Can Bud Norris and the cavalry save the Dodger season?

Depth replaces adequacy, it doesn’t replace brilliance.

Jon Weisman gives nine reasons why Dodger fans should not dispair.  As usual,  Jon hits the right notes but is the case convincing? Does it have to be? If you are a fan you should be a fan, even when the chips are down.

With Clayton Kershaw on the DL for what will be an extended period of time for the first time in his career,  the chips are certainly down.  The Dodger faithful could be excused for giving up on postseason aspirations but not on the team. The odds are long, they are after all six games back of the Giants with half a season already gone and that was with the best pitcher in baseball.  Jon talks about the wild card, and even though the Dodger lead the wild card,  it is very close with multiple teams, and none of them just lost their ace. The Pirates lost their ace a month ago and didn’t react well to it losing 12 of their next 18 games and basically dropping out of the wild card race, a race they led headed into June.

Can the rotation without Clayton fill the gigantic hole created by his absence?

The rest of the rotation hasn’t exactly been Drysdale/Osteen after Koufax, or Sutton/John after Messersmith, or Sutton/John/Rau/Rhoden after Hooten, or Ruess/Hooten after Fernando or Leary/Belcher after Orel.

The current rotation schedule looks like this and do try to stifle that smirk.

Bud Norris – making his first start, replacing Kershaw in the rotation. As noted Bud was good in June, but counting on Bud Norris to continue to be someone he’s rarely  been before is probably not a good idea. Bud has five straight starts in June with game scores > 50, with his best start of the year his last start of the year before being traded to the Dodgers.  That game was the fifth best in his career and it turned him into a Dodger. I know we are supposed to count on our scouting to make the best decisions, but it was only a year ago the scouts told the Dodger front office that Mat Latos would help the team after Mat put up solid starts in June/July of 2015 only to never pitch one good inning for the Dodgers. So yeah, I’m skeptical but also holding out hope that Fangraphs is right, that Bud Norris has tweaked himself just enough that a meaningful change has occurred.

Scott Kazmir – five starts in June with game scores ranging from 43 to 51. Never awful, never good.  His average of fifteen outs per outing in June won’t cut it going forward. That is OK for a nineteen-year-old, that is not OK for a 32-year-old getting 12.5 million in the first year of his three-year deal.

Julio Urias – this would be great if Urias was a year older or even two years older and all the inning limits had been lifted, but we know that Urias has a maximum of two more starts in the rotation, so he’s just a placeholder until after the all-star break.

Brock Stewart – great story, but unless Brock can go a full five innings without a meltdown, he’s probably just a placeholder for now.

Kenta Maeda – hasn’t quite been what we needed as far as working deep into games, but Kenta has been very good at suppressing runs in the innings he’s pitched.  Ranked as one of the top 20 pitchers in the National League, he’s now the defacto ace of the rotation until either Clayton returns or someone else steps up while Clayton is out.

That is the current rotation, a group of pitchers that are basically 15 out pitchers. That will destroy a bullpen faster than a Chapman fastball.

Can the cavalry help?

Ryu has been rehabbing for months now, but finally appears to be on the cusp of joining the rotation. If Ryu has no more setbacks, he is set to replace Julio Urias in the rotation after the all-star break.  I have no idea what to expect,  if you were to  get the historical Ryu, that would shock everyone and be a huge boost to the rotation. In 56 starts, Ryu has averaged 18 outs per outing.  Yet, he’s coming off of major surgery,  hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2014, and I’m skeptical that he can be effective enough to get 18 outs with any consistency this season.  Ryu could help, but at best, he’s simply going to replace Urias, not be any better, and at worst won’t stay in the rotation.

Brandon McCarthy is almost on the same pace as Ryu. The difference is that McCarthy is coming off of Tommy John surgery, not labrum surgery, and has missed only one year. McCarthy should be replacing Brock Stewart in the rotation after the all-star break, and since that rotation spot has been the bugaboo all season,  it does not take a lot of optimism to think that McCarthy can upgrade that spot.  How much is unclear. McCarthy himself has had a spotty career. The Dodgers signed him after his career season, but he lasted only four starts before needing TJ surgery.  We really have zero ideas what McCarthy can do for the team but it is doubtful that just one year after surgery that he can just glide right into the 2014 version.

Jose De Leon – if all things had gone right, Jose would have gotten the first call to the majors from the farm system, but Jose had health issues that shut him down at the start of the year. He’s back and pitching well, as he gets stretched out, Jose is certainly someone who could help in the rotation if anyone falters.  I’ve put him ahead of Wood because he’ll be ready before Wood.

Ross Stripling made the rotation and was shut down to keep his inning count down. Ross had TJ surgery several years ago and only threw 71 innings last year.  He’s pitching again, and should be stretched out in a few weeks if the Dodgers need someone.  Ross was adequate, and adequate is ok when asked to be the fifth starter. If he’s asked to be any more than that, that would be problematic.

Alex Wood was shut down a month ago for a  posterior impingement. He recently started a throwing program but was also put on the 60 day DL yesterday, which means he is definitely out for all of July.  If Wood can return, he would certainly help.

Frankie Montas had rib surgery in February. He came back from that and was on the verge of joining the Dodger rotation several weeks ago when he hurt his rib again. He’s out for a while, he might be able to join the team in Sept, but if so it will certainly be out of the bullpen.  This one hurt a lot, as Montas has as big an arm as anyone in the system.

The rotation following the All-Star Break should be:

  • Kenta Maeda
  • Scott Kazmir
  • Hyun-jin Ryu
  • Brandon McCarthy
  • Bud Norris

That would be rotation would look good if we didn’t have all these qualifiers like coming back from surgery.  It would look better if Clayton was part of it.

Which leads us to the biggest question of the season. How long will Clayton Kershaw be out?  For sure until after the all-star break. I think it is also for sure that he’ll be out all of July, and possibly all of August.  We will know more after the epidural shot has had time to do its job and he’s examined again.

If Clayton misses a month, this team can still compete for the post season. If Clayton misses six weeks the odds get longer. If Clayton misses two months, I don’t see a reasonable chance. My biggest concern is the taxation of the bullpen without that one guy giving them a break every five games.  You can handle this for a few weeks, maybe a month, but two months? probably not. Or maybe all this depth makes it possible.

I’m not writing off the season because anything can happen in baseball, but even the play-in game looks doubtful right now with how the team is currently constructed. Clayton was the reason the Dodgers were going to compete for the postseason, and no one can replace the best pitcher in baseball if he’s gone for any length of time. Yes, that last sentence is simply stating the obvious.

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