Dodgers mailbag: Should Hyun-Jin Ryu be in the playoff rotation?

Hyun-Jin Ryu has made 19 starts this year, with a 3.34 earned-run average and a 1.54 ERA in the second half.
(Keith Srakocic / Associated Press)

The Dodgers are 91-38. That translates to a 114-win pace, a relative setback after losing a series to the Brewers this weekend. The Dodgers had not dropped a series since Washington visited Dodger Stadium in the first week of June. They went 19-0-3 in their next 22 series, which is remarkable.

The run ended this weekend, as the Brewers pitched well and the Dodgers did not do much hitting. Cody Bellinger is expected to return from the disabled list on Wednesday. That should help matters.

Here are the pitching matchups for a three-game series starting on Tuesday against Arizona:

TUESDAY: LHP Rich Hill (9-5, 3.32 ERA ) vs. RHP Zack Godley (5-7, 3.15 ERA)

WEDNESDAY: LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu (5-6, 3.34 ERA) vs. LHP Robbie Ray (10-5, 3.06 ERA)


THURSDAY: RHP Kenta Maeda (12-5, 3.76 ERA) vs. RHP Zack Greinke (15-6, 3.14 ERA)

As always, there is plenty to discuss. You can send me questions on Twitter @McCulloughTimes. Let’s do this.

We tackled a version of this question in last week’s mailbag, but this past week complicated matters. Alex Wood went back on the disabled list with inflammation of his SC joint. Hyun-Jin Ryu threw six innings of one-run baseball. The team is still unsure who its primary left-handed reliever should be, which has increased the number of questions asking about Wood moving to the bullpen and Ryu taking his spot in the rotation.

The Dodgers do not consider Wood’s injury to be very serious. He likely will start again next weekend in San Diego. As long as he appears healthy, he will be in the postseason rotation, along with Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish and Rich Hill.

Ryu has exceeded expectations this season. The expectations, of course, were quite low. He had pitched in only one game during 2015 and 2016 after undergoing shoulder surgery. He has recovered to make 19 starts this year, with a 3.34 earned-run average and a 1.54 ERA in the second half.

Except it’s worthwhile to consider his opponents in the second half: Twins, Giants, Mets, Padres, Tigers, Pirates. These are not good teams. Some are objectively terrible. There is a significant difference between facing the Mets in August and the Nationals in October. I believe the Dodgers recognize that, and recognize the downside risk in starting Ryu, despite his toughness and resilience. There are better options — namely, Wood and Hill.

Game 2.

Long relievers don’t have much value in the postseason, so I don’t see Maeda making a roster in October. As for Ryu, his surgically-repaired left shoulder could prevent him from contributing in a one-inning relief role in the playoffs. When I asked pitching coach Rick Honeycutt about Ryu’s ability to come out of the bullpen, Honeycutt mentioned the intensity and length of Ryu’s pregame routine, which Ryu requires to heat up properly for competition.

“It would be a tough thing to be more of a one-inning guy, plus he never went on back-to-back days, those type of things,” Honeycutt said. “I think it would be unfair him to ask him to be able to do that.”

The Dodgers view themselves as the team to beat.

I reject your premise. The Dodgers bullpen is not a “problem.” It is a bullpen, and all bullpens terrify fan bases heading into October.

The Dodgers bullpen ranked, heading into Sunday’s games:

  1. First in baseball in earned-run average (2.97).
  2. Second in baseball, and first in the National League, in fielding-independent ERA (3.40).
  3. Third in baseball, and first in the National League, in strikeout per nine innings (10.10).
  4. First in baseball in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.77).

I could go on.
The Dodgers bullpen is objectively great as a unit. It is not perfect, of course. There will be questions about Pedro Baez in October until he answers them. Josh Fields is prone to home runs — which can be a serious problem in the playoffs. No left-handed reliever has emerged as the primary option. Brandon Morrow has been excellent, but he has pitched on back-to-back days only twice.

Outside of Kenley Jansen, there are plenty of question marks. This makes the Dodgers bullpen like pretty much every other good bullpen in the sport: a group of talented but flawed pitchers who the organization hopes will come through in high-leverage situations in the postseason. The Dodgers know they can trust Jansen. They will have to find out about the rest.

It’s just too early to say. Before determining a playoff roster, the Dodgers need to see:

  1. How Andre Ethier fares in September.
  2. Whether Joc Pederson can recapture the form he showed in 2016.
  3. If Alex Verdugo can make an impact.
  4. How Wood recovers from his latest minor setback.
  5. If Walker Buehler can be a weapon out of the bullpen.

There’s no reason to forecast a playoff roster with limited information. In an ideal world, for example, Buehler would aid the club as a dynamic, one-inning reliever. But he has struggled in that role with triple-A Oklahoma City and might not be ready for the assignment. The Dodgers have another month to evaluate their assets before building a roster, and they intend to use it.

The playoffs don’t start next week, so my answer would be meaningless.

Yes, Clayton Kershaw will be activated and start Friday in San Diego.

Yes, Cody Bellinger will be activated during the series against Arizona earlier in the week.

I expect the Dodgers to recall Pederson when the rosters expand in September, but I do not project him starting in October. He might make the roster, but the organization is already crowded with left-handed hitters who can come off the bench. Pederson offers more versatility than either Adrian Gonzalez or Ethier, but Dave Roberts likely trusts Gonzalez or Ethier more in a high-leverage, pinch-hitting spot.

That’s an unkind way to describe Gonzalez, as he made plenty of hard contact during his first 10 games back from the disabled list. Even so, he is hitting .184. The numbers are what they are.

Brandon McCarthy most likely will be activated at some point in September when the rosters expand. But his command remained shaky during a rehab outing over the weekend, and he will pitch for class-A Rancho Cucamonga again Wednesday. If he rejoins the Dodgers, he may make some starts, but he appears to have pitched himself out of contention for the postseason roster. That could change, obviously, but he doesn’t look like part of the October plan right now.

It’s an intriguing thought, but Austin Barnes would be a defensive downgrade compared to Logan Forsythe at second base. Maybe the Dodgers will give it a shot when the rosters expand.

Corey Seager. (His jersey read, as usual, “Seager”.)

Absolutely. I’ve been fortunate these past few years to write about some fascinating teams. I’m curious to see how this season ends. The journey should be fun, and I hope to do the story justice in a daily basis in the pages of The Times.

It’s been an excellent fortnight for new music. I enjoyed the records from Turnover and The War on Drugs, especially “A Deeper Understanding,” which sounds immense and spectacular. But I’ve mostly been listening to “Science Fiction,” Brand New’s surprise-release LP, for the past two weeks.

My favorite song on the record changes from day to day. Upon first listen, I was entranced by “Lit Me Up.” I’ve gone through spells where I preferred “Waste,” then “No Control,” then “Same Logic/Teeth.” I think I’ve settled on “Desert” as my favorite song, but it could change by tomorrow. The record is immaculate.

Twitter: @McCulloughTimes