Chicken Little may not be screaming just yet, but he's warming up in the bull pen. Just yesterday morning, it looked like the sky might be falling for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but then they pulled a couple of wins out a hat. Yesterday (Sunday), they avoided a four-game sweep in Arizona by the Diamondbacks, and tonight they won in a rout over Colorado 16-9, but some glaring weaknesses have come out.
The Dodgers magic number now stands at six, which means they could clinch their seventh consecutive National League Western Division crown as early as Friday at home against the Giants, but if you are a Dodger fan and are not concerned ahout the starting pitching, you haven't been paying attention.
Tonight, LA hit seven home runs in their blowout, but starting pitcher Walker Buehler allowed six runs in five innings, including two long balls. Sunday's eleven-inning win was a bullpen game, with Ross Stripling returning from the injured list and only going three innings. Friday's loss in Phoenix was Clayton Kershaw's shortest start of the season, and the first time in his career that he took a loss when the offense gave him four or more runs of support.
But wait, there's more.
In Kershaw's last three starts, he has given up eight home runs. Seven of them were solo shots, but it's still a problem. Overshadowing Kershaw this year has been the stellar performance of Hyun-Jin Ryu, who still leads the majors in earned run average (2.35), but his last three starts have been abysmal. On August 17, he gave up four runs in a 4-3 loss in Atlanta, and you had to figure one bad start was just one of those things. Six days later at home against the Yankees, the Dodgers lost 10-2, and Thursday night in Phoenix, the Dodgers lost 11-5. Ryu's ERA in those three games was 11.05. Does that sound like Cy Young to you? If you listen closely, you can hear Chicken Little practicing.
Buehler's outing tonight wasn't an aberration either, but right now, the 25 year-old deserves a Game One start over Kershaw or Ryu. Prior to tonight, Buehler had 13 scoreless innings in his previous two starts with 18 strikeouts, but the start before that in Miami, five runs in four innings. You just hope these are random plots on the graph, and Buehler will stay the course.
The Dodgers have also been messing around. Kenta Maeda will likely move to a relief role when the playoffs get underway, but if he does, who will be the fourth starter? Rich Hill will be the guy if he's healthy, but he hasn't pitched since June 19. Management has liked what they've seen from Tony Gonsolin (2-1, 2.89 ERA), but he's only pitched in six games, and only gone more than five innings once. It's fair to say that Dustin May isn't ready. Julio Urias gets a start tomorrow, and he could be an option for a possible Game Four start along with Stripling.
Before the extra-inning win on Sunday, and the home run derby victory tonight, fans were starting to reach ever closer to that panic button. The Dodgers will set a franchise record for most home runs in a season this year, but power outages are known to happen when you see good pitching in the post-season. It's already difficult to watch when the bullpen takes over, and now the starters are struggling.
Chicken Little, the sky isn't falling just yet, but it does seem to feel a little lower.
September morn: With the calendar now turned to September, major league rosters can expand from 25, to as many as 40 players. Depending on your outlook, this can be a good thing or a bad thing. Minor league prospects now get to play in major league games, and sometimes it can be cool to watch them, but more players means more pitchers and more pitching changes, which means longer games. If MLB keeps its word, this will be the final year of the extended call-ups, with a limit of 28 players in the offing for next season.
Lux capacitor: Despite constant reporting over the last several weeks that he would not play in September, the Dodgers called up phenom infielder Gavin Lux, and he made his major league debut tonight. Lux had been tearing up the minor leagues, but it was said that he would serve an 'apprenticeship', as manager Dave Roberts called it, and would get to come to LA, but only to watch and learn. The Dodgers apparently changed their minds, and Lux went 2-for-5 with a double. He also drove the very first pitch he saw in the big leagues into center field for a single. The 21 year-old Lux is a shortstop, but is the Dodgers' second baseman of the future, with Corey Seager entrenched at short.
Angels flight: Watching a little bit of the Angels-Rangers game on FS1 Tuesday night, I saw Mike Trout hit his 43rd home run of the year. I also saw him high-fiving his teammates in the dugout. The camera showed several guys, including the back of Max Stassi. Turns out, in a deal that was not reported at all on July 31, Houston dealt the Yuba City native to the Angels for a minor league outfielder. The Astros, in a deal that was widely reported, did pick up another catcher on Deadline Day, making Stassi expendable. Max is batting just .138 with a home run, but teams still value the now 28 year-old because of his defense. He still needs to hit, though.