The Los Angeles Dodgers stumbled their way through April before finally clicking in May and taking a 25-18 record into Saturday. Though they dropped two of three in San Francisco, they have looked much better of late. The usual suspects are carrying the load: Justin Turner, Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen.
And among the surprises of the season, which include Josh Fields, Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor, are two starting pitchers who have frustrated Dodgers fans since they joined the team in 2015.
Alex Wood was part of the huge Hector Olivera deal at the trade deadline that season, coming over with multiple players from the Atlanta Braves and the Marlins. Though Luis Avilan has arguably been the most valuable return on that deal for the Dodgers thus far, Wood is finally living up to the potential that he flashed for years as a young left-hander.
Though Wood had only started 22 games as a member of the Dodgers before 2017, he had been a long relief option with fringy rotation command and a spotty injury history. But when he was good, he was really good. This season he’s put it all together.
After a few injuries to the rotation, Wood jumped in as a spot starter and made his presence known, going 4-0 in his seven starts (5-0 overall). Most impressive, his overall ERA is just 1.88, his WHIP is 1.023, and he’s struck out 52 batters in just 43 innings pitched.
Wood is only 26 years old and under contract until 2019. Though seven starts is a small sample size, he’s pitching like the Dodgers (and Braves, for that matter) always thought he was capable of. If he can continue to build on that, the Dodgers have found an absolute gem in the rotation, even if a couple years later than they’d hoped.
The other pitcher in the rotation who has been a pleasant surprise this season is Brandon McCarthy. As the lone healthy right-hander in the rotation right now (Kenta Maeda is on the DL), he has pitched to a 3-1 record with a 4.15 ERA and 1.269 WHIP, though his numbers looked much better before getting touched up a bit by the Giants on Monday.
McCarthy, who has always been uber-talented, has a long injury history and hadn’t seen an ERA in a full season below 4.00 since 2012, which made the Dodgers’ willingness to offer him a four-year deal in 2015 all the more confusing. Besides a 14-start stint with the New York Yankees at the end of 2014, there was no indication that McCarthy would regain the form he showed in Oakland in 2011-2012 or be worth such a contract.
Whatever the Dodgers brass saw, they jumped on it. McCarthy, predictably, spent much of his first two seasons in Los Angeles on the DL. Through 2016, he’d only started 13 games. He’s made six starts this season and only spent one short spell on the DL. Injuries seem to follow him, but when he’s healthy he’s capable of being dominant on any given night.
That’s the skill the Dodgers were banking on when they signed McCarthy in the first place, and he’s finally making their investment pay off a little bit. Just like with Wood, there’s a long way to go and a small sample size to judge on, but he’s been the most consistent starter in the rotation not named Kershaw so far.
With the injury bug biting again in Los Angeles, the Dodgers have needed McCarthy and Wood to pitch well to keep their momentum going. As it stands now, they can’t afford to not have those two in the rotation after Kershaw and Rich Hill. If they are going to make another run at an NL West title, the two long forgotten arms will prove very important over the summer.
Though both moves drew a fair amount of criticism when they were made in 2015, the Dodgers front office had a reason for pulling the trigger in each scenario, and their relentless analysis led them to the conclusions that the deals were worth making.
Surely they expected to be proven right sooner than two seasons down the road, but sometimes those are the investments you make in baseball. You spot talent, set a price, and hope it pans out.
In the cases of Wood and McCarthy — at least so far — they are making the front office look very smart and finally proving the trade, and signing, respectively, worthwhile.