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Dodgers mailbag: Playoff rotation, Walker Buehler, Miguel Rojas & Dodger Dogs

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Los Angeles Dodgers Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I asked for questions, and you delivered. Let’s get right to it, ahead of the Dodgers starting a road trip with a 12-game lead in the National League West.

If the Dodgers make it to the NLCS which 4 starting pitchers would you use? -Dodger John

With the caveat that we are still 46 days away from the start of the National League Division Series and a lot could change between now and then, the Dodgers’ top four starting pitchers at the moment is crystal clear: Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw, Lance Lynn, and Bobby Miller.

Urías starts Game 1 for me, but of course that could change.

There are still concerns, chiefly with how Kershaw fully recovers from the shoulder injury that the Dodgers very clearly downplayed for six weeks. So far he hasn’t been stretched beyond five innings in his first two starts back, but still has time to get back to his form from the first half of the season.

Miller has looked fantastic of late, but the thing to watch over the next six weeks is how he holds up physically as he surpasses last year’s innings total of 112⅓ innings. This year Miller is at 89⅔ innings. Including Tuesday night’s start in Cleveland, Miller probably has seven regular season starts left. The Dodgers will buy an inning here and there from Miller’s starts but haven’t shown yet they are planning to skip a start or anything. Let’s give Miller his current average (5.38 innings) over his final seven starts. That puts him at 127⅓ innings heading into October, which leaves plenty of room for some postseason starts.

What are the chances Walker Buehler returns as a starter or a reliever this year? -ChevereTK

Miller is the best rookie pitcher the Dodgers have produced in five years, and the looming question is whether that 2018 rookie, Buehler, will be fully stretched out in time to start in the playoffs.

That Buehler is even in consideration to pitch in September is remarkable, just 13 months after Tommy John surgery and flexor tendon repair of his right elbow (the anniversary of that procedure is Wednesday). He’s faced hitters already in Arizona, but the real comeback clock starts when he starts a minor league rehab assignment. He’ll need to stretch out to at least four innings in the minors before being considered to join the Dodgers major league rotation.

Having Buehler back as a potential playoff starter would be incredible, but it’s important the Dodgers don’t rush him back to achieve that end. It doesn’t appear that they will, but it’s at least a positive sign that we’re talking about potentially five viable healthy postseason starting pitchers when they haven’t been able to get to four starting pitchers in either of the last two postseasons, leading to early exits.

But again, we are still six weeks away from the postseason, so let’s see how things change between now and then.

Assuming Lux’s return, what should the Dodgers’ contingency plan for SS in 2024 be? Is Rojas redundant now that we know that Mookie can play SS? - Ken Rosenberg

The contingency plan is still Rojas, who the Dodgers not only traded for in January but also extended in February. He’s signed through 2024 for $5 million, plus a club option in 2025 worth $5 million and a buyout of $1 million.

Rojas’ bat has been considerably worse than expected, hitting .216/.271/.291 with a 55 wRC+ that’s his lowest since part-time duty s a rookie in 2014 with the Dodgers. And that’s even including his August resurgence. The only Dodger with more home runs (three) and RBI (11) than Rojas this month is Mookie Betts.

But the reason why Rojas will return, aside from his presence in the clubhouse, is that he’s still a fantastic defender. He ranks fourth among major league shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved (+11) and third in Total Zone Rating (+10) despite playing only 65 percent of the Dodgers’ innings at the position. Outs Above Average has Rojas at +4, still well above average.

Having Rojas as an occasional spot starter at shortstop with a fully healthy Lux, and a backup at all the infield positions, is probably the ideal scenario.

I’m not going to put anything past Betts again, but I think when it comes to his infield duty, he’s much better at second base and much more likely to be deployed there on a regular basis than at shortstop.

But getting Lux healthy is the real prize of the 2024 infield.

What happened to the Dodger Dog? ... The old Dodger Dog was flame-grilled with prominent grill marks and a unique smoky flavor. The updated Dodger dog appears to be microwaved and its bite and flavor profile was borrowed from AMC Theaters. ... I know that the Dodgers replaced Farmer John as their hot dog vendor a couple seasons ago, but surely the new vendor can create a hot dog that is at least in the ballpark (no pun intended) of the Farmer John version used for the past several decades. This new hot dog is a travesty! -truerblue

(This question was edited a bit for length.)

The Brooklyn Dog is available at a handful of concession stands at Dodger Stadium. This one is down the left field line on the field level.
The Brooklyn Dog is available at a handful of concession stands at Dodger Stadium. This one is down the left field line on the field level.
Picture from Jon Weisman on Twitter, searching for the Brooklyn Dog at Dodger Stadium in June 2023.

The Dodger Dog’s appeal lies almost solely in its nostalgia. The decline of the iconic Dodger Stadium food offering started well before Papa Cantella’s took over production from Farmer John in 2021.

The key in getting the best version of the regular Dodger Dog is to only buy them from concession stands that specify the dogs are actually grilled, rather than steamed.

But the real answer here when it comes to purchasing a hot dog at Dodger Stadium is to get other varieties. The Super Dog, an all-beef offering, is better than a Dodger Dog, but the top option is the Brooklyn Dog, which is still tasty and has the best snap of any hot dog sold at the ballpark.

Is it wrong for having hung out in the berry, salad, veggie cooler at Costco for an inordinate amount of time as a respite from the summer heat? -gofortu

Absolutely nothing wrong with trying to find respite and cool air, conditioned or otherwise, amid sweltering heat. Plus, doing so at Costco puts you within walking distance from the food court, one of the great value-meal propositions around. Enjoy a chicken bake or a slice of pizza while you stay cool. You deserve it.