Coming into the final months of the regular season, with the division all but wrapped up, one of the primary concerns for the Dodgers was staying healthy. Sure, they still had home field advantage to play for, but getting everyone healthy for October was priority number one.
Unfortunately, the Dodgers have had some players go down recently and none more significant than Rich Hill and Alex Verdugo.
Hill, who had been sidelined since June with a forearm injury, returned on Thursday night but had to exit the game in the first inning with a knee injury. It’s the same knee that gave him problems earlier this year when he missed most of April.
Verdugo was placed on the IL in early August with an oblique injury. While rehabbing, he re-aggravated a back injury that has given him some problems throughout the year. He’s been shut down for a few days and has yet to resume baseball activities.
Both Hill and Verdugo’s status for the post season is now in doubt. Dave Roberts admitted it would be “very unlikely” that Verdugo would be able to make it back by the time the division series starts. He wouldn’t completely rule out Hill coming back but even if he does, he may not have the innings built back up to start a possible Game 4.
If the Dodgers are without the services of both Hill and Verdugo for at least the NLDS, they will be sorely missed. Both players would greatly boost the Dodgers roster and their absence will create some holes. But which injury would be more significant?
If both players are done for the season, who's loss will be more significant?
— Brian (@BriRobitaille) September 13, 2019
With his injury back in June, Hill’s contribution has been somewhat minimum this season. He’s started only 11 games but still has a 2.68 ERA on the year. Never mind the regular season though. Hill’s return was going to provide the Dodgers a great option for a Game 4 starter in October. He’s been solid in the playoffs in the past and owns a 2.67 ERA postseason ERA since coming to the Dodgers.
Hill starting a Game 4 would also allow Julio Urias, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin to come out of the bullpen, providing added depth there. With his absence, one of those guys will probably have to take the ball for a Game 4.
May and Gonsolin are both rookies who haven’t experienced post season baseball at the Major League level and Urias’ only playoff start came back in 2016. That’s not so say any of them couldn’t come in and excel in that spot. But Hill’s veteran presence would probably give Roberts a little more sense of security.
Coming into this year, Verdugo had to earn his playing time on such a deep roster. He got his opportunity pretty early in the year due to some injuries, and the rookie made the most of it. You could say, “the kid got hot,” as he posted a .303/.350/.489 slash line in the first half of the year.
By the time he went on the IL in August, Verdugo had become a staple in the Dodgers lineup, and if it hadn’t been for the injury, he figured to be an everyday player going into the playoffs. No platoon seemed to be needed as he hit left-handed pitching even better than righties this year (.843 OPS vs LHP.)
Without Verdugo, the Dodgers figure to use a variety of other players to fill his spot. Specifically, Chris Taylor and Matt Beaty will likely get more playing time in the playoffs than they might have with Verdugo healthy. And while both players are more than capable, Verdugo’s absence will still be felt.
One of his biggest attributes is Verdugo’s plate discipline and ability to make contact. His 13% strikeout rate is best on the team, with Cody Bellinger’s 16.3% mark second. In a bases loaded, less than two out situation, with the Dodgers needing one run, I’m not sure there’s a player on the team I’d want up over Verdugo. He knows how to put the ball in play.
Verdugo also adds value on the defensive side. He can play all three outfield positions and play them well. The Dodgers will likely take a step back defensively without Verdugo roaming the outfield.
The Dodgers will undoubtedly miss both Hill and Verdugo if they indeed miss time in October. Without Hill, they’ll be forced to go with a young, inexperienced Game 4 starter. With Verdugo out, they’ll lose someone who provides key offense as well as great defense.
Personally, if I had to pick whose injury is more concerning for the Dodgers, I’d go with Verdugo. I just think he provides a lot on both sides that will be difficult to replace. A Taylor/Beaty platoon is more than capable, but not quite the same.
The wild card could be rookie Gavin Lux, who now could force his way onto the post season roster. Against right-handed pitching, he could allow Muncy to go to first base and Bellinger back to the outfield with Pederson and Pollock. Lux will have a few more weeks of audition to earn his post season spot though.
As far as the rotation goes, a Urias/May/Gonsolin combo for Game 4 isn’t the worst option. They all have the talent to step in a throw a great game. Each one has done so throughout the year, and all of them have been stretched out enough to provide multiple innings in relief as well. I still like the Dodgers chances with that group.
The Dodgers have the roster depth to overcome both injuries to Hill and Verdugo. It will just be a little more difficult without them.