The Dodgers had more than their fair share of injuries in 2016. Los Angeles set the record for putting the most players on the disabled list with 28 different guys being placed on the dreaded DL. Well, September is a time to prepare, October is a time to shine, and LA is primed for a run at the National League pennant now that they have their full team on the field.
Clayton Kershaw returned to the Dodgers’ lineup after a conspicuous two and a half month absence. In his last four starts, Dave Roberts has eased him back into form, as he has pitched 3/5/6/7 innings in his last four outings, respectively. He is presumably healthy, and undoubtedly his arm is well-rested as he hasn’t even thrown 150 innings this year.
Additionally, Rich Hill, who has struggled with blisters on his fingers for the duration of the year, seems ready to be able to take the mound for the Dodgers next month. Again Roberts has used his judgment and prudence to protect a main cog in the Dodgers’ success, even taking Hill out of a perfect game earlier this month in order to stave off the return of any ‘heat’ in his fingers. Hill tossed a 35-pitch bullpen session this past Tuesday, is scheduled to start against Madison Bumgarner on Friday, and should be slotted to take the hill in game two of the National League Divisional Series next week.
It’s been quite a dramatic turn of events in the National League West. As the Dodgers struggled to keep their players on the field, the Giants gave them a window...then a door...and eventually the entire house in the National League West. While Los Angeles got majority of their team back from the DL, San Francisco’s struggles in the second half this year have been profoundly and historically bad. Adding the fact that 30-year-old Johnny Cueto has struggled with a groin injury of late only adds to the problems.
The Giants very likely will sneak into a wild card matchup with the Mets, who unlike the Dodgers seem to be breaking down at exactly the wrong time. New York’s hard-throwing rotation is a shadow of what it was on Opening Day. Matt Harvey is out for the season after having surgery in July to combat his thoracic outlet syndrome. Jacob deGrom’s season ended following surgery to repair his ulnar nerves, and New York this week announced Steven Matz’s season is over due to bone spurs in his elbow (and a mysterious shoulder pain that isn’t getting front page news now but may come next season).
Either the Mets or Giants will have to face an imposing Cubs team that has won 101 games for the first time since William Howard Taft served as President and is pretty much entirely healthy. While the Cubs are missing Kyle Schwarber, he has not been a key member of this 101-win team, as he played in only two games. The Cubs as currently constructed are a formidable team (with or without Schwarber), and they have demonstrated they have the ability to absorb the loss of Schwarber. On the other hand, the Mets having to throw out Bartolo Colon and either Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman beyond Noah Syndergaard is hardly desirable in a five-game series.
Although the Nationals are in better shape than the Mets, they too are suffering pretty significant injuries. DC is lined up to play the Dodgers in the NLDS and will be without their homegrown ace, Stephen Strasburg, their catcher Wilson Ramos, and MVP candidate Daniel Murphy. Strasburg’s slow recovery from a flexor mass strain has moved the recovery timetable beyond the divisional series, and Ramos will miss the next nine or so months as he recovers from a torn ACL.
Daniel Murphy hasn’t played in over a week due to a gluteal strain, and there is no timetable for his return. Murphy’s production will be difficult to replace as he has been the lifeblood of the Nationals offense. This season he already has posted over five wins above replacement (per FanGraphs WAR) with a wRC+ of 156. He has been a fantastic and welcome addition to a Nats lineup that expected much more than a 114 wRC+ from Bryce Harper.
The list of Nats players above doesn’t even include Bryce Harper. Perhaps a cause to Harper’s lack of explosiveness is the continued issue with his thumb. Thumb problems sap power and production, and although the Nationals are being smart in keeping Harper out of several games this week, no one knows if he will be at 100 percent next week. If this injury lingers or is worse than Washington is letting on, the Nationals will not be well-positioned against Kershaw, Hill, and Kenta Maeda.
All in all, the Dodgers are well positioned to make a run at the NLCS where they likely will face the Cubs, another team with their 2016 roster intact. Los Angeles endured significant injuries this year, including a two and a half month shutdown of the best pitcher in the game, but I bet they wouldn’t trade that in for what some of the other National League teams are currently battling.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano
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