The math is elementary. Eight minus four equals worrisome.
The Los Angeles Dodgers figured they had eight starting pitchers when they got back from Arizona. Seven of them made the Opening Day roster and one, Ted Lilly, would continue building up his arm strength while on the disabled list.
It wasn’t ideal, particularly for the players involved, but it was reassuring. The Dodgers were protected against three injuries to starting pitchers. How many other teams could say that?
But that state of equilibrium couldn’t hold. The Dodgers were pressured to trade Aaron Harang when they couldn’t find any way to use him. So, now they were protected against injuries to two of their pitchers. Still pretty good.
And then they got three injuries to starting pitchers in 10 days. Chad Billingsley was put on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with pain in the same elbow that put him on the DL twice last season. Once again, it appears as if he might be headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery. Perhaps they’ll go with the platelet-rich plasma therapy again, but that clearly didn’t work the first time.
Billingsley will be evaluated in Los Angeles Tuesday and, presumably, pick an option by the middle of next week.
So, now, Steven Fife – who had to deal with all sorts of frustration in spring training stuck behind eight pitchers on guaranteed contracts -- is forced into action. The Dodgers are lucky they have a guy like him, a strike thrower with some major-league success. He had a 4.61 ERA in Triple-A, but that’s not all that bad when you’re pitching in the high desert.
Now, he just has to pick up that first major-league win.
For a team with the payroll and expectations of the Dodgers, these are the moments that can feel like that long pause before the roof caves in. And it just might. They had lost six in a row coming into Sunday. They aren’t hitting well enough to support mediocre pitching. The only night they’re guaranteed they won’t get that is when Clayton Kershaw jogs to the mound and they’ve offered Kershaw virtually no run support so far.
It is a moment of crisis. The way a team reacts to those -- and it’s rare that, over a six month season, a few don’t arrive -- can determine its postseason fate.
Forget about who can replace Billingsley in the rotation. To hold the line until Zack Greinke returns, perhaps in mid-June, the Dodgers have to hit. They will, at least better than they have so far. It's impossible to think they'll stay this bad, isn't it?
They entered Sunday 29th in the majors in runs scored. That is both ridiculous, given what they’re paying these hitters, and likely unsustainable. Matt Kemp will either get it going or be asked to take a step back and let his shoulder heal more fully on the disabled list. Hanley Ramirez could be back in a couple of weeks, which might be a mixed blessing. His bat offers far more than Justin Sellers’, but his glove offers far less.
The Dodgers have been getting runners on base. What they’ve lacked is scoring hits, specifically home runs and hits with runners in scoring position. The resumes of their hitters suggest those trends won’t stay stuck on empty all year.
So, the Dodgers might want to tap into the vibe from early last season, when they won despite a bunch of no names. This team, depleted as it is, still has more talent every day it gets dressed.
They can either rally back from the bad luck or wallow in pity. Given their payroll, much of the country would love nothing more than to watch this team fail spectacularly.
“Nobody is going to sit there and feel sorry for us,” manager Don Mattingly told reporters Sunday.” We have to go out and play and win a game.”
It’s kind of that simple.