SAN DIEGO -- The Dodgers have hit a little blip on the radar screen as their season heads to an inevitable fifth consecutive National League West title.
But that doesn't mean it's too early to begin pondering their four starters for an NL Division Series, most probably against the winner of the league's Wild Card Game on Oct. 4.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts would commit only to left-hander Clayton Kershaw as his Game 1 starter before Los Angeles closed out a 1-6 road trip Sunday by losing to the Padres, 6-4, at Petco Park. Though they have lost eight of nine, the Dodgers are still 48 games over .500 and 13 1/2 up on second-place Arizona.
"There's no date on [establishing a playoff rotation], but as you look toward the middle of the month you start locking in and honing in on certain roles and certain consistencies," Roberts said. "We're still trying to gather some information, but the middle of the month timing on that makes the most sense to me."
One can only assume that right-hander Yu Darvish and lefties Alex Wood and Rich Hill would fill out the rest of the postseason rotation, depending on health and the opposition.
The D-backs have won 10 in row. They have a widened their lead to 6 1/2 games over Colorado for the No. 1 Wild Card slot and hosting that game. If the D-backs survive that tilt, they'll be a formidable foe for the Dodgers in the best-of-five opening-round series.
The teams have split their first 16 games this season with the Dodgers heading home to face Arizona in a three-game series at Dodger Stadium beginning Labor Day on Monday evening.
Roberts said the Dodgers will go with a six-man rotation for now, adding Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda to the mix. Brandon McCarthy also made a rehab start for Class A Rancho Cucamonga on Sunday, giving up five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. McCarthy has been out since July 24 recovering from a blister on the third finger of his right hand.
How long the six-man rotation will last is still up to question, Roberts said.
"We don't know, we don't know," he said. "I can't tell you exactly how long. There is not a date. It's at least one time around, and then we'll re-evaluate."
Hill, Ryu and Maeda are pitching the next three games against the D-backs. Those are the same three guys walloped for 19 runs on 24 hits in 10 2/3 innings as the Dodgers suffered a three-game sweep last week at Chase Field.
Kershaw, who returned from a month on the disabled list because of a lower back strain, gave the Dodgers a breather, pitching six innings of scoreless two-hit ball here on Friday night in a 1-0 win.
Wood, making his first start since Aug. 21 on Sunday, recorded his second loss against 14 wins, but like Kershaw, went six innings. That's the good news. Otherwise, none of the other four starters to pitch since Tuesday went longer than four innings.
"Yeah, right now, in this small sample, the starting pitching has to get better," Roberts said. "But every ballclub goes through this. We really haven't had it all year."
The Dodgers are keeping a close watch on Kershaw as they grow closer to the playoffs, and for good reason. He's missed a good chunk of the last two seasons with back problems. But that's not their only concern.
Darvish isn't the pitcher the Dodgers thought they obtained when they made the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline deal with the Rangers to bolster their rotation. He just came off the disabled list with a sore back and is making adjustments in his release point and mechanics on the fly.
"It's nothing I came up with to change my mechanics, it came from the team," said Darvish, through his interpreter, Hide Shito. "I understood what they were saying, and I agreed with them. I'm not overthinking it. It came from them, and I agreed with it."
Darvish opened with seven scoreless innings in his Aug. 4 Los Angeles victory debut over the Mets at Citi Field, but has a 6.16 ERA in four starts since, including the shortest start of his career in the night cap of a doubleheader loss here Saturday. He allowed five runs on eight hits in three innings.
Roberts said he spoke to Darvish after the game and told him to stay strong, mentally and physically.
"[His confidence] wasn't great," Roberts said. "There's expectations for yourself and from other people when you're an elite pitcher and you get traded. He wanted to pitch well, and we all understand that. My only message to him is that everyone in that clubhouse believes in him, and we're glad he's a Dodger."
Wood returned Sunday from his second stint on the DL this season, again with inflammation of the SC joint in his left shoulder. Wood had already missed 10 days with the same injury during the opening week of June. He allowed four runs on seven hits Sunday.
"I think he was a little bit rusty," Roberts said. "The next time he goes out there, he'll be a lot better."
Hill, another left-hander in a rotation loaded with them, has been one of their most reliable pitchers since returning from two trips to the DL in April because of a blister on his left middle finger. He was the NL's Pitcher of the Month for July and nearly pitched a no-hitter on Aug. 23 at Pittsburgh.
The last time out he was hammered by the D-backs for six runs on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings this past Tuesday night.
Ryu missed 2 1/2 seasons because of left shoulder surgery and recurring injuries before returning this season. He's missed another 17 games because of left hip and ankle contusions.
Maeda missed two weeks in May because of left hamstring tightness.
It's no wonder the Dodgers are currently in a six-man rotation and that their postseason rotation is problematic at this point.
"We will be mindful of things and potentially who an opponent will be, and we'll adjust accordingly," Roberts said. "Nothing is set in stone outside of Clayton Kershaw pitching Game 1."