The Los Angeles Dodgers enter the postseason with their second consecutive National League West title and arguably the best one-two starting pitching punch in baseball with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Kershaw will win his third Cy Young in four seasons after putting together one of the best overall seasons by a starting pitcher in decade. In his second season as a Dodger, Zack Greinke put together another solid season, winning 16 games with a 2.74 ERA. When it comes to the top two starters, who’ll start four of the potential games in the NL divisional round series, the Dodgers are in good shape. It’s who comes after Kershaw and Greinke that has Dodgers fans concerned. Due to injuries in the starting rotation and an up and down year by the bullpen, the Dodgers enter the postseason with major concerns in the back half of their starting rotation and among the bullpen set up men.
There’s no question that the Dodgers are in good hands with Kershaw, Greinke and closer Kenley Jansen. The big question is whether or not the rest of the staff will hold up. Here’s a look at back half of the Dodgers rotation and the bullpen as they enter the opening round of the playoffs versus the St. Louis Cardinals.
Here are three big questions the Dodgers will have to answer as they enter the postseason:
Who is the number three starter? For the majority of the season there was no question who the Dodgers third starter was. Hyun-Jin Ryu put together a solid regular season and the second year left-hander from Korea gave the Dodgers as good a top half of the rotation as any team in baseball. Since Ryu went down with late season arm soreness the Dodgers rotation depth is now a big question. The Dodgers are cautiously optimistic that Ryu will be back for the postseason. What they don’t know is how healthy he’ll be and what he can give them. If Ryu can’t go veteran Dan Haren is thrust into the third spot. Haren started the season strong, had a brutal stretch in the middle, and has now pitched better of late. In Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn the Cardinals have an outstanding top of the rotation duo, two starters who can match Kershaw and Greinke pitch for pitch. The Cardinals series will be a tight one. In order to prevail and prevent last season’s outcome the Dodgers need a strong performance from Ryu, if available, and Haren.
Who is the set-up man? Last season the Dodgers found a strong set-up man in former San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson. The Beard resurrected his career after arm injury and put together a solid regular season. The year Wilson has struggled, with pitch location and velocity. As a result the Dodgers have been scrambling all season to find a consistent set-up man. They have a solid left-hander to match up with opposing lefty batters in JP Howell, but Howell can be relied on to be the consistent 8th inning setup man. Brandon League, Pedro Baez, Chris Perez and even Paco Rodriguez have had opportunities in the setup spot. League, who failed as a closer a year ago has had a solid season. Perez, who the Dodgers acquired to supplement Wilson, has pitched better since coming off the DL on September 1. The Dodgers still have the option of Wilson, who can be an effective setup man provided he’s hitting his spots. Whoever claims the setup spot, the Dodgers will need a strong performance to win tight postseason games.
Can Kershaw out-duel Wainwright? After a strong performance in the opening series versus the Atlanta Braves a year ago, Kershaw was out-dueled by Adam Wainwright in last year’s Cardinals series. In ten innings pitched versus the Cardinals, Kershaw gave up seven earned runs in ten innings pitched. A big story this postseason is whether or not Kershaw can cement his legacy and carry his dominant performance into the postseason. Many have compared Kershaw to Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax, especially with his incredible season. The Dodgers need Kershaw to pitch like Koufax to bring home their first World Series title since 1988.
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