Yes, it’s only May. Yes, there are still over 110 games left to play. And yes, the Los Angeles Dodgers were 11.5 games back last June and still managed to win the division by the largest margin in baseball. But this is a new year and with it comes new challenges. Having lost two of three to the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks to see themselves five games back of the streaking San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers will look to Hyun-Jin Ryu‘s return from the disabled list to provide this team with some much-needed support.
Last year, injuries were a constant for this Dodgers team. They led the league in players on the disabled list, and when they finally got healthy they went on that historic 42-8 streak. This season, injuries to Ryu and Clayton Kershaw caused some instability in the rotation. But now, with Ryu set to return from the DL and start on Wednesday against the New York Mets, the Dodgers must string together some wins and close the gap in the division.
The return of Ryu presents a difficult decision for manager Don Mattingly. Paul Maholm will now be moved to the bullpen, which has been the Dodgers’ overwhelming weakness so far this year. The Dodgers cannot contractually send down struggling relievers Brian Wilison, Chris Perez or Jamey Wright. They could demote Chris Withrow, who is sporting a deceptive 3.05 ERA but has walked 18 batters in 20 innings. Chone Figgins is also a candidate to be sent to Albuquerque, but that would leave them with one less position player on the bench. Figgins should be the odd man out, as the bullpen — which led MLB in appearances in 2014 — could use all the arms they can get.
Getting Ryu back should alleviate the pressure on the bullpen. And assuming Kershaw bounces back from that horrific start in Arizona, the Dodgers will have their full rotation for the first time this year. They’ll take on the Mets and then the Philadelphia Phillies, two sub-.500 teams. It’s time to start stringing together some wins. This is a team with World Series expectations, and this start through one quarter of the year already given much of the fanbase anxiety. The division is too strong this year for the Dodgers to wait until July to make a run. It has to be now, with a healthy roster, that this team finally plays to its potential. There are no more excuses.