A simple question to pose:
If the season started right now, who should be the 5th starter?
Notice I didn't say who WILL be, but rather I said who SHOULD be. Big difference.
So, let's take a look at the battle, with all of the pitchers in contention and their Spring Training stats.
1-1, 4.20 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 15 IP, 7 ER, 3 BB, 12 K
Chan Ho Park
0-0, 1.69 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 16 IP, 3 ER, 6 BB, 10 K
0-0, 2.35 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 7.2 IP, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K
0-0, 1.29 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 7 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K
Collectively, none of these 4 pitchers has been that bad at all. In fact, Park, Kuo, and Kershaw have been flat-out dominating for most of the way. The one guy that was expected to take over the spot, Loaiza, has had mixed success. A 4.20 ERA is not that bad for a 5th starter, and his WHIP is very encouraging. He's striking people out and not giving up walks, which is a great sign.
Park was pitching lights-out until he hit a small bump in the road against the Diamondbacks, giving up a 3-run homer to Chris Snyder. 1 small blip in 16 innings is very impressive for a guy that should be nowhere near consideration for this job. He has certainly made Joe Torre's decision even more difficult.
Kuo has once again shown signs for being a great pitcher. But, like always, there were arm problems along the way, as he was slowed down by soreness. While his numbers have been great, it's worth noting that he only pitched a little over 7 innings, so it's not like there's a whole lot to judge from. Because he is out of options, he'll either be the 5th guy or in a long relief role, which is something he should handle well.
The last guy is the most intriguing one, Kershaw. I think it's more wishful thinking on the fans part to see him in there, and 7 K's in 7 IP is a reason why. He can be as good as he wants to be for many years to come. Will he make the team? No, I really don't think so yet. Let him develop, then bring him up if absolutely need be.
Based on the overall presentation, the 5th starter should be... (I never thought I'd say this), Chan Ho Park. He has earned it. Loaiza hasn't been bad by any means, but Park has made enough strides to be given a chance at least. Take away that 1 home run he gave up, and who knows? Maybe he would have gone scoreless thus far. There's a possibility he could fall flat on his face, but he hasn't yet, and should be given the shot.
With that said, do I think Park will get the nod? Uh, no. It'll be Loaiza. Torre knows what Loaiza has done in the past, and his numbers are good enough to be slotted in there for the time being. I don't know what will happen to Park considering Kuo will be kept, but if he goes to Triple A and continues to pitch well, knowing all of the wacky injuries that go on in LA, he could be back in no time.