After 24 games, the Los Angeles Dodgers are 12-12, tied with the San Francisco Giants for first place in the NL West. Given the Dodgers’ disappointing end to last season (and especially considering their historically large payroll), the slow start to 2016 is somewhat troubling.
However, many of the Dodgers’ issues stem from their huge list of injuries. The Dodgers opened the season with ten players on the disabled list, including six pitchers. As such, the starting rotation has suffered; while Clayton Kershaw remains a true ace, the loss of Zack Greinke to the Arizona Diamondbacks combined with the injuries to several starters has significantly weakened the quality of the Dodger pitching.
Fortunately, it appears that Hyun-jin Ryu might finally be nearing a return to action after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury. Having thrown a productive bullpen session on Tuesday – after which manager Dave Roberts noted that Ryu’s “velocity looked good” – the Korean left-hander is scheduled to throw another session tomorrow as part of a transition to pitching every five days. While Ryu is likely several weeks away from a start, this news offers the Dodgers a more definite idea of when they can expect Ryu and his considerable talent to return to the currently struggling rotation.
But the Dodgers are not just missing Ryu; Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson, two high-paid (above ten million dollars each in 2016) starters, are also out for several more weeks to months. Mike Bolsinger, who made twenty-one appearances last year, is out until later in May; Frankie Montas, a young Dominican prospect, is out for several months. Right-handers Yimi Garcia (15-day DL) and Josh Ravin (60-day DL) are sidelined for the time being as well.
Despite the injuries to the pitching staff, the Dodgers have done a capable job containing their opponents. Clayton Kershaw (with the exception of a five run outing against the Marlins earlier this week) and Kenta Maeda have pitched quite well on the whole. rookie Ross Stripling, for his part, has done a quite commendable job. Southpaws Scott Kazmir and Alex Wood, however, have struggled to start the season, each sporting earned run averages above 4.50. At this point, it remains to be seen how the final rotation will shake out. Ryu will presumably slot into the second slot behind Clayton Kershaw when he returns, with Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, and Mike Bolsinger all hoping to fit in somewhere as well. That said, strong performances from the young pitchers Stripling and Wood could eventually result in stiff competition for the (as of now) relatively open spots at the tail end of the Dodger rotation.
While the injuries to the rotation are serious themselves, the Dodgers are also missing key players off the mound as well. Carl Crawford, who began the season on the disabled list, was activated and returned to play in left field earlier this week. That said, promising young outfielder Scott Van Slyke remains out indefinitely (15-day DL), while Andre Ethier is out until June or July with a leg fracture. Both players are quite competent hitters, and the currently mediocre Dodgers offense could desperately use their skills.
However, when Ethier and Van Slyke do eventually return, the Dodgers are faced with another issue: the outfield is just too crowded. Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson are obviously indispensable. Van Slyke and Thompson are also quite valuable as prospects. Ethier and Crawford, however, are beginning to experience offensive downturns; additionally, both have enormous contracts. With Howie Kendrick capable of playing outfield and left fielder Alex Guerrero returning soon, it would make sense for the Dodgers to try and offload Ethier and Crawford (and their contracts). However, interest in either of the two outfielders is minimal at the moment.
Over the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see not only how the Dodgers perform, but also how their lineup shakes out. Hopefully, shortening the disabled list over the coming months will help improve the Dodgers’ current fortunes.