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    Can Dodgers play deep into October while relying on so many rookies?
    • July 13, 2023

    LOS ANGELES — At one point in their game on June 17, the Dodgers had five rookies on the field – Bobby Miller, James Outman, Michael Busch, Miguel Vargas and Jonny DeLuca.

    It was both a high point of the season in terms of the Dodgers’ incorporation of young players – and a low point of their season competitively. The Dodgers lost 15-0 that day, part of a three-game sweep by the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium that dropped L.A. into third place in the National League West.

    It was a temporary setback. The Dodgers won 12 of their next 17 games and will open the second half of the season on Friday in New York tied for first place in the division, percentage points (.573 to .571) ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks. It is the seventh time in the past nine full seasons that the Dodgers reached the All-Star break with at least a share of first place.

    They have gotten to their accustomed place atop the division relying on an unaccustomed number of rookies.

    Eight rookie pitchers have combined to throw 155⅓ innings so far this season (four have combined to make 23 starts) with a combined ERA of 6.26 and a 1.54 WHIP, both numbers helping to drive up a staff ERA that ranks an unsightly 23rd in the majors.

    Four rookie position players – Outman, Vargas, Busch and DeLuca – have combined for a .215/.307/.381 slash line and .688 OPS.

    It might be accurate to say the Dodgers reached the midsummer break in first place despite the best efforts of their rookies.

    “I think the pitchers we’ve used or are using are getting real experience and I just feel like they’re only going to get better,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of the crop of rookies. “I think the pitching, I think that’s something that is an easier bet if the stuff is good. And I think both guys (Miller and Emmet Sheehan) have the talent. We were all surprised (how much Gavin Stone struggled). But it was his first couple goes at it. I still believe he’s going to be a top-end guy.

    “And then on the hitting, with James and Miguel, specifically the learning curve, experience or lack thereof, has shown itself. And we’re going to keep running these guys out there until otherwise. I refuse to put pressure on these guys to say that there’s a timeline. It’s just going to be – it is until it’s not. The bet is that these guys are going to find it.”

    “Otherwise” arrived for Vargas on Sunday. Batting .195 and sinking in a 5-for-63 slump, he was demoted to the minors. After being handed the second base job this spring, he lost it to an outfielder – Mookie Betts will likely continue to figure prominently in the infield mix in the second half along with Chris Taylor, who is expected back from a knee injury this weekend.

    The efforts of their four All-Stars (Betts, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith and J.D. Martinez) have allowed the Dodgers to absorb the lack of contributions offensively from their rookies. So, like Roberts, President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman focuses on the pitchers when asked if the Dodgers can get where they want to be in October while relying on contributions from so many rookies.

    “I think the experience that Michael, Bobby and Emmet have gotten has been incredibly helpful – not only for their long-term development but also the short term,” Friedman said. “I know that there are takeaways after outings that they are learning from and knowing those guys I’ll bet on them to incorporate as we go.

    “So I can see those guys being a part of a strong October pitching staff. In what role, we’ll figure out based on getting in and based on what our pitching looks like.”

    That could change significantly in the next month – or beyond if you buy into the optimism that injured players like Walker Buehler, Blake Treinen, J.P. Feyereisen, Jimmy Nelson and/or Ryan Pepiot can return to throw impactful pitches for the Dodgers this season. Friedman will say only that there is “a very realistic chance” that “a number of guys” from that group will pitch for the Dodgers this season.

    The alternative is what it always is at this time of year – spin prospects into immediate help.

    From Manny Machado to Yu Darvish to Trea Turner and Max Scherzer, when there has been a difference-maker available in a mid-summer trade, Friedman has usually found a way to land him for the Dodgers.

    The overriding question this year, however, is what difference-maker – if any – will be available. The addition of a third wild-card playoff spot in each league (plus the mediocrity raging through both Central divisions) has made it more difficult to sort the buyers from the sellers as the deadline approaches.

    “The clouded playoff situations around the league have made it challenging to get into much substance on the trade front at this point. Most are taking a wait-and-see approach after the All-Star break and see where they’re at,” Friedman said.

    “I think the new (postseason) rules definitely enhance that. But I think this year even within those new rules is especially harder. Just because of the way it’s played out (in various divisions).”

    Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the “murky trade market,” as Friedman described it, comes in a season when they might need help more than they have in previous years.

    “I think that’s a fair question,” Roberts said. “Every year’s different. Every roster is different.

    “I think if you look at the track record of our guys. Whenever there’s been a need, a void, a hole, a weakness – whatever it might be – we’ve done a great job of filling those holes.”

    Those holes are more readily identifiable this season – pitching, pitching and, oh yeah, also pitching. Even if the Dodgers’ front office might have more difficulty filling them from the outside this year, it’s hard to imagine them remaining this reliant on rookie contributors through the second half and into October.

    “From our standpoint, we’re going to assess what’s available and we’re going to pursue what’s available and if things make sense we’re going to do them and if they don’t we’re not,” Friedman said.

    “But, again, so much of it is going to be who’s available. … It’s great to want something. But if it’s not available or it doesn’t line up, that doesn’t do us much good.”

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    ​ Orange County Register