The Dodgers have over a 99% chance of making the playoffs in 2020 with about two weeks left in the season. It is time to take a look at what the starting pitching rotation might look like. A week ago it seemed that the only question mark would be if the fourth starter would be Tony Gonsolin or Julio Urías. With Walker Buehler having to leave a game early with a blister and Dustin May getting his foot hit on a come-backer, there are additional questions.
The following are the candidates to make a start in the playoffs that we’ll discuss.
- Clayton Kershaw
- Walker Buehler
- Dustin May
- Tony Gonsolin
- Julio Urías
- Bullpen game
I have specifically excluded David Price. He was specific that he is not throwing and there is no way he could be ready, even if he changed his mind about sitting out.
Of Clayton Kershaw’s seven starts so far in 2020, two have been below par. The other five starts have been elite, bringing back memories of his pre-2018 form. With a little extra fastball velocity, Kershaw has been able to keep batters a little more off-balance. He’s also been using his curveball a bit more and, from the looks of it, it is back to being a true weapon. There is no doubt that Clayton Kershaw will be a member of the playoff rotation. The only question will be, does he start game one or game two.
Clayton Kershaw, Curveballs. ? pic.twitter.com/KiNpc11VA0
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 21, 2020
At this point in the season I would have expected Walker Buehler to be the clear number one starter for the playoffs. However, blisters have gotten in the way. His last two starts before going back on the Injured List (IL) with the blister issues were elite. Buehler was the only bright spot in the 2019 playoff rotation as he dominated in his two starts. My biggest concern is the blister. I do not see a decent path to a World Series victory without a health Buehler. The fact that there are only two weeks left before the playoffs is a concern. Can he be ready?
Dustin May has nine starts for the Dodgers this season and has not given up more than two earned runs in any of them. The concerns have been a lack of swing-and-miss and having too many starts under six innings. The swing-and-miss might be solved by more trust in his curveball. Literally, he is in the lower 10% of swing-and-miss in MLB. I think he gets deeper into the games as they let him exceed 90 pitches, which has not happened yet.
Dustin May, Ungodly 99mph Two Seamer. ? pic.twitter.com/uUeINZbKBq
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 5, 2020
I definitely see him slotting in as the number three starter in the playoff rotation as long as the contusion he suffered on 9/10 is fully healed. Still, any injury is a concern for a pitcher. In this case it was his landing foot that was hurt.
Last year the Dodgers left Tony Gonsolin off of the playoff roster despite having some of the better numbers on the team. This year, he is a lock for a spot on the playoff roster. The question will be: rotation or bullpen? I am a big believer that he might be the best guy to close games but there is no way that Dodger management would do that this season. He could end up in the top three of the rotation if Buehler or May is not healthy.
He is in the 76 percentile with the swing-and-miss and is starting to go deeper into games. His main pitches are the four-seem fastball and splitter. To be a more impactful starter he needs the slider or curveball to become his third pitch more often. As a bullpen piece, he has the stuff to be real good where he only faces a batter once a game.
In his first season as primarily a starter, Julio Urías has been pretty decent. There have been some starts where he doesn’t attack the strike zone but when he does, he has much more success. His main pitches have been fastball (53.2% usage), curve (21.6%), and the changeup (14.3%) and those have been pretty successful. However, his slider (thrown only 6.7%) has a .727 slugging percent against. He deserves consideration for the playoff rotation but could be a weapon out of the bullpen.
Julio Urías, 96mph Fastball, 84mph Slider and 85mph Changeup, Overlay pic.twitter.com/VnzeucKmv0
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 27, 2020
My only concern about Julio in the bullpen is that the Dodgers will baby him. He might pitch one day and then he’s not available for the next game or two. When he does come out of the bullpen the fastball goes from 95 MPH as a starter to 97-98 MPH. If the Dodgers would unleash him in the pen he could be excellent.
Before we talk about this option, I want to go on record and state this is a bad idea. It just burns the bullpen out with extra pressure-packed usage. Each time a team sees a pitcher in a series they might get more familiar with them. However, it could be a necessity if two of the above pitchers are not available due to injuries.
The Dodgers look to have a solid rotation with everyone healthy. If Buehler is in his 2019 form, he can help lead the rotation. If Kershaw continues to be 2017 Kershaw then the Dodgers could be very powerful. The potential that May, Gonsolin, and Urías have could bring into the post-season is a wild card. If any of them step up then the Dodgers could have an excellent playoff rotation. That is a lot of “ifs”.
Given that all five pitchers are healthy it would make sense that the Dodgers would go with whatever the matchups tell them for the fourth starter. I would bet they will go with Urías over Gonsolin based on playoff experience. We shall see and I just hope all five are healthy to make the decision a difficult one.