The Los Angeles Dodgers have no shortage of critically important players, without whom won’t be successful, no matter how big the payroll. If Clayton Kershaw gets hurt or inexplicably loses form, the Blue are damaged. Zack Greinke. Adrian Gonzalez. Yasiel Puig.
These are core players, but also ones who are relatively predictable, at least by the standards of pro sports. Among the newbies, Howie Kendrick is in the same boat. Throw Kenley Jansen in there, too, once he’s back and healthy.
These are their best players, but the Dodgers also have another group of lesser-known quantities who could very well determine where on the bell curve of potential this team lands. Call them Wild Cards. Here are five…
5. Hyun-Jin Ryu
Wild Card players can be categorized in a few different ways. Brett Anderson, because he cost only money (they’ve got plenty) and fills a spot with generally low expectations anyway (fifth starter) is basically all upside.
Joc Pederson is set to play a key role, but the range of potential performance is huge, and each end of the range has a serious impact on team performance. Then there is Ryu. Call him the anti-Anderson.
More than anything, what makes the Dodgers big favorite in the NL West is the quality of their starting pitching, particularly in the top three with Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu. Whether talking stats or health, the first two are about as reliable as anyone using his arm for physiologically irresponsible athletic activity can possibly be.
Ryu… not so much. There’s no question he can get Major League hitters out with regularity. That much he proved over his first two seasons. But he threw 40 fewer innings in 2014 than 2013 thanks to a grab bag of maladies, is working through a bad back this spring, and is shaped like a wang mandu, the traditional Korean dumpling similar to Chinese bao.
Should Ryu falter, the Dodgers could be in trouble, because the two guys behind him (Brandon McCarthy, Anderson) aren’t paragons of health, either.
CONTINUE READING: Four More Wild Cards