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Alexander: Dodgers’ potentially magical season could turn on who’s healthy

LOS ANGELES — The 2022 Dodgers could end up being the greatest team of all time. They could also blow a tire between now and early November. And the difference might hinge on the balkiness and unreliability of shoulders, elbows and forearms.

Or, as Dodgers principal owner Mark Walter noted shortly after Guggenheim Baseball purchased the team in 2012: “Pitchers break.”

It can be a perverse, diabolical game, this baseball.

The medical reports remain as important as the analytics reports as the Dodgers roll into September. Before Dustin May took the mound against San Diego on Friday night – and was treated rudely in a 7-1 loss, the Dodgers’ third in a row – Manager Dave Roberts reported encouraging news about Tony Gonsolin, appreciated having Blake Treinen back in his bullpen, but was uncertain about fellow reliever Brusdar Graterol’s status pending results of his MRI (they were revealed to be negative by the end of the night).

It is what the Dodgers have dealt with in various ways all season, one step forward and one step back. One pitcher available, another pitcher hurt. That makes not only their 90-41 record and 17-game division lead so much more impressive, but also their MLB-leading 2.87 team ERA even after Friday night’s debacle. It’s been achieved despite not having May for the first 4½ months, not having Walker Buehler since early June, not having Clayton Kershaw for five weeks in May and early June and then four more weeks in August … well, you get the picture.

The Dodgers have had 14 pitchers spend time on the injured list this season, or one more pitcher than was allowed on an MLB roster from mid-June through the end of August. Two have not thrown a pitch this season: Victor Gonzalez and Danny Duffy. Two are done for the season: Daniel Hudson (torn ACL) and Buehler (Tommy John surgery).

The Dodgers might have dodged a bullet with Gonsolin, whose breakout year (16-1, 2.10 ERA and an All-Star appearance) was interrupted a few days ago by a forearm strain. That sounds innocuous, but it’s the exact terminology used to describe Buehler’s initial trip to the injured list on June 11, before it turned into an elbow issue that eventually required Tommy John surgery last week.

“I don’t know the specifics,” Roberts said about Gonsolin’s MRI before Friday’s game. “I do know that it was as good as we could have hoped, and so he’s going to resume playing catch today. … There was nothing that showed up that would take us away from that optimism.”

In a sense, the Dodgers’ rotation was patched together from the start. You wouldn’t know it from the performances of Gonsolin and fellow All-Star Tyler Anderson (13-3, 2.68), along with ace-level performances from Julio Urías (14-7, 2.33) and tantalizing outings from Andrew Heaney (2-1, 2.12) when healthy.

There will be nights like May had Friday night against the Padres, when Manny Machado and Brandon Drury rocked him for two-run home runs in the third inning after he’d struck out 13 and given up no extra-base hits in 11 innings over his first two starts. But they’ve been few this season.

Maybe the Dodgers really are a pitching factory. Give them your tired, your poor, your disheveled and your lame, and they produce Cy Young Award candidates. (About 30 miles south on the 5 freeway, the Angels’ fan base ponders the comparison and collectively grimaces.)

There are limits, of course. Roberts is trying hard not to make it sound like there are auditions for the closer’s role, but anyone who has paid attention in October over the last decade understands how much of an Achilles heel the ninth inning has been and can be.

Treinen, who went on the injured list in April with shoulder issues and was activated Friday, will likely pitch the ninth inning a few times in September. He’s done it before, having saved 38 games for Oakland in 2018, but as a Dodger, he has mainly been the indispensable eighth-inning guy. The closer job might still be Craig Kimbrel’s to lose, but the fact that there’s still a conversation about it should tell you all you need to know.

And Duffy, Gonzalez and Tommy Kahnle are all rehabbing at Oklahoma City, so there could be plenty of internal competition. The primary concern, Roberts said, is that “we just want these guys to be healthy. And if they are, then I feel like we can put those guys in various spots to prevent runs.”

A September with a big division lead would seem to be the time for auditions and experiments and evaluation. But this is the first September without a 40-man roster limit. Effective Wednesday, rosters went up from 26 to only 28, which has its pros and cons.

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