So while the Dodgers may have been able to ride the train of good fortune for the majority of the first half of the season, that train had slowed its pace and allowed the competing cabooses to close the distance.
The Dodgers can only go so far without star power-hitting outfielders Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, who are both scheduled to return from the disabled list after the All-Star break.
In addition to their primary run producers, the Dodgers are anxiously awaiting the return of veteran starter Ted Lilly, who was off to a great start in 2012 before being placed on the disabled list May 28 with shoulder inflammation.
Lilly was 5-0 with a 1.79 earned run average prior to his final start, in which the shoulder injury flared up and he subsequently had his worst outing of the season (3.1 IP 8 ER 5 BB). He had gone at least six innings in every start, allowing two or fewer runs in all but one.
Nathan Eovaldi, 22, replaced Lilly as the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter. The hard-throwing righty has pitched well in his second temporary stay in the Dodgers rotation, but his stats would certainly suggest otherwise.
Eovaldi sports a 1-5 record and a 4.21 ERA, and although he hasn’t been dominating as a young starter in the Majors, you have to see the bigger picture in order to understand Nathan Eovaldi’s story.
In his first seven starts, the Dodgers scored a total of five runs. Had he received some run support from the Blue Crew’s bats, he would have won at least four of those starts.
The Texas native got knocked around at the end of June in San Francisco (5.0 IP, 8 ER, 10 H) but managed to battle back and garner his first win of the season in Arizona (6.0 IP, 1 ER) instead of spiraling out of control like some younger players have the tendency to do.
Eovaldi has shown that he is capable of being a good starting pitcher in the future. In due time, things will go his way. He will eventually get run support. The schedule will eventually work in his favor so that he doesn’t have to pitch so many away games (five out of his eight starts so far have been on the road).
However, once Lilly is back from his shoulder injury, Eovaldi will either be sent down to the Minors or sent to the Dodgers’ bullpen. While this may be unwelcome news to Eovaldi, it’s great news for the Dodgers.
When Lilly returns, the Dodgers will have their experienced 36-year-old starter back and may also opt to place Eovaldi, who has now furthered his Major League experience, in the bullpen, where he would be well-suited as a middle reliever.
However, if Lilly is unable to make a successful return to the Dodgers’ rotation, there is no need to panic. Lilly is a good pitcher and has experience that the Dodgers need going into the playoffs, but he isn’t dominant.
He is the No. 5 starter, and probably won't be starting in the playoffs if the Dodgers are able to make it, because they would most likely shrink their rotation to four.
Therefore, Lilly's return is not vital. He won’t be playing the role of savior when he comes off the DL. His presence and performance will help the team, but they aren’t necessary to the Dodgers’ success.
However, the good news is that Lilly began throwing from the mound once again this Sunday. Manager Don Mattingly seemed hopeful for Lilly’s rehabilitation.
“That’s his first time really throwing downhill," Mattingly told MLB.com. "It's part of the progression. He looked pretty good."
Regardless of when Lilly returns, the Dodgers are in a good spot with their starting pitching.
The return of Kemp and Ethier after the All-Star break will have a big impact on the offense and the pitching staff as well, as they should be getting more run support with their two star run producers back in the lineup.
The Dodgers’ veteran finesse southpaw will play his role as well, but Lilly can only add a finite amount of momentum to the team.
It is Kemp and Ethier who will be pushing the Dodgers down the tracks.