Lacking the Greinke Factor

Aside from Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ pitching staff is concerning in the 2016 postseason

(Photo: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)

Facing elimination against the Washington Nationals, the Dodgers turned to their ace, Clayton Kershaw, to salvage their season. Kershaw started Game 1 and went 5 innings with 7 strikeouts, and allowed 3 earned runs on 8 hits in the win. Despite not having Kershaw for long stretches of the season, L.A managed to surge after the All Star Break and cruise to the NL West division title. Injuries ravaged the pitching staff, as Kenta Maeda, Alex Wood, Scott Kazmir, and others missed significant time. Thankfully, a bright spot was 20-year-old prospect Julio Urias handling his starts admirably.

With Kershaw starting in this crucial game 4, the question is, who will start in a potential game 5? The Dodgers require consistent pitching against the Nationals offense, and this year, they truly lack their one-two punch from last season. In 2015, the Dodgers sported two of the best pitchers in the league. Kershaw dominated as usual, but the team also relied heavily on 1A pitcher, Zack Greinke. Greinke was 19–3, led the league with a 1.66 ERA ,and was a Cy Young Award Contender. For his performance, he arguably deserved the award over Cubs ace, Jake Arrieta.

In one of the most surprising moves this past off season, Greinke left the contending Dodgers for the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks. Money have been a factor ($206,500.00 over 6 years with an $18,000,000 signing bonus), but Greinke, who has been known to be very direct with his comments, reassures the baseball world that he saw something positive coming together in Arizona.

Now that they are down 2–1 in the NLDS, Kershaw returns to the mound after a three-day break. The concern now is whether the Dodgers turn to the young Julio Urias, who was initially scheduled to be the Game 4 starter, in the potential game 5. Two starters that were meant to compensate for the loss of Greinke, Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda, struggled immensely in games 2 and 3. The Dodgers have been outscored 13–5 in their losses.

Are the Dodgers prepared to put the hope of prolonging their season on the back of a 20 year old rookie? The Dodgers may have done well with quick fixes in their starting rotation during the season, but now that Kershaw is responsible for one big game, the Dodgers do not have another other ace, or even a consistent pitcher, for the next big one. There is only so much Kershaw can do. Urias has a 3.38 ERA and has been consistent. Due to his age, protecting his arm, and wanting to gradually expose him to the big leagues, his innings have been limited by the team. His inexperience is something to consider when everything is on the line. Other options include Scott Kazmir, but his ERA rose to an inflated 4.58 in his 26 starts.

With Greinke lessening the load last season, the Dodgers’ pitchers had a 3.44 ERA combined compared to 3.70 ERA in 2016. Though this is a slight difference, his contributions helped Kershaw have more rest days, which prevented injuries he could not avoid this season.

One can point out that Greinke was the starter in 2015 when they were ousted by the New York Mets. However, aside from Brett Anderson, Kershaw and Greinke took turns starting in the NLDS series. Greinke won game 2, and only narrowly lost game 5 by a score of 3–2. In the series, Kershaw and Greinke restricted the Mets to only 33 hits. Former Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly showed enough confidence in his two aces to have at most, 3 days of rest in between starts. This entire series was close and the Dodgers were one two runs away from returning to the NLCS.

The Dodgers ended the 2016 regular season with only one less win than 2015, and won their fourth division title in a row. With their backs against the wall, Kershaw is the obvious choice to stop Bryce Harper and the Nationals’ offense. Even with a Game 4 win, the Dodgers will be shorthanded against a Nationals team that can deploy Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark, and possibly a healthy Stephen Strasburg in Game 5. Greinke’s production has yet to be replaced by the Dodgers, and they currently feel his absence in the postseason. In 2015, he kept the pitching competitive in the playoffs, while their game 2 and 3 starters have struggled in 2016. The offense remains competitive, but the pitching outside of Kershaw has been forgettable this postseason.