In a time when it felt like nothing could go wrong for the Dodgers, something went wrong.
Hours before the Dodgers took the field for the first of a four-game set in Milwaukee, they found out that two-time All-Star Walker Buehler was being shut down for the year.
Buehler, who last pitched in June, was expected back for the postseason. He was going to slide right back into his role as one of the aces of this staff — a guy with tons of experience pitching in October.
Instead, the Dodgers will rely on the guys they have all year — Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin, and Tyler Anderson — to carry this staff. It’s unclear whether Clayton Kershaw will be healthy come postseason time, but Dustin May, who’s coming off Tommy John surgery of his own, is scheduled to start this Saturday’s game against Miami. The Dodgers have also enjoyed one impressive start after another from Andrew Heaney, but he’s struggled to stay on the field.
A postseason rotation of Urias, Kershaw, Anderson, and Gonsolin would be ideal for the Dodgers, with Heaney eating up innings out of the pen and May moving into the 2020 Urias-type role of closing out games.
If Kershaw is unable to return, then the Dodgers will look to Heaney to open games, or could decide to rely on May — but they’ll have to see how he progresses over the next few weeks.
The Dodgers will mostly have to look toward Anderson and Gonsolin to continue their dominant seasons, despite their lack of postseason experience — Anderson has pitched seven career postseason innings while Gonsolin has pitched 13.1. Buehler, for reference, has pitched nearly 80 playoff innings.
Any way you put it, it’s a huge loss for the Dodgers. Buehler, who already had Tommy John surgery in 2015, will have his season-ending elbow surgery on Aug. 23.
It’s unclear whether it will be a second Tommy John surgery, but his availability beyond this season will definitely be something to keep an eye on.
Kershaw, Anderson, and Heaney are all upcoming free agents, while Buehler is set for two years of arbitration.
The Dodgers could be left with just Urias and Gonsolin on next year’s staff, and will surely have to look to add some reinforcements. Bobby Miller, the Dodgers’ No. 2 overall prospect, could be a candidate to step into the rotation. He, along with another top prospect Gavin Stone, just got a promotion to Triple-A.
The Dodgers will also look to the free agent supply for starting pitching. The team signed both Anderson and Heaney to one-year deals this past offseason, and sent them into the Mark Prior school of pitching to turn them into two of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.
There are definitely some guys that Andrew Friedman will have his eyes on that I won’t be able to predict, but I’ll throw one name into the mix as someone to watch out for.
The Angels will almost certainly entertain offers for two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani this offseason. Ohtani is set for free agency after next season, and the Angels would be foolish to play out the season and let him walk. The Dodgers, after holding off on a Soto trade, have more than enough firepower to strike a deal, and would be the perfect fit for Ohtani. He could stay in Los Angeles, play on one of the premier teams in the country, and, most importantly, experience winning for the first time.
The Dodgers probably have called the Angels this offseason anyway, but the Buehler injury makes the path even clearer.
Losing Buehler definitely throws a wrinkle into the Dodgers’ present and future. No one wants to lose an All-Star. But the Dodgers, as a true testament to their depth, are going to be just fine. They have more than enough arms for a postseason run this year, and will be right back here next year with one of the best staffs in baseball — with or without Buehler.