emphasis on our depth,” general manager Brandon Gomes said Tuesday night of how the team approached its roster this season, standing next to Andrew Friedman, the president of baseball operations, in a champagne-soaked clubhouse. “It will be very helpful to lock down the division and set things up for the playoffs.”
But with the first game of a potential division series still four weeks away, questions continue to rise on the mound — uncertainties inevitable for even the best teams, but looming potential flaws that nonetheless threaten to derail the Dodgers’ pursuit. a second World Series title in three years.
Start the rotation: Urías is a Cy Young Award contender who has blossomed into the second half of the season, putting him on track to become the October ace of the Dodgers for the first time in his career. Kershaw was electric when he was healthy, and is hopeful that his aging will continue for another seven weeks.
After that, the picture is much less clear.
Part of the All-Star team, Tyler Anderson leads the Dodgers in innings, a low-risk offseason depth addition that helped prop up a staff that Walker Buehler lost to surgery to Tommy John.
Dustin May is inconsistent in his return from the Tommy John operation, but has some of the most electric stuff on the staff.
They appear to be the most likely candidates to fill the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the rotation. Still, Roberts was hesitant on Wednesday to bolster them in such roles.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Right now they are starting matches for us. I don’t want to put a number on those guys.”
Gonsolin had to play a part in this discussion, following his own All-Star caliber breakthrough this season.
But his recent forearm injury has yet to subside. Roberts said the right-hander had an “encouraging” bullpen session on Wednesday afternoon, but then also opened up the possibility that Gonsolin could be used in the bullpen for the playoffs if he can’t recover in time to restore rotational stamina. .
“Everything is on the table — as it should be,” Roberts said. “But it all depends on how he feels.”
The condition of the bullpen is also uncertain.
While Evan Phillips, Alex Vesia, Caleb Ferguson and Chris Martin have emerged as the core of the team’s leverage relievers in recent weeks, their situation at closer remains unstable after Craig Kimbrel’s last setback on Wednesday.
While they are also hoping for more reinforcements, Tommy Kahnle looked sharp on his return from the injured list on Wednesday, while Yency Almonte, Brusdar Graterol, Blake Treinen and David Price are also all expected to be healthy before the end of the game. season – they remain more confused on the back end than they expected as they stayed relatively quiet on the trade TBEN.
“Getting some guys back,” Roberts said, “is definitely part of figuring out how the puzzle works.”
The Dodgers are undoubtedly still in an enviable position. Unlike last year when Roberts admitted they were out of gas, especially on the hill, in an NLCS loss to the Atlanta Braves, this time they will avoid the wildcard round. They will almost certainly have a home advantage in October as well.
But they still don’t know how many innings they will get out of their starters, how many relievers will be at full strength, or who will be called up to make the last three outs.
“All those things will be explained and discussed,” Roberts said.
But it’s not until October that they find out if they have enough firepower on the hill.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.