Why the Yu Darvish Trade Shifts Everything in the MLB Playoff Picture

Yu Darvish speaks to media during Gatorade All-Star Workout Day.
With Yu Darvish aboard, the Dodgers have the tools for a deep playoff run. | Getty Images

When was the last time the Dodgers competed in the World Series? We’ll save you the clicks: The year was 1988, the final year of the Reagan Administration. (They beat Oakland in five games.) Those were simpler times, indeed, and we are approaching the 30th anniversary of that feat. Since then, the Dodgers got a new owner, changed casts several times, and dumped billions in payroll on a club that was always way more expensive than it was worth on the free market.

The Yu Darvish trade changes the situation instantly for Los Angeles. Though the Japanese-born pitcher will only stick around for the remainder of 2017, the Dodgers juggernaut may need little more to reach and — it’s now possible — win the World Series. This team is that good. And, with a legitimate ace backing up the game’s greatest pitcher, do not be surprised if you see them celebrating around a mound come late October.

Yet Darvish’s trade had a bigger impact than boosting LA’s considerable chances. Several losers in the Darvish chase saw their postseason potential diminish at the same time. It may not be “wait until next year,” but it’s the very next thing on the list. Here’s how Darvish’s move to LA shifts everything in the 2017 playoff picture.

The Nationals have a problem

Gio Gonzalez #47 of the Washington Nationals gives the ball to Dusty Baker #12 after giving up a no hitter.
With Darvish in LA, the Dodgers rotation looks stronger than Washington’s. | Mark Brown/Getty Images

Before the trade deadline, we considered the Washington Nationals rotation to be the best looking ahead to the playoffs. The group includes a bulletproof ace in Max Scherzer; a strikeout machine for a No. 2 in Stephen Strasburg; and a reliable lefty at No. 3 in Gio Gonzalez. However, the Dodgers trade shifts the balance of power to LA’s rotation.

We’ll take our chances with Clayton Kershaw against anyone in Game 1. For the second tilt in a seven-game series, Darvish can go toe-to-toe with anyone too — Strasburg included. Finally, though we need to see how Alex Wood responds as he approaches a career-high workload, we’d prefer him on the mound over Gio in a Game 3. Of course, if anything bad happens, the NL-best Dodgers bullpen retains its edge over the revamped Nats relief corps.

The overmatched Cubs

Kyle Hendricks tosses his teammate the ball during a game.
The 2017 Cubs don’t match up well against the Dodgers juggernaut. | Getty Images

The 2017 Chicago Cubs don’t share all that much in common with the championship version from 2016. This year’s club dealt with problems on offense and defense before making a run in July. After acquiring Jose Quintana and Justin Wilson in pre-deadline trades, the club filled two clear weaknesses on a team still hanging on to its dynasty dreams. But adding Darvish to the fold would have been interesting.

After all, it’ll likely take another big arm in the rotation for the Cubs to topple Washington or LA in the postseason. Given the imposing offenses of the NL’s elite, Chicago looks overmatched in an October series. They have a chance with Quintana, Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks, but it would take a bit of magic for this team to repeat as champions.

Stalling the Royals

The Royals outfield celebrates a win.
A determined Royals team would have been dangerous with Yu Darvish along for the run. | Getty Images

Were the red-hot Royals capable of a deep postseason run with Darvish aboard? With the revamped bullpen standing behind a stronger rotation, they had a shot. Kansas City, the hottest team in the AL since July 1 (15-9), now faces a tough stretch drive with Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy buoying the rotation’s back end.

We would’ve loved to see this club with a legitimate No. 1 starter. However, those thoughts must remain in our heads. Going all-in on Darvish made sense for a Royals club with such an uncertain future.

Halting the Astros

Lance McCullers pitches against the Baltimore Orioles.
With injury concerns for Lance McCullers and Dallas Keuchel, Houston’s rotation could have used an upgrade. | Getty Images

Houston, the AL version of the Dodgers at 69-36, could have used a top-shelf starter to plug into a shaky rotation. Just as the deadline wrapped up, the Houston Astros moved Lance McCullers (its No. 2) to the disabled list. Dallas Keuchel, the club’s ace and top postseason option, already missed eight starts in 2017 due to injury.

Sure, the team’s position players are among MLB’s best, but we cannot remember a World Series winner that did not have a few dominant starters aboard. Missing out on Darvish will hurt.

Pressure on Arizona

Robbie Ray #38 of the Arizona Diamondbacks delivers a pitch.
Robbie Ray of the Arizona Diamondbacks delivers a pitch. | Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The Arizona Diamondbacks have two options to make the playoffs: sustain their solid (5.5 game) wild-card lead or clear the 14 games needed to catch the Dodgers. Barring a collapse of biblical proportions, the Snakes will not win the NL West. That means Arizona will have to burn No. 1 starter Zack Greinke in the wild-card game, then face a rested Kershaw and Darvish before Greinke pitches again. Even for a much-improved Diamondbacks five, this will be a tall order — and Robbie Ray still needs to recover from a scary head injury.

No question about LA’s destination

Kyle Farmer #65 of the Los Angeles Dodgers has his shirt ripped apart by teammates.
The Yu Darvish trade answered the last question anyone might have had about the Dodgers. | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Even in July, you could argue the Dodgers rotation was not built to topple MLB’s best in October. Now that the team checked the last box, everyone down to the 40th man can make the organization-wide “World Series or bust” push.

The lineup is deep and menacing; LA’s bullpen stands tall in every scenario; and their defense is great. This club is finally worthy of its insane payroll ($260 million). With all questions answered, the Dodgers can relax and steam toward the clear goal. The front office just pointed the way.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.