LOS ANGELES — For a team that won 111 games, the Dodgers seemingly have just as many questions about their ability to win a World Series heading into the 2022 postseason.
But do the Dodgers, who won the second-most games in the 146-year history of the National League, really have that much to worry about this October? We’ll find out soon enough with the Dodgers set to begin postseason play on Tuesday against the rival Padres in the NL Division Series with Game 1 set for 6:37 p.m. PT at Dodger Stadium.
• Padres-Dodgers Game 1 FAQ (Tonight, 9:30 ET/6:30 PT, FS1)
The Dodgers handled the Padres in the regular season, winning 14 of 19 against their NL West foes, including all six series, but they know the postseason is a different animal.
"No one cares that we won 111 games starting tomorrow or what the head-to-head matchups were during the season," said first baseman Freddie Freeman. "It's what you can do tomorrow, the next day, and the next day. I don't know that there's a rhyme or reason for why we played so well [against San Diego], but it needs to continue tomorrow."
Here’s a look at a few pressing concerns for the Dodgers as they head into the postseason for a 10th straight year, aiming for just their second World Series title over that stretch.
• Padres-Dodgers position-by-position breakdown
Who's the closer?
The Dodgers acquired veteran Craig Kimbrel in a trade with the White Sox shortly before the start of the regular season to replace Kenley Jansen at closer, but Kimbrel never quite found his footing. Kimbrel, 34, had a down year by his standards, posting a 3.75 ERA and blowing five saves in 27 chances. He was demoted as closer in late September, and it's unclear who will pitch the ninth inning for the Dodgers this postseason.
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It is an issue for Los Angeles, though the team does have several internal candidates to close, such as Brusdar Graterol or Yency Almonte. Blake Treinen is also set to rejoin the bullpen after shoulder issues limited him to just five games this year, although his role is expected to be limited. He’s not expected to be ready to pitch in consecutive games. Evan Phillips also was elite in a fireman role this year and is expected to be brought in for high-leverage situations.
The Dodgers believe they have enough relief depth that they won’t need a traditional closer this October. Dodgers relievers posted a 2.87 ERA in 581 innings, which was the second-lowest ERA in the Majors behind only Houston's 2.80 bullpen ERA.
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"I think, speaking to the depth of the bullpen, it is the most talented 'pen that we've had," said manager Dave Roberts. "I think the way it's going to show itself is in a shorter series, whether it's five games or a longer series, is we'll just have different options so you don't have to run the same cast of characters to the same part of the lineup all the time. We're fortunate in that."
VERDICT: It may have to be a non-traditional approach, but the Dodgers have the horses to pull it off.
Yes, losing ace Walker Buehler to Tommy John surgery in August was a huge blow to the rotation. And it doesn’t help that right-handers Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May are both coming off injuries of their own.
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But the Dodgers view Game 1 starter Julio Urías and Game 2 starter Clayton Kershaw as co-aces, while Tyler Anderson had a breakout season and Gonsolin and May are both on the mend. Gonsolin, who went 16-1 with a 2.14 ERA in 24 starts this year but suffered a right forearm strain in late August, pitched two innings against the Rockies on Oct. 3 and threw in a simulated game Sunday. He could be in line to start Game 4, following Anderson in Game 3.
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May, who posted a 4.50 ERA in six starts in his return from Tommy John surgery, dealt with a back issue late in the season but threw three innings in a simulated start on Sunday. May could be left off the NLDS roster to continue to build up his innings, but the Dodgers should have plenty of options for the rotation, even with Buehler out of the picture.
VERDICT: If Kershaw’s balky back holds up and Gonsolin is ready to go, it’s all good. But if one or both falters? Consecutive short starts can tax even the best of bullpens.
Is the lineup too top-heavy?
The Dodgers boast an incredible top of the lineup, with Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freeman creating one of the top trios in the sport. But there's a perception that the lineup drops off after cleanup hitter Will Smith, as Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, Joey Gallo and Cody Bellinger all underperformed this season, relative to their normal levels of production. Taylor is also dealing with a neck injury that kept him out of action for the final five games, but is expected to be on the NLDS roster.
But the Dodgers have depth, as Justin Turner heated up in the second half and Trayce Thompson was a revelation after being purchased from the Tigers on June 20. Muncy, Taylor and Bellinger also have had plenty of big postseason moments in their careers. A testament to their roster depth, the Dodgers received a .737 OPS from their seven-to-nine hitters, which was the third-best mark in the Majors this year and illustrates that their lineup is plenty deep.
VERDICT: The Dodgers (847 runs) led MLB in runs scored by 40 over the second-place Yankees (807), so there’s no reason to worry about this team’s offensive prowess.
Dodgers' questions before 2022 Division Series vs. Padres – MLB.com