Atlanta and the Dodgers have opted for playoff-only starters


While Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery still wait for their free-agent payday, two powerhouses that were also in need of starting pitching have chosen other routes. Oh, the Dodgers did splash free-agent cash, it was just for one pitcher who’s never pitched in the majors (Yoshinubu Yamamoto) and one who won’t pitch in 2024 (Shohei Ohtani). The Dodgers needed more than one starter for next year, though, and they took the same route as Atlanta did, bypassing the free agents and going via trade. But in LA’s pickup of Tyler Glasnow and Atlanta’s of Chris Sale, they’re both seemingly opting for pitchers whom they won’t really have to care what they produce between April and September. Which is good, because neither pitcher has specialized in doing much, in volume, in those months.

Their intentions become a little clearer when studying how both teams bit it last October. Thanks to Charlie Morton’s injury, Atlanta once again went at the Phillies basically one starter short, especially as Max Fried was coming off an injury to start in the playoffs and wasn’t quite the Fried he’d been. It was the same story in 2022, as Spencer Strider came back from injury to flame out after one trip through the order at Citizens Bank Park.

As for the Dodgers, they entered last year’s Divisional Round with basically only a half-baked Clayton Kershaw and a couple guys they found at the airport who had missed their flight and were just staring at the board. They were quite easily swatted aside by a Diamondbacks team on a heater.

Both teams this winter are buying insurance on that with pitchers whom they can’t possibly expect to carry a full load in the regular season, and may very well not even ask to. The Dodgers traded for Glasnow, Atlanta, Sale. The last three seasons the two have combined for 68 starts. Sale hasn’t seen the over of 150 innings in six years, and Glasnow never has. These aren’t innings-eaters, and, in fact, treat innings like anyone who has just ingested ipecac.

And neither the Dodgers nor Atlanta really have to care, especially the latter. While Fried, Morton, Strider and Bryce Elder aren’t guaranteed to make it through a whole season unscathed, they’ll almost certainly cobble enough innings together to make up for whatever Sale can’t do. And even if they can’t, Atlanta doesn’t really have to worry about jeopardizing a playoff spot. Maybe the Phillies finally figure out what baseball is in the first half of a season, but it’s not really their thing. The Mets are rebuilding, the Nationals are too, and no one’s ever been sure the Marlins have any idea what they’re doing despite having a playoff spot land on them last year. Atlanta’s only priority will be making sure Sale is firing come the playoffs, where his high-strikeout, low-walk repertoire (he still struck out a tick under 30 percent of hitters faced last year) will play well, even if it’s only once or twice through a lineup. Remember, Atlanta showed up to the last two postseasons with barely one guy who could do that, and at least doubling that could make a huge difference. And Sale has playoff pedigree, though it was also six years ago with Boston.

Glasnow might be the only pitcher on the planet more fragile than Sale, as he’s never carried a full workload as Sale has. He’s dominant when he’s on the mound, even if that’s only twice a month. The Dodgers have even less worry about their playoff availability, as only the Diamondbacks appear to be even capable of inhabiting the same time zone as them in the NL West, and they were still 16 games off the pace during the season, whatever statement three games in October make. The Dodgers managed 100 wins last year with a mangled rotation and now they’ve gotten Walker Buehler back while adding Yamamoto and Glasnow. Bobby Miller has a year’s more experience and word has it the Dodgers might even be a home for Montgomery, too. The Dodgers will have to flip to a six-man rotation in 2025 to accommodate Ohtani anyway, so it would hardly be out of left field for them to do so now to protect Glasnow and keep him ready to fire at hitters in October.

Despite the Dodgers putting up the most dominant decade in baseball history, they have become transfixed on the blemish that the only World Series they have claimed in that stretch is the Covid one, not exactly the full-tilt boogie. There have been myriad reasons the Dodgers haven’t navigated the 11 wins necessary come the postseason, only some of which were within the Dodgers’ control. But it’s clear they think having another dominant starter is one of them, hence the trade for a very ouchy Glasnow.

With both Glasnow and Sale, it’s likely we’ll see a lot of four- and five-inning starts from them during the season, IL trips for the sniffles, and six-man rotations used in the hotter months to keep them as close to encased in bubble-wrap as both teams can get. All these teams have to do to feel like they got the ROI they wanted is to watch both throw five or six innings with nine Ks a couple times in the postseason. Everything before that is preamble or meaningless.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky

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