The Dodgers won 111 games during the regular season, which affords them distinct advantages they did not have one year ago — rest, and home field advantage. To get the 11 more wins in the postseason, here are some things to watch for this October.
A short stop?
Trea Turner took over as Dodgers shortstop this year for Corey Seager, now the question is whether Turner will follow Seager’s path. No, I don’t mean whether Turner will sign for over $300 million elsewhere, though his pending free agency this winter could be boosted by my actual point.
Seager in his first 31 postseason games hit .203/.275/.331, after regular seasons in which he hit a cumulative .295/.363/.496. Then he went supernova in the 2020 postseason, tying an October record with eight home runs while winning both NLCS MVP and World Series MVP.
Turner is a career .228/.274/.287 hitter in 39 postseason games, and a .302/.355/.487 hitter during the regular season. His woes include hitting just .216/.245/.255 in his first playoff run with the Dodgers in 2021. Turner was by no means alone last October, with the Dodgers held to two or fewer runs in six of their 12 games, hastening LA’s playoff exit.
He’s been one of the Dodgers’ best players all season, but also hit just .260/.304/.409 since September 1. The Dodgers need Turner to be dynamic this postseason to accomplish their goals.
Off the gas
The Dodgers greatest strength in 2021 was the top three in their starting rotation, with Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler, and Julio Urías all receiving Cy Young votes. They were relied on heavily in the postseason, with Buehler starting on short rest and both Scherzer and Urías pitching in relief once in between starts.
But after that, the Dodgers had nobody else to pitch bulk innings and, once the top three ran out of gas, things went south in a hurry. Buehler and Urías set career highs in innings, and Scherzer was 37, so it was understandable when they had nothing left, but that didn’t ease the pain inflicted on the Dodgers’ chances. That trio pitched 50 of the Dodgers’ 105 innings last postseason, and had a 4.14 ERA, including 17 runs allowed in 18 NLCS innings.
This year the Dodgers are also limited, but are set up much better to share the workload. They have two legitimate Game 1 starters in Urías and Clayton Kershaw, who at the moment is pitching as well as he has all year. Most importantly Kershaw is healthy, after injuring his elbow on the final weekend of the regular season in 2021.
Tyler Anderson had a career year and, while not spectacular, is incredibly effective at limiting hard contact. Tony Gonsolin should be stretched out to go about four innings whenever he starts, presumably in Game 4 after Anderson in Game 3.
Dodgers starting rotation
Behind them, the Dodgers have their deepest bullpen in years, with five or six pitchers capable of closing games and pitching important innings, plus Andrew Heaney and potentially Dustin May to pitch bulk innings if needed.
The four presumed starters — Urías, Kershaw, Anderson, Gonsolin — are not overworked this season, and in some cases they were removed from regular season starts early, shaving an inning here and there off their odometers. They should be strong heading into October, but the starters should not be overworked, either.
Let the starters start, and keep them on regular rest except in worst-case scenarios. Let the Game 1 starter — I think it should be Urías, the team’s dependable rock all year — start in Game 5 and don’t bring in the Game 2 starter in relief. The Dodgers have actual, effective relievers for that. Dodgers starting pitchers are a great strength, and they should remain in that role, and not pitch on short rest nor in relief.
The bullpen is a great strength, too.
Which Heaney will show up?
Andrew Heaney’s last two outings of the regular season came in relief, which is how he will be used in the playoffs. He’s the most volatile of the Dodgers pitchers. He had a perfectly fine 3.10 ERA and 3.75 FIP, though it wasn’t enough to crack the starting rotation in October.
The Dodgers will definitely need Heaney, whether it’s to back up a not-yet-stretched-out Gonsolin in the NLDS, or during the run of potentially five straight game days to close out the NLCS, should they advance.
Heaney leads the team in strikeout rate (35.5 percent), but when he doesn’t miss bats, baseballs are hit very hard, with a 48.5-percent hard-hit rate that also tops the team. The left-hander also allows home runs at nearly the rate of Reyes Moronta and Phil Bickford.
Through his first seven starts, which spread over four months thanks to two long injured list stints for shoulder inflammation, Heaney allowed only one home run. In his final nine games — which included seven starts and two bulk relief appearances — Heaney allowed 11 home runs with a 4.54 ERA.
Controlling and limiting Heaney’s usage could prove fruitful, as opponents hit just .175/.246/.325 with a 37.3-percent strikeout rate in his first time through a batting order. The Dodgers could still get bulk usage out of Heaney, even if they might only want him to face the heart of a lineup once. If the opponent is the Padres for instance, you could bring in Heaney after Juan Soto, Manny Machado, and Josh Bell, and have him face 15 batters while only going through those three once. Circumstances don’t always allow for such ideal deployment, but how Heaney is used will definitely be something to watch.