But, the team still has a lot of questions to answer between now and October.
One of the biggest ones: exactly what left-handers can trust with their bullpen.
This predicament was highlighted, circled and painfully underlined on Tuesday, when the top left hander Caleb Ferguson He gave up two home runs, then three more, in a disastrous seventh inning against Cleveland Guardians.
Once before three times, the collapse ultimately cost the Dodgers 8-3 loss in Progressive Field.
And while it didn’t do much harm to their place in the standings, it did renew the looming concern about late-game options out of the game—especially to combat left-handed hitters.
Ferguson has been the Dodgers’ top left fielder for most of this season. He flashed improved things his sophomore year after his second Tommy John surgery was removed, averaging a career-best 95.8 mph with his fastball. Over several stretches, he’d also turned out the lights, coming into Tuesday with a 2.33 ERA on the season, second best for the Dodgers.
However, Ferguson was vulnerable in several high leverage moments as well. He gave up three runs in the ninth inning in a save against the Cincinnati Reds in June. He wasted four runs (all unearned) to blow another late lead against the San Diego Padres earlier this month.
Then, on Tuesday, he failed to escape the jam he inherited from the start Bobby Miller in the seventh. With two outs, one out, and the Dodgers holding on to a lead of one, Ferguson gave up back-to-back solo goals to Steven Kwan and José Ramirez, then hit a three-run home run to Kole Calhoun.
The outing raised his ERA to 2.87 and the WHIP to 1.45.
More than that, it raised more doubts about Ferguson’s ability to play with a late lead in the postseason (especially since his last playoff experience in 2018).
Dodgers problem: There are few attractive left-handed alternatives other than Ferguson’s bowling.
Alex Vesia has been the team’s MVP for the last two Octobers but has struggled for consistency this year with a 5.45 ERA (although he’s had a 2.87 mark since returning from the minor leagues in early July).
Victor Gonzalez was a standout star on the club’s 2020 World Series team, but he hasn’t rediscovered those heights since, owning a 4.73 ERA for the most part this year.
And while the trade-deadline acquisition of Ryan Yarbrough has been valuable in his long-running role (he has a 1.46 ERA in 12 innings pitched with the Dodgers spread over four innings), his low-speed arsenal doesn’t quite appear as the game’s insurance option.
On the whole, the Dodgers bulls have been headed in the right direction lately. Evan Phillips embraced his stint as a de facto closer, with 19 saves and a 2.49 ERA. Brusdar Graterol was the most productive arm of the group, leading all relievers on the team with a 1.53 ERA.
However, as Tuesday showed, there are still important holes in the team’s plans late in the game.
And while that wouldn’t block their way to another Premier League crown, the left-handed relief options threaten potential disappointment in October.
This story originally appeared Los Angeles Times.