The Manny Ramirez suspension has certainly dominated the headlines, but the loss of opening day starter Hiroki Kuroda has left a huge void as well. Just as the Dodgers have somehow excelled without their slugging leftfielder -- averaging 5.36 runs per game, not a far drop from the 5.55 runs per game they were scoring with Manny -- the Dodgers have also perservered without Kuroda.
That's not to say Kuroda has not been missed. The Dodgers went into the season with a top four of -- per their season-opening rotation -- Hiroki Kuroda, Randy Wolf, Chad Billingsley, and Clayton Kershaw. To date, outside of Kuroda and his one start, this group has performed quite well:
The Dodgers have used four other starting pitchers this season, filling their "fifth starter" position:
Amazingly, the Dodgers have won 13 of the 18 games started by their "fifth starters," despite their relative poor performance. It's simply not reasonable to expect the Dodgers to win 72% of their games when the starters are:
- A back end of the rotation guy, let alone one with a sprained thumb
- A pitcher who prefers to come out of the bullpen
- A pitcher who couldn't throw a strike to save his life earlier this year
- A pitcher with a tendency to give up home runs when healthy, who hasn't been healthy in two years
It's hard to expect much more out of the fifth spot in the rotation, but the Dodgers have had to live with that performance out the last two spots in their rotation with Kuroda out.
With Kuroda back, the rotation gains a bit more stability, which will likely in turn put less stress on the bullpen (even though it hasn't been overworked, as Jon Weisman pointed out). I feel much more comfortable about the rotation having to choose one fifth starter rather than two.
Welcome back, Hiroki. You've been missed.