By Patrick Brewer, Lead National League Writer
Going into the 2015 season the Dodgers were viewed by most as a shoo in to win the National League West and by many to be a team that could seriously compete with the Washington Nationals as the World Series favorite out of the National League. With Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and new additions Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson, the Dodgers were viewed by many to have a pitching staff that rivaled the juggernaut that had been built by the Nationals. The Dodgers were considered to be a very balanced team with both their strong pitching staff as well as a strong offense to go along with it. The results however have been anything but balanced.
The Dodgers took on quite a bit of risk in the offseason signing Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson, both of whom had extensive injury histories going into this season. While Brett Anderson has been a great addition and has maintained his health up to this point in the season, Brandon McCarthy experienced a season ending tommy john surgery at the end of April. On top of that, Ryu has also found himself out for the year with an injury to his left shoulder labrum. With both of these pitchers out for the year the Dodgers have been stretched thin with pitching, relying on many innings from both Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias, two players who were more for depth than anything else. With these injuries and a heavier load being put on both Bolsinger and Frias, as well as the injury prone Brett Anderson, it begs the question; Do the Dodgers have enough pitching to be a real threat in the 2015 playoffs?
The Dodgers still seem to be in a pretty good spot in the NL West ahead of both San Francisco and San Diego, with Arizona and Colorado not near contending this year. The Padres have struggled and seem to be moving towards selling at the deadline while the Giants may not have enough firepower to surpass the Dodgers and take the division. With that being said the Giants will most certainly give the Dodgers a run for their money throughout the year and may even sneak in via a wild card spot.
What may be more of an issue for the Dodgers is the competition they will face once they do get into the playoffs. The Cardinals seem to be unstoppable even as the injuries start to pile up for both their pitching staff as well as a few important position players. On top of that, the juggernaut pitching staff of the Washington Nationals may also be a hard matchup for a Dodgers team with some real question marks after the 1-2 punch of Greinke and Kershaw. Beyond that the Mets, Cubs, Pirates, and Giants, among others, could all find themselves in a wild card spot and in a matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Despite the pitching question marks, the Dodgers offense has been able to do enough up to this point to keep the team in first place. The Dodgers currently lead the league with a wRC+ of 114 and are second in wOBA at .333. Despite the injuries to the pitching staff the Dodgers still find themselves in 4th in the league in FIP, 1st in xFIP, and 3rd in ERA. Despite what seems to be good numbers all around for the pitching staff, the Dodgers have still muddled around only nine games over .500 on the year. Much of these pitching numbers also come from Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke and, despite good performances up to this point of the season by both Brett Anderson and Mike Bolsinger, neither may be trustworthy enough to start a playoff game.
So far on the year Clayton Kershaw (2.60), Zack Greinke (2.84), and Mike Bolsinger (2.94) all have FIP scores under 3.00 while Brett Anderson (3.43) is just over 3.00 and Carlos Frias (4.06) is just over 4.00. As a unit the team looks good but any offensive struggles can spell trouble for the Dodgers pitching staff. In more recent weeks there has been quite a few games (oddly many when Greinke is starting) where the Dodgers offense has struggled to score any runs and the team loses close, low scoring games. If the Dodgers face this kind of offensive shortage in the playoffs they could be in for some serious trouble. This may not be the pitching staff’s fault in this case but the Dodgers need a more trustworthy pitcher who can pitch in that third game of a playoff series for the Dodgers behind Kershaw and Greinke.
If either Mike Bolsinger or Brett Anderson are able to maintain their current effectiveness, the Dodgers may be confident enough to use one of them in that capacity in a playoff game. Regardless of this though the Dodgers seemed inclined, and many would suggest likely, to go after some pitching at the deadline in order to shore up the middle of the rotation and have more depth for both the playoff run and the actual playoffs.
There is no shortage of pitching options at the trade deadline and the Dodgers should be in play for any number of pitchers. The Dodgers could go for a cheaper option (in terms of prospects and money) if they want to hold onto their top prospects such as Seager and Urias and get a middle of the rotation pitcher such as an Aaron Harang, Jon Niese, Mike Fiers or a Jeff Samardzija type or they could go all in for this year and use their organizational depth to get a top of the rotation arm like Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels, David Price or Scott Kazmir to pair with Kershaw and Greinke. Both of these options could involve using minor league prospects or trading from the Major League depth in both the Dodgers infield and outfield. Either of these options would be a solid option but a trade to get a top of the rotation arm may just be enough to put the Dodgers over the Nationals as the World Series favorite out of the National League despite the injuries to both Ryu and McCarthy.
It remains to be seen whether the Dodgers will stand pat and put trust in the middle of the rotation as it is with Anderson and Bolsinger or if they will make either a minor trade for a middle of the rotation arm or a blockbuster deal for another top of the rotation arm. Whether they make some type of deal or not will go a long way in deciding how the Dodgers season will end up. If the Dodgers really want to go for the glory, and compete with the the powerhouses in Washington and St. Louis, the Dodgers need to pull the trigger at the deadline and add another trustworthy arm to their starting rotation.