LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers won 106 games during the 2021 regular season, but they had to navigate through plenty of adversity along the way.
In May, Los Angeles lost right-hander Dustin May, who was starting to show why he was a former top prospect, for the season after he underwent Tommy John surgery. The Dodgers also lost Edwin Ríos, a capable bat off the bench, for the season after he opted for right shoulder surgery in May following a tough start at the plate.
Right-hander Tony Gonsolin and outfielder Cody Bellinger each missed two months due to injuries. And even after they returned, the Dodgers couldn’t seem to get fully healthy.
Shortstop Corey Seager was sidelined for almost three months with a fractured right hand. Left-hander Clayton Kershaw missed nearly three months with a left elbow injury. Outfielder AJ Pollock missed some time with recurring right hamstring injuries. Bellinger and Gonsolin went back to the IL. At one point, manager Dave Roberts didn’t want to talk about the possibility of having his full roster healthy due to a fear of jinxing it.
But after months of dealing with a frustrating amount of injuries, the Dodgers were suddenly a healthy team heading into the last week of the regular season. They finally rolled out a five-man rotation after months of bullpen games, and their offense was starting to click.
Over the weekend, however, that all changed again.
Kershaw is out for the remainder of the season after sustaining another left forearm/elbow injury in his final regular-season start last Friday against the Brewers. Then on Sunday, first baseman Max Muncy injured his left elbow after colliding with Jace Peterson at first. Muncy's injury won't require surgery and the Dodgers are holding out hope he will be available if they advance past the NL Wild Card Game.
Throughout the season, the Dodgers’ philosophy was to overcome injuries using their depth. It worked for them all year, but the injuries to Muncy and Kershaw create some roster questions that they will need to answer over the next few days.
Let’s take a look at the pending roster decisions for the Dodgers.
How do the Dodgers replace Muncy’s production?
Muncy’s injury is one that will immediately affect the Dodgers. The All-Star was the team’s most consistent hitter this season. His ability to draw walks and work deep counts was a key piece to their success. He also hit a career-high 36 homers.
As far as the roster spot, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for the Dodgers. They could choose to add another pitcher, or they can swap out Muncy’s spot for another position player who is currently in Triple-A. Zach McKinstry or Luke Raley could be options off the bench.
Filling Muncy’s spot on the roster shouldn’t be an impossible task. When it comes to the starting lineup, that’s where things get interesting.
The Dodgers could opt to go with Matt Beaty at first base. He gives them a left-handed-hitting option to make up for Muncy’s absence. Beaty hit two homers over the weekend. But if the Dodgers decide that Beaty’s best role is as a late-inning pinch-hitter, they have other options.
Playing Bellinger at first and keeping Chris Taylor or Gavin Lux in center field is a possibility. Bellinger has struggled at the plate this season, but he would be the team’s best defensive option. He also bats from the left side.
Because Cardinals right-handed starter Adam Wainwright has even splits, the Dodgers could also go with a right-handed-hitting option. That’s where Albert Pujols comes into play.
Pujols is a much better hitter against lefties, and that has been his role since joining the Dodgers in May. But Los Angeles started Pujols against Wainwright in its last meeting with St. Louis on Sept. 8, and he went 0-for-3.
Who fills in for Kershaw?
Kershaw’s last regular-season start was Friday, meaning he would have been fully rested heading into Wednesday's NL Wild Card Game. While Kershaw was an option out of the bullpen for this contest, his loss won’t truly be felt in the matchup against the Cardinals.
The Dodgers could opt to add another one-inning reliever or a position player to fill Kershaw’s spot on the 26-man roster. They could also add right-hander Andre Jackson or righty Mitch White in order to have some coverage. Left-hander David Price, who hasn’t been sharp lately, suddenly becomes a more realistic option.
Either one of those options, however, would likely only be for emergencies, given that the Dodgers are expecting a strong performance from right-hander Max Scherzer and the top options out of their bullpen.