PHILADELPHIA -- For a team long thought of as synonymous with starting pitching, the Dodgers have rotation issues as the National League Championship Series rounds the turn.
Joe Torre's team has gotten one quality start in three games of the NLCS following Sunday night's 11-0 thrashing at the hands of the Phillies. Their Game 1 starter from the Division Series has been demoted to Game 4 this round thanks in part to a rocky start in that series opener against St. Louis. The Game 1 starter from this series might be pushed back from his scheduled next turn.
It's a bit of a mess, and it's not entirely evident how the situation gets cleaner. This much is clear, however: starting Hiroki Kuroda in Game 3 did not work out. His first Major League start since September was not a success, and it's irrelevant whether that was a result of rust, lingering effects of a neck injury or something else. Los Angeles has one starter who hasn't had a hiccup recently, and that's reclamation project Vicente Padilla.
So while Randy Wolf opened the NLDS, and Clayton Kershaw has the sensational stuff and the sub-3.00 regular-season ERA, it may well be Padilla who gets bumped up in hopes of bailing out the Dodgers. If you'd told a Dodgers fan in August that his team might be looking to Vicente Padilla for the salvation of its season, you probably would have been laughed at or worse.
But here they are, thanks to Kershaw's iffy opener and Kuroda's Game 3 clunker. One fine game from Wolf on Monday could change the whole tone of the series, but until and unless that happens, it's a tough spot for the team that led the National League in wins.
"Today they got the best of us," catcher Russell Martin said. "Tomorrow is a new day. Nothing is out of hand right now, so we've just got to regroup, forget about today's game, go out there tomorrow and just battle."
The Dodgers swept their opening series against St. Louis with Wolf pitching the opener, Kershaw in Game 2, then Padilla, with Billingsley slated to go if it had stretched to a fourth game. Torre re-jiggered everything for the NLCS even after the success, and it hasn't paid off thus far.
"I don't second-guess the decision [to start Kuroda]," Torre said. "Because we made it on what we saw, and his bullpen was good for this start. The bullpen today coming into the game was good. He came into the game, and he just didn't -- the ball didn't behave. That's basically all I can tell you about that. If it was a rust situation, it wouldn't have shown up the way it did, I don't think, because he threw strikes, nothing but strikes, when I saw him [five days earlier]."
The only certain assignment for the remainder of the series for the Dodgers is Wolf on Monday. Kershaw would normally take the fifth game after starting Game 1, but Torre has allowed that he will consider Padilla for that game. Whichever of those two does not pitch Game 5 would get the ball in a sixth game at Dodger Stadium on Friday.
Then there's Game 7, which is far from guaranteed to either team. But if it does get there, it's anyone's guess what the Dodgers do. It's hard to see them sending Kuroda back out, healthy or not. Billingsley could be considered, but Torre has spoken volumes about his level of confidence in the young right-hander by how he's handled him thus far.
Billingsley started Game 2 in both the Division Series and the LCS in 2008, but a late-season fade clearly eroded his manager's faith in what Billingsley can do. He wasn't even the first reliever into the game on Sunday, taking the mound only after the game was well out of hand.
Some of what's gone on, of course, is that the Phillies can hit. They're a dangerous club, and they take advantage when pitchers make mistakes. They seem to have scouted the Dodgers well and now they're hitting at home. It's not an easy task, regardless of how well you pitch.
"We went up there, took pitches, got good pitches to hit and hit them," said slugger Ryan Howard. "It's really simple, really simple. I think we made a lot of adjustments up there and really just tried to work counts."
They'll try to do the same against Wolf, and how the former Phillie hurler handles it may determine the outcome of the series. Somebody has to deliver a big start for the Dodgers, and it's Wolf's turn.
"At this point, every game means the world," Martin said.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.