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Hernández: Pitching is still an issue for the Dodgers

In theory, the Dodgers played their most important regular season game of the year on Wednesday.

And they started a relief.

The benevolent interpretation of this decision is that the Dodgers simply embraced an opportunity to experiment.

The more disturbing explanation for why Brusdar Graterol opened the league final against the San Diego Padres is that they know they have to make up for the lack of a championship rotation.

In that case, they could be on their way to go down and burn in October.


The elements of a new meltdown after the season are in place, from the number of all-or-nothing hitters in their lineup to the continued decline of closer Kenley Jansen.

This season feels like the last … and the before … and the before … and well, you get the idea.

With a 7-5 victory over the Padres at Petco Park, the Dodgers became the first team to secure a playoff spot. By taking two of three games from the Padres̵

7; second-place finish this week, the Dodgers moved closer to their eighth consecutive National League West title.

Except that none of this is new. This is what they are built to do, scoring races in piles and dominating the regular season.

“It’s the first step,” said manager Dave Roberts.

The step after this is the true goal – and the place they usually stumble across.

That could be why the Dodgers had no locker room party of any kind.

Reaching the record season was a matter of course, as every team in the NL West outside of the Dodgers and Padres has a sub-.500 record.

The order in which the Dodgers and Padres finished was also of minimal importance as Major League Baseball created a playoff format that was the baseball equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster. In the first round, the Dodgers host a mediocre opponent in a three-game series. As the top wildcard team, the Padres will too.

If both teams advance, there will be no home field advantage as they face each other in a five-game division in Arlington, Texas.

With the stakes relatively low Wednesday, the Dodgers and Padres opted for bullpen play.

Dodger’s originally scheduled starter, Dustin May, struck in relief. Padres’, Chris Paddack, got his turn in rotation pushed back two days.

In Dodgers’ view, it was about more than easing May back into action after his foot was hit by a comebacker in his final start. This was also a kind of test drive during the post season.

On this characterization, Roberts said, “I think it’s fair.”

But why was it necessary?

As long as Walker Buehler can control the bladder on his pitching hand, the Dodgers have five usable starting pitchers. Depth will be particularly critical in these playoffs, as the schedule does not include any days off in any of the three rounds leading up to the World Series.

However, regular seasonal depth should not be confused with the depth after the season. Just because a team is happy to send a pitcher to the mound every five days of the regular season does not mean they are comfortable starting him in the playoffs. That may very well be the case with May, Tony Gonsolin and Julio Urias.

And while Kershaw is performing at the elite level again, Buehler is no guarantee, as the right hand has only thrown 7 2/3 innings in the last 3. Weeks.

Pitching concerns extend to the bullpen. Given what Jansen has looked like in recent weeks, there must be legitimate concerns about whether he is able to close for them in October.

The potential problem was exacerbated Wednesday by news that left-hander Caleb Ferguson has a torn ulnar collateral ligament and may miss the rest of the season.

Offensively, Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Joc Pederson are already in October form, which means they are falling. Bellinger and Muncy drove every Wednesday; Pederson was placed on the family’s medical emergency list.

When asked if the Dodgers could win a World Series without at least two of the three left-handed power hitters finding their punch, Roberts was honest.

“No,” said Roberts, “I do not.”

Now it is possible that Kershaw finally has October, where he has worked his entire career. And it’s also possible that Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Justin Turner sustain the Dodgers through the ups and downs of their less consistent artists.

But it is just as conceivable, if not more, that the offense disappears, the shortcomings of rotation are revealed, and the bullpen rolls out spectacularly.

It has happened before and it can happen again.

Hernandez reported from Los Angeles

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