With Sunday’s memorable walk-off victory against the Colorado Rockies, the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the National League West for the fourth consecutive season — becoming the first team to ever accomplish that feat.
Now that the champagne showers have been unleashed, it will soon be time for management to construct a 25-man roster for the postseason. Difficult decisions arise, as the Dodgers arguably boast the deepest 40-man roster in Major League Baseball.
Many notable players that helped keep the team afloat when injuries hampered the organization will be left off the roster, simply because there isn’t enough room to include them all.
One area that’s all but solved is the Dodgers’ starting rotation. Assuming everyone is healthy, Clayton Kershaw will take the mound for the opening game of a series, followed by Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda.
The only question that still remains is who would take the ball for a potential Game 4 — should there be one, of course.
If the Dodgers were to sweep their opponent, the Washington Nationals, in the NL Division Series, a fourth starter wouldn’t be necessary.
Los Angeles could opt to start Kershaw on short rest, as they did last season against the New York Mets in an elimination game. But a similar situation would have to emerge for that scenario to become more plausible.
Without further ado, let’s analyze the possible options for a fourth starter with the assumption that one will be eventually needed.
All but ruled out
Hyun-Jin Ryu: Missing all of last season, Ryu managed to start just one game for the Dodgers in 2016. While he has resumed baseball activities after landing back on the disabled list, it is all but certain he won’t pitch again this season.
Ross Stripling: With all of the injuries that took place this season, Stripling proved to be serviceable no matter what role was asked of him.
Because he’s a rookie coming off Tommy John surgery in 2014, he was moved to the bullpen in order to keep his innings total down. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts already stated that if Stripling makes the postseason roster, he’ll pitch out of long relief.
Alex Wood: He recently returned from the disabled list after not appearing in a game since May. Before his injury, Wood’s pitching was reminiscent of his days with the Atlanta Braves.
Wood has since been shifted to the bullpen and will pitch out of relief should he make the postseason roster. Otherwise, he would be a favorite for the final spot in the rotation.
Brett Anderson: Anderson has only made three starts in the Majors this year due to multiple injuries, but he is coming off a decent outing against the Rockies on Thursday.
In five innings pitched, he allowed seven baserunners and four earned runs against one of the best offenses in the Majors.
But because he missed the majority of the season, it just doesn’t seem likely that Anderson will be trusted with the task of starting a postseason game in time; especially with other experienced options in the organization.
Brock Stewart: Despite some unappealing numbers (6.00 ERA, 5.98 FIP, 1.63 WHIP), the rookie has shown glimpses of a bright future ahead in the Majors.
On Aug. 28, he tossed five shutout innings against the Chicago Cubs — punching out eight batters while walking just two. Additionally, Stewart has allowed just four earned runs in four appearances (three starts) since the beginning of August.
With that being said, he has only logged 27 innings in the Majors, and it would be unfair to rely on Stewart to start in the postseason, given that he began the season with High-A Ranch Cucamonga.
Julio Urias: Like Stripling, Urias is also approaching an innings limit. To avoid shutting him down for the season, the Dodgers placed the young lefty in the bullpen, where he was expected to get some work in before the conclusion of the regular season.
Urias made a relief appearance on Sept. 21, but is now slated to start Thursday’s series finale against the San Diego Padres.
Should Urias make the postseason roster, he may still be utilized as a situational reliever against left-handed hitters — similar to the role David Price had with the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 playoffs.
Jose De Leon: The rookie sensation has displayed flashes of dominance throughout the Minors and Majors in 2016, and will get a serious look at joining the postseason rotation despite making his MLB debut less than one month ago.
De Leon has pitched to a 5.52 ERA and 6.00 FIP in 14.2 Major League innings, but those numbers are largely inflated by the home run ball (2.5 homers per nine innings). He will start on Tuesday in San Diego, in what will likely be his final outing of the regular season.
What’s more, the abundance of injuries in the rotation and the fact that De Leon is a more established prospect that isn’t close to reaching his innings limit gives him a fair chance of potentially get the nod in a Game 4.
Scott Kazmir: Kazmir has logged the third-most innings this season behind Maeda and Kershaw, so that alone probably gives him an edge over the other candidates for the fourth spot in the rotation.
Kazmir’s numbers have declined this season compared to recent years, but he is also potentially pitching for a new contract this offseason should he opt-out of his current deal, given the weak market for starting pitchers.
A strong showing in the postseason might give him the incentive to do just that. The lefty exited his start on Friday with right intercostal spasms, so depending on the severity of his injury, he might not appear in another game for the Dodgers this season.
Kazmir didn’t believe his latest issue was serious, and was confident he is still capable of contributing.
Brandon McCarthy: The veteran has struggled to stay healthy for a second consecutive season, but looked sharp upon returning from his first disabled list stint in 2016.
McCarthy later endured command problems as a combined result of the “yips” and hip trouble, and eventually found himself back on the disabled list. On Sunday, he made his first start in the Majors since the end of August and posted solid results.
In 5.1 innings pitched, McCarthy allowed five baserunners and two earned runs while striking out six batters. If he makes one more start during the regular season and continues to look solid, it won’t be surprising to see him occupy the last vacancy in the postseason rotation.