Dodgers, the NL’s team to beat, are getting healthy at right time

Tony Gonsolin leads MLB in ERA, wins, and walks and hits allowed per inning pitched. The Dodgers placed the right-hander on the injured list Monday with forearm tightness. For most teams, that would be a crisis. The Dodgers are treating it as a minor annoyance. Manager Dave Roberts said he was thinking about resting Gonsolin, anyway.

Normally, I’m skeptical when team officials downplay injuries to important players. That’s especially true with injuries to pitchers, which are notoriously difficult to predict. The Dodgers saw their 2021 World Series hopes damaged by ailing arms. Could it be happening again?

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I doubt it. I believe the Dodgers when they say they’re just taking it easy with Gonsolin. For one thing, Gonsolin also is downplaying the injury. Also, there really is no use in Gonsolin pushing his luck. The Dodgers (89-38) are miles ahead of the Padres in the National League West and eight games clear of the Mets for the NL’s No. 1 seed (all records and stats before Tuesday’s games).

Any rivals hoping that Gonsolin’s injury will be the one that derails the Dodgers likely will be disappointed. The Dodgers can afford to let Gonsolin ease his way into October. They still are the team to beat.

I know what you’re thinking. The Dodgers were the team to beat last season, and the Braves did it in the NLCS on the way to winning the World Series. The Braves are better this year. If the Dodgers (or the Mets) want to win the Series, they’ll probably have to go through the Braves. Thing is, the 2022 Dodgers are on another level from the 2021 Dodgers, who were very good.

Last season, the Dodgers outscored opponents by 275 runs over 162 games. The 2022 Dodgers already are at plus-286, which is 130 runs better than the next-best team, Houston. The only drama left for the Dodgers before October is whether they’ll beat the franchise record for wins that they tied in 2021 (106) and the NL run-differential record of plus-323 set by the 1906 Cubs.

It’s no surprise that the Dodgers are good. This will be their 10th consecutive season in the postseason with nine division titles. Three pennants and one World Series victory over the past five seasons is considered a disappointment in L.A. But the Dodgers had some significant roster changes after last season and have had several key players injured this season. Yet this team may end up being the best in the franchise’s rich history, and that’s with injuries throughout the roster.

Four quality starters have been out for extended periods. Walker Buehler hasn’t pitched since June 10 and had Tommy John surgery last week. Ace lefty Clayton Kershaw has missed about two months total with ongoing back trouble. Andrew Heaney has been limited to nine starts because of shoulder problems. Dustin May returned from elbow surgery Aug. 20.

L.A.’s bullpen also hasn’t been whole all season. Daniel Hudson tore an ACL in June. There are five other relievers on the injured list: Blake Treinen, Danny Duffy, Victor Gonzalez, Yency Almonte and Tommy Kahnle. Those six pitchers were expected to hold down roles behind closer Craig Kimbrel, but they’ve compiled only 61 appearances among them.

All those injuries haven’t stopped the Dodgers from leading the majors in ERA (2.38) and FanGraphs WAR (19.8). Their starters have the best WHIP (1.04), and their relievers are tops in strikeout rate minus walk rate. With the Dodgers, there’s lots of drama and plenty of twists and turns, until the final reveal that everything is just fine.

And, Gonsolin’s injury notwithstanding, the pitching staff is getting healthier just in time to make another October run. May has been effective in two starts off the injured list. Kershaw has declared himself ready to go and could return by this weekend. Treinen, who’s been out since April, also is close to being activated.

Soon, the best pitching staff in the majors will be even more talented. The Dodgers have star power and are ridiculously deep with arms and bats. That’s why they are 3-1 favorites to win the World Series.

I know what you’re thinking again. The Dodgers were deep last season, too. They still were bested in six games by the Braves, who’d won 18 fewer games. The Braves might have won in five if Luke Jackson hadn’t melted down in Game 3. What was supposed to be a depth advantage for the Dodgers was negated by contributions from Braves veterans Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall and pretty much every reliever who made an appearance.

The 2021 Dodgers had health issues, too. Kershaw didn’t pitch in the postseason because of a forearm injury. A dead arm prevented Max Scherzer from starting Game 6 with the Dodgers facing elimination. Braves pitchers limited three Dodgers who’d hurt them in the 2020 NLCS: Mookie Betts, Justin Turner and Corey Seager. The Dodgers were denied another pennant because of injuries, underperformance and a Braves team that found the right mix at the right time.

Some of L.A.’s key players from that team were pending free agents: Kershaw, Scherzer, Trevor Bauer, Seager, Kenley Jansen and Chris Taylor. Scherzer, Jansen and Seager all signed elsewhere. The Dodgers retained Kershaw and Taylor (Bauer opted in for 2022 with the Dodgers but is serving an MLB suspension).

The Dodgers signed Freddie Freeman away from the Braves. He’s having his best year since 2018. To shore the bullpen, the Dodgers traded for Kimbrel and signed Hudson. Kimbrel has been wobbly for stretches of this season. But Roberts soon will have Treinen as a late-inning option. There’s still a chance some of the other injured relievers will be back for October.

Strange things can happen in the postseason. Gonsolin’s setback is a reminder that the health of their pitching staff still could go south again. The Dodgers are no sure thing. They are the team to beat.

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