With the Los Angeles Dodgers defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday afternoon to improve to 79-41 on the year, the focus can essentially shift to the postseason.
Los Angeles’ division lead sits at 19 games over Arizona, and it is seemingly a foregone conclusion that they will win the National League West for a seventh consecutive season.
One of the biggest question marks for the Dodgers regarding the postseason is who their fourth starter will be behind Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler.
Rich Hill was long the favorite to earn that spot, although he has been out since mid-June with a flexor strain in his left forearm.
While Hill is making progress in his recovery and still is expected to be able to return in the month of September, he is running out of time if he wants to get built up to a starter’s workload.
After initially maintaining that was the plan, it now appears that the organization may not even attempt to head down that road. “We expect to have Rich back. To what extent, that remains to be seen,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after his club’s 9-3 win.
“I think if you’re looking at the calendar and how much time we have, it’s more of get him healthy and build him up in some reliever capacity. To kind of be so optimistic that we can build him up as a starter to 100 pitches, I just don’t see that being feasible.”
Roberts also gave a more positive update on Hill before the game, saying he is poised to stretch his throwing program out to 105 feet on Monday as he continues to progress without any sort setback or discomfort. “Richie is in a good place,” Roberts said.
But like with Ross Stripling and some others, an exact timetable for Hill’s return remains unclear. Roberts said this past week that when Stripling is able to return, it will be as a reliever, and now the same can be said for Hill.
With those two no longer as options, it looks like it will come down to Kenta Maeda, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin for that fourth starter role in the postseason. Julio Urias may also an option to return to starting, although he may be needed for a more high-leverage relief role.
One factor Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has emphasized in recent weeks is the club will be going with a pitching staff approach this October as opposed to set starters and relievers.
That makes a lot of sense considering the Dodgers have a ton of pitchers that can throw multiple innings at a time, but maybe not the typical six or seven innings expected from a traditional starter.
Having Hill, Stripling, Maeda, May, Gonsolin and Urias as multiple-inning bullpen weapons in addition to Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly and Pedro Baez for late in games could end up being the formula for the first World Series championship in Los Angeles since 1988.