ST. LOUIS -- When the Dodgers entered the 2021 campaign with eight potential starting pitchers, they didn’t anticipate having to rely on so many bullpen games this late into the season.
But with injuries piling up and Trevor Bauer on administrative leave, those bullpen days have become a necessity for the Dodgers as they hope to catch the Giants atop the National League West standings.
The good news for the Dodgers, however, is that those bullpen games have been extremely effective. Mitch White and Andre Jackson deserve a lot of credit for providing length when needed. David Price, who was tasked with building up as a starter in the middle of the season after not playing at all in 2020, also deserves credit.
Walker Buehler and Julio Urías becoming two of the best starters in the NL has certainty helped the Dodgers withstand the waves of injuries. Max Scherzer’s addition at the Trade Deadline has also proven to be a big move for the Dodgers.
But the real key to the recent success has been the bullpen. Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said the bullpen has been the “backbone” of a roster that has potential Hall of Famers and MVP candidates at every turn. Just on Tuesday, the Dodgers put their impressive bullpen out on display, using nine relievers in a 7-2 win over the Cardinals. Alex Vesia, the team’s winning pitcher on Tuesday, threw just three pitches in yet another impressive outing.
It’s been a full team effort for the Dodgers, who once again have the best team ERA in baseball. It’s where the Dodgers expect to be every year, given their talent, but the way they’ve gotten there this season is not quite how they expected it.
Over the next couple of days, however, the Dodgers are scheduled to get have some reinforcements on the way just in time to make a final push at their ninth consecutive division title. Tony Gonsolin, who has been sidelined since July 31, will be activated on Thursday and will continue his build-up over the next few weeks. He will pitch every fifth or sixth day.
Clayton Kershaw is on the way, too. After throwing three innings for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Tuesday, Kershaw is tentatively scheduled to make his return to the Dodgers’ rotation on Monday against the D-backs. Kershaw will be limited to about four innings and 60 pitches, but the future Hall of Famer should have enough time to build up before October.
“I think if you look at the potential -- and it's obviously contingent on how he feels after every start -- but there’s the potential for four or five starts before the end of the season,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts about Kershaw’s availability. “There’s ample time to get him right. We just have to be smart and the main thing is to keep him healthy through October.”
The Dodgers were able to excel with a flurry of bullpen games. But with the season winding down, they’ll go as far as their starting pitching is able to take them.
“It’s going to be a huge boost,” Roberts said about adding Gonsolin and Kershaw to the rotation. “We've done a great job of preventing runs, but when you get Tony and Clayton back, guys that were projected to be big parts of our pitching staff this year, it’s going to be a huge lift.”