This is a short series where we identify number 4 starting pitcher options for the Dodgers’ postseason roster, and make the argument for individuals.
Starting pitching has hardly been an issue for the 2019 Dodgers. However, the makeup of the postseason rotation next month is now somewhat in doubt due to Rich Hill’s re-injury this past week. If Hill is unable to take the mound in October, it’s a loss for both the rotation and bullpen, depriving the team of another lefty and someone who pitches brilliantly in the postseason.
Some advocate for Ross Stripling, while others believe Julio Urias should get the call. Another camp has faith in our new ginger sensation, Dustin May, to rise to the occasion. In my book, there’s not a scintilla of doubt that the man for the number 4 spot is Tony Gonsolin.
First, his numbers are strong enough to earn it. After a rough debut in Arizona on June 26, he has been consistent then, currently sitting at 3-2 with a 2.83 ERA. He doesn’t overwhelm with strikeouts, but does an outstanding job keeping the ball in the park, a skill all the more coveted in the record-setting home run era of 2019.
Second, he has effectively already excelled in a “playoff start.” That was on August 24 against the Yankees, holding the punishing Bombers’ offense to one run in five innings in a series where they otherwise incinerated Dodger pitching. The series felt like a World Series preview, and Gonsolin proved he was up to the task.
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Those who insist on others as the number 4 starter will note that Gonsolin is just as good, if not better, for the beleaguered bullpen. It’s not an idea without merit, as he’s shown equal tenacity in relief throughout his young career. Indeed, his second MLB game was a four-inning save in Colorado. But Stripling and Urias have more postseason experience out of the pen, and while Dustin May has shown flashes of brilliance, he’s looking more like an odd man out both starting and relief this October.
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The middle ground to this might be just having Gonsolin as a glorified opener, in which he could pitch three to four innings before giving away to the bullpen. Especially with surplus starters like Urias, Stripling and Kenta Maeda, this could be a sound strategy, especially with a series lead already secured. Most of Gonsolin’s starts of this writing have been four innings or less, so it could play to his strengths thus far.
Having Gonsolin start game 4 would also be a decision apropos of the 2019 season, which has been defined from beginning to end by a nonpareil rookie corps. The Ryu/Buehler/Kershaw troika gives the Dodgers such a clear advantage in the 1-2-3 spots that it mitigates the pressure on Gonsolin. Yet I feel Tony Smokes has the gumption to handle a playoff game of any severity.