It feels downright inappropriate to criticize the Los Angeles Dodgers (83-49) after the dominant August they have put together. Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman are both vying for National League MVP honors, Clayton Kershaw is in top form and the division is as good as locked up. There is really nothing to nitpick as the team heads into the final month of the regular season.
But that often seems to be the case for LA, doesn't it? The waters look steady as can be in the summer, but some undetected or overlooked weather issues give way to significant choppiness come October. While clubs this talented do not suffer full-on collisions with ice bergs, there is reason to believe that the Dodgers' 2023 postseason voyage will go awry before they can safely sail into port to be crowned the new World Series champions.
Many of you are probably thinking “oh, he's one of those guys.” I assure you this is not an attack on The Boys in Blue. Their historic run atop the NL hierarchy speaks for itself. Even if we are to question the legitimacy of the 2020 title, no one can dispute the two other Fall Classics LA has recently appeared in, including one that came against the 2017 sign-stealing Houston Astros.
No, the past will not be used against Dave Roberts' squad today. There is a more glaring issue that will become pertinent as it gets deeper into the playoffs.
We are not going to wait until then, though. The timing might not be ideal for this argument, but we are going to identify the one fatal flaw that will prevent the Dodgers from winning their second World Series in four seasons.
Admittedly, the biggest questions most postseason-bound teams face is starting pitching. In 2023, though, the lack of rotation depth feels more prevalent than usual. That should be reassuring for LA fans, right?
Wrong. Such a plight can probably be more easily overcome in the American League than in the NL. Despite being far less well-rounded than its counterpart, the oldest professional sports league in North America contains the Atlanta Braves. The 2021 champs boast one of the more dangerous and balanced lineups we have seen in recent years.
They could be a genuine nightmare for any ill-equipped pitching staff. Among those vulnerable teams is almost every NL playoff hopeful, including the Dodgers.
"When you look at the rosters and go position from position… I'm taking every Brave over the Dodger in every position."@Xavier_Scruggs is riding with Atlanta ahead of tonight's #MLBNShowcase 🤯 pic.twitter.com/u59wHbwv5i
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) August 31, 2023
Roberts has been without several of his most valuable hurlers for different points of the season and has been without Walker Buehler for the entire year (underwent Tommy John surgery last August). Tony Gonsolin is devastatingly headed towards the same fate. The organization has pivoted and called up young starters like Bobby Miller and Emmet Sheehan. All of those injuries and growing pains has done absolutely nothing to alter the complexion of the NL West.
But everything changes in October. Pitchers must step up in the postseason. While the Dodgers have added experience and credibility to their staff, there are just too many inconsistencies on the mound right now to completely buy this franchise as the World Series front runner.
Los Angeles pitching has yet to reach its ceiling
The term “great on paper” has arguably never meant less in baseball than it has in the 2023 MLB campaign. The San Diego Padres and New York Mets both had championship or bust expectations. They could each realistically finish behind the Washington Nationals. Though, talent tends to rise to the top in most cases.
Just look at the 2022 Philadelphia Phillies. Their bats came alive at the right time and propelled them to the NL Pennant. The Dodgers have superstar and even Hall of Fame caliber talent on offense and on the mound.
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A rational person would then assume that all of that stardom, coupled with a healthy mix of experience and youth, would have to shine through in the end. But that will depend on the consistency of a pair of former All-Stars who have endured plenty of ups and downs this season.
Julio Urias and Lance Lynn are the X-factors
Julio Urias struggled to find his footing in July after missing a month-and-a-half with a hamstring injury. He then regained his All-Star form with a stellar August. Until his last outing, that is, which saw him surrender six runs to the Boston Red Sox. Urias, who has the reputation of being one of the most reliable pitchers in the game, has been prone to blow-ups in 2023.
The 27-year-old has more motivation to fully lock in for the final stretch than most, given his free agent status this offseason. Pure will, however, might not be enough to compensate for his regression. Urias has been under the bright lights before, but unless he can get through September without getting walloped, the lefty will not inspire the same level of confidence he has in past postseasons.
And then we have Lance Lynn, who has proven to be the front office's prized midseason acquisition. Since he has been removed from the alleged “culture problems” of the Chicago White Sox, the veteran right-hander has looked like an ace. Even so, his overall ERA remains 5.56, which means he was absolutely dreadful for almost four months straight.
Lance Lynn has been lights-out in a @Dodgers uniform! 🎯#MLBCentral dissects the RHP's deceptive fastball ahead of his start in tonight's highly-anticipated series opener at Fenway. pic.twitter.com/EiM84AdSOH
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) August 25, 2023
Yes, the Dodgers and the White Sox are vastly different organizations and workplace environments, but a competent starter like Lynn shouldn't have been completely vulnerable to clubhouse instability. At 36, he might just be entering a phase of his career where more implosions occur.
Lynn has given LA fans no reason to doubt him yet, but it is still asking a lot for him to be either the second or third-most important starting pitcher on a title team. A 5.28 ERA in 27 career playoff appearances only reinforces that skepticism.
In between the Dodgers' greatness lies plenty of questions
If Julio Urias and Lance Lynn are shaky, the whole pitching staff can fall apart. More stress will be on guys like Bobby Miller and Caleb Ferguson to bridge to Dave Roberts' most trusted relievers. The bullpen has been elite in the second-half, but a hefty burden can see it revert back to the concerning early-goings of the season. It is also too risky to bank on Walker Buehler being available or a difference-maker.
Clayton Kershaw cannot prop up the rotation and, by extension, the Los Angeles Dodgers' World Series hopes all on his own. This perpetually excellent franchise is still going to be an obvious handful the rest of the way. There is no denying that. But there are also too many uncertainties to ignore.