Starting pitchers not named Clayton Kershaw will decide postseason fate of Dodgers

Tim Brown
MLB columnist

There is no inevitable. There’s only more games, and the nightly opportunity to make it look inevitable, and that hardly lasts either. Beyond that, there’s five months that, done right, make a couple weeks of terrible or uneven or unlucky baseball a little more bearable to a city with a tendency to freak the heck out.

The Los Angeles Dodgers probably had this coming, this cluster of games that have temporarily doused the notions of greatest team ever or greatest Dodgers team ever or whatever gets everybody to tomorrow. Thing is, one of the prerequisites to greatness is parade-ness, as there are few great runners-up, and that won’t be determined for weeks, which means the conversation is premature.

All of which is to say the Dodgers could crabwalk through September and win the NL West, then stand up, play their best ball again in October and a couple weeks near the end of summer will be lost in the haze of whatever is making haze these days in L.A.

On the other hand, the starting pitching. Otherwise known as statistically (ERA, OPS and WHIP) the finest starting rotation in the game.

In 10 games from Aug. 26 to Sept. 4, Dodgers starters were 1-7 with a 7.01 ERA. In 43⅔ innings (so, fewer than five innings per), they walked 20 and allowed 11 home runs.

Included in that little dose of reality were six, two-hit, zero-walk, seven-strikeout, shutout innings from Clayton Kershaw. Also included were two Yu Darvish losses (eight innings, eight runs), from where some of the panic comes. Also, short and ugly starts by Rich Hill, Hyun-jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda. Alex Wood, too, was just so-so in his only start. Darvish has a 6.16 ERA in four starts since he went seven strong against the New York Mets in his Dodgers debut, and by his scheduled start Friday against the Colorado Rockies will have spent a few weeks tuning his mechanics, so there’s a deadline coming.

Now, Dodgers management and coaches have done a fine job of milking quality innings from a fluid staff over five months, a period in which it made frequent use of the 10-day DL and avoided any bouts of overexposure and maybe could be accused of coddling, a strategy that will allow its staff to arrive fresh in October. The most likely postseason rotation – as of today – is Kershaw, Darvish, Wood and Hill. If Wood falters in the next few weeks (he was on the disabled list recently with a shoulder issue), the next man up would be Ryu or Maeda, probably Ryu, who was very good Tuesday night against the Diamondbacks in the Dodgers’ 10th loss in 11 games. Or, you know, they could just have Kershaw go on short rest. Again.

Point being, if the Dodgers aren’t going to be the best team ever or the best Dodgers team ever or whatever gets us to tomorrow, it’ll be because of – surprise – the rotation, and that means the men who follow Kershaw.

It’s fragile, and immediately following those 11 games, which also featured starts by Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart, an offense that averaged 2½ runs per game and an out-of-joint bullpen, is probably the wrong time to draw conclusions. So, we won’t.

But, if things wobble along at this rate for too long, we’d maybe suggest something new. Like an Apple watch.

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WHAT ELSE:

Cameron Maybin arrived to his new home clubhouse early Saturday, to two games ahead that day alone, to an unclear role but a huge division lead, from the team hopelessly behind the Houston Astros to the team that dusted the Los Angeles Angels months ago. The Astros owner approached him. “Hi, Cameron, Jim Crane. Welcome aboard,” he said. Cameron smiled and said, “Happy to be here.” It’s all a bit up in the air for Maybin, which is the life after all, and yet he couldn’t get over the notion this wasn’t all preordained or something. See, when Hurricane Harvey made landfall, Maybin redirected some of his Asheville, North Carolina-based foundation resources to the suffering folks in Texas. This was his wife Courtney’s idea, and Cameron loved it, and just when they were getting into the details of how and where to assist, he became an Astro. Weird. Great. “I got goose bumps,” he said. “We’ll try to lift some people up. Let them know people really care. Baseball’s a beautiful thing and I feel like my purpose is bigger than baseball.”

Everybody seems to think Paul Goldschmidt will be fine, including Paul Goldschmidt, who flew from L.A. to Phoenix this week to have his sore elbow examined. Twice an MVP runner-up and bound to draw some first-place love in 2017, Goldschmidt received an anti-inflammatory injection and was not in Tuesday night’s lineup. He’d played in 135 of the Diamondbacks’ 138 games. Manager Torey Lovullo said Goldschmidt would be day-to-day for a time and that he’d have no reason to ride Goldschmidt over the final month: “It’s about him being ready and playing strong at the most important times of the year.” A healthy Goldschmidt would be a large part of whatever’s out there for the Diamondbacks, who’ve merely won 12 games in a row and haven’t so much as trailed at the end of an inning in a week and a half.

Watching the Los Angeles Angels’ recent ride – six wins in eight games, four of their last five games of four hours or more, three of those in extra innings, lots of offense, a little bit of pitching, and a half-game lead for the second wild card – was led Tuesday night by Ben Revere, who had the huge two-out hit in Oakland and then told a TV audience how important experience was: “If I was young I’d almost be crappin’ my pants a little bit.” Only 24 more games of that.

INCOMING:

Well, you know, if the Chicago Cubs aren’t going to just take the thing, the Milwaukee Brewers might be interested.

If you hadn’t noticed, the NL Central remains a point of interest, primarily because the Brewers have played a little better than expected and the Cubs you know about. They just followed a 12-3 run with consecutive losses to Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh again, while the Brewers were having a rough time of it in Cincinnati.

The wild card and tumbling Colorado Rockies offer the easier path for the Brewers, but the schedule does offer a shot at the division – three games at Wrigley this weekend, then four at Miller Park against the Cubs a week-and-a-half later.

The Brewers will miss Jake Arrieta, who was scheduled to start Sunday but is down with a hamstring injury. Arrieta has a 2.79 ERA in 14 career starts against the Brewers.

The probables:

Friday – Jimmy Nelson vs. John Lackey

Saturday – Chase Anderson vs. Mike Montgomery

Sunday – Zach Davis vs. Kyle Hendricks