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Dodgers pitching depth is reaching its breaking point

Pittsburgh Pirates v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The Dodgers are stuck in a vortex of pitching malaise that is a jarring departure from the last several years. Starters aren’t pitching long enough to keep from overly taxing the bullpen, and as a collective unit the results have been terrible.

On the season, the Dodgers have allowed 4.74 runs per game, 22nd among the 30 major league teams, and 11th in the National League.

Here are the Dodgers’ NL and MLB ranks in fewest runs allowed for the previous six seasons:

  • 2017: first (second)
  • 2018: first (second)
  • 2019: first (first)
  • 2020: first (second)
  • 2021: first (first)
  • 2022: first (first)

Seven Dodgers starting pitchers have been placed on the injured list this season, eight if you could Walker Buehler, who is recovering from last August’s Tommy John surgery and flexor tendon repair.

This week in particular seems especially bad both symbolically and on the field. The news of Dustin May’s flexor tendon repair surgery on Tuesday was a gut punch, because he’ll be out until at lease midseason 2024. In terms of this season though, his return was very much in question whether he had surgery or not. It didn’t make the news any less painful.

Clayton Kershaw was the healthiest of the Dodgers starters, and easily their best pitcher, but shoulder inflammation forced a timeout of sorts for the left-hander. The Dodgers couldn’t keep Kershaw active to skip, say, one start, because they needed as many arms as possible to get through this week.

Which brings us to the last four games, in which Dodgers relievers have thrown 19⅔ innings compared to just 14⅓ for the starters. The four starts in question:

That’s 15 runs in 14⅓ innings by starting pitchers, which is no way to live. It’s also not new to this year’s Dodgers.

They also had a four-game stretch from May 15-18, beginning with Noah Syndergaard lasting four innings in his first start since the blister on his right index finger burst, a fatigued Kershaw needing 90 pitches to get through four innings, May injuring his elbow and leaving after one inning, then Urías allowing four home runs in an inning in a three-inning start before landing on the IL.

Beginning with that May 15 game, Dodgers starting pitchers have a 5.39 ERA, third-worst in MLB, and are averaging 4⅔ innings, fourth-lowest in the majors. They are 21-23 during that stretch.

Since moving to Los Angeles, the Dodgers have only had four other stretches of starting pitchers lasting no more than four innings in four consecutive games:

Now it’s happened twice in an under-two-month stretch this year.

The last time the Dodgers had five straight starts of no longer than four innings was during World War II, from April 30-May 2, 1942. Chet Kehn, Freddie Fitzsimmons, Curt Davis, Whit Wyatt, and Kirby Higbe combined to allow 23 runs (18 earned) in 12 innings, while Brooklyn lost four of the five games.

It’s obvious the Dodgers need pitching stability in the worst way, but the trade deadline is still nearly four weeks away. For right now, the Dodgers just need to get through this week. Four more games, beginning with Bobby Miller on Wednesday night.