The Dodgers are already punishing opponents, and now they look ready to fix their potential Achilles heel

The Los Angeles Dodgers have gone into Terminator mode and can be daunting to consider, but they will only get deeper and better with reinforcements.

We’ll get to that last one in a second. First, where were we? Oh yes, Terminator.

With another seemingly easy win over a team in playoff position Tuesday night (10-3 over the Twins), here’s the Dodgers’ superlative checklist right now:

  • They have the best record in baseball at 76-33.
  • That’s on pace to win 113 games, which would set the franchise record by a good margin (last year’s 106 wins are tied for the most Dodgers wins in a season with 2019; previously 105 wins by Brooklyn Dodgers 1953 was the record).
  • They have a 16-game lead in the NL West, easily the division’s largest lead.
  • The current winning streak is nine.
  • They are 16-3 since the All-Star break.
  • They have won 31 of their last 36 games.

Good grief, Dodgers, we get it. You are great at baseball.

Of course, they are in the enviable and unfortunate position where the regular season doesn’t matter much, as discussed in This week’s MLB power rankings. Whether 2022 is a success or failure depends entirely on how the Dodgers perform in October (and early November). Remember, manager Dave Roberts guaranteed to win it all in March. The funny thing is, it wasn’t that big of a story. Of course they believe they will win the World Series. It would be negative if they didn’t.

Speaking of negatives, they have to have at least one, right? It’s entirely plausible that something could derail them in the playoffs, the same way they lost in the NLCS in 2021 and the NLDS in 2019. Looking at the roster, I immediately discounted the late pieces.

The closer is Craig Kimbrel. He has converted 20 of his 23 reception chances. The Dodgers as a team have just 11 saves. Only three teams have fewer, and one of them (the Tigers) rarely scores a touchdown.

This means that on the surface level, it doesn’t seem like there is a problem. Maybe there isn’t. Kimbrel simply seems incapable of a clean inning. In 39 innings this season, he has given up 41 hits, 17 walks and hit two batters. His 1.49 WHIP is terrible for a closer. He is allowing an opposing batting average of .261, which is 18 points higher than the league average. His .339 slugging percentage is 27 points higher than the league average.

The eye test is listed here. Hell, if anything, it’s worse. Most of the time, it seems like he has no idea where his pitches are going to end up, and it’s akin to pulling teeth just to throw strikes and score losses.

I’ve found myself thinking that even though the Dodgers will win over 110 games, their season will end in mid-October with Kimbrel on the mound and an inferior team celebrating. After all, leading the race of playoff teams with a contested close is much more difficult than surviving the regular season games.

On the other hand, the Dodgers have a lot going for them right now. First, there are eight weeks left in the season for the Dodgers to work on in the late innings — and, to reiterate, they don’t exactly have a save problem. Second, there are some serious reinforcements on the way.

  • Remember Dustin May? The 6 foot straight powerhouse with the bushy red hair and beard, right? He needed Tommy John surgery last May, but he’s almost back in the rotation. He has now made five rehab starts, including four with Triple-A Oklahoma City in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. And he has a 1.69 ERA with 26 strikeouts against five walks in 16 innings. He threw 68 pitches in his five innings Tuesday, allowing one run (a solo homer) on three hits while striking out eight. I know I was talking about the top chicken, but sliding May back into the rotation helps the pitching depth as a whole and is all part of a bigger puzzle. Plus, May would give them five healthy starters (along with Julio UrĂ­as, Tony Gonsolin, Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney) when it’s possible they get Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler back before the playoffs. They only need four starters for the playoffs, so any surplus here could be used to bolster the bullpen.
  • Blake Treinen is returning from shoulder trouble. He has only pitched three games this season, but he was excellent in a full 2021 season. He will be thrown into the bullpen in the final week with the Dodgers and will go on a rehab assignment starting Friday. A return in September is likely, barring any setbacks.
  • Righty Brusdar Graterol, 23, has an electric arm and could look like a late playoff firefighter. He also has been out with a shoulder injury and is scheduled to join Treinen on a rehab assignment with Oklahoma City starting Friday.
  • Right-hander Tommy Kahnle has shown plenty of upside for both the White Sox and Yankees in the past. He has basically been injured since 2019 and is struggling to come back from a forearm injury. He has now pitched three bullpen sessions, hitting 25 pitches last Friday. He may return in September.
  • Lefty Danny Duffy could do rehab assignments later this month and return in September.
  • Buehler, of course, is the big name here. The plan all along has been an MRI on his elbow in early September. He could be out for the season, but he could also be back in late September. They could stretch him out as a starter, or look to use him in short relief. Regardless, his presence only makes them better and certainly adds to the depth.

At the very least, the Dodgers will get May, Graterol and Treinen back. They could also add Kahnle, Duffy, Buehler and Kershaw. We’re talking about the pitching staff with the best ERA in the majors, getting more than a handful of needle-moving arms.

Also, let’s sing the praises of Evan Phillips. The 27-year-old righty has a 1.43 ERA, 2.29 FIP, 0.82 WHIP and 52 strikeouts against 11 unintentional walks in 44 innings. He has held opposing hitters to a minuscule .160/.229/.227 slash. He has stranded 16 of the 19 runners he has inherited. He has gotten better as the season has gone on. In his last 27 appearances, Phillips has allowed just one earned run on 11 hits in 26 innings while striking out 30.

Even leaving Kimbrel aside, it’s not hard to envision a tight end in the playoffs behind Phillips, Graterol, Treinen and, say, May and Buehler.

We all know the phrase, “embarrassment of riches” and that is the case here. The Dodgers have the best offense in the NL and possibly baseball. They have played like one of the best pitching staffs in baseball despite a slew of serious injuries and a problem closer to the base. They are determined to bring back some of the first-team ahead of the playoffs as well.

Terminator mode? Yes, I would say so. They won’t be unbeatable, but it will be an awfully tall order to take them out.

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