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With seven relievers in a potential five-game series with two off days, the Dodgers should have little trouble finding the right reliever for the right situation:
Ninth inning: Kenley Jansen, because it is ordained. But to be clear, he should be used even (especially) in a tie game.
Seventh and eighth innings: Brian Wilson, Paco Rodriguez, Ronald Belisario and J.P. Howell, according to matchups.
Before the seventh and after the ninth: Chris Withrow and Chris Capuano.
Emergency: Ricky Nolasco
With Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke on the mound in the first two games at Atlanta, the Dodgers might not need to dip deep into their bullpen for some time. But they can afford to have quick hooks if they do.
Idea: In road games against right-handed pitchers, as the Dodgers have today in their National League Division Series opener at Atlanta against Kris Medlen, start Andre Ethier and bat him leadoff. If he gets on, pinch-run with Dee Gordon. In either case, substitute Skip Schumaker in center field in the bottom of the first.
It guarantees Ethier will get his at-bat against a righty and not a lefty, against which he’s at a much greater disadvantage. In fact, Ethier is the Dodgers’ top on-base percentage man against right-handed pitching – what better way to begin a game.
It guarantees Gordon’s spot on the roster is not wasted in this game. Yes, it’s at the cost of perhaps using him to pinch-run for Adrian Gonzalez in a crucial late-inning situation, but only if you know that you’ve already gotten the opportunity to use Gordon. And runs in the first are as crucial as runs in the ninth.
Starting Ethier also basically puts Schumaker 10th in the batting order, which is pretty nifty. That’s not a slam against Schumaker, who might well become one of those unsung postseason heroes you always need. But it’s a good place to begin.
Below is the Dodgers’ official NLDS roster, announced this morning. Chris Capuano made it as the 11th pitcher, while Gordon and Scott Van Slyke were chosen over Jerry Hairston Jr., as was to be expected.
Hairston becomes the rare player who spent the entire season on the active roster – no trips to the disabled list – without making the playoff roster. However, if any Dodger suffers a series-ending injury, the team is allowed to replace him.
Starting pitchers (4): Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ricky Nolasco
Relief pitchers (11): Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson, Paco Rodriguez, Ronald Belisario, J.P. Howell, Chris Withrow, Chris Capuano
Catchers (2): A.J. Ellis, Tim Federowicz
Infielders (7): Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Ellis, Hanley Ramirez, Juan Uribe, Nick Punto, Michael Young, Dee Gordon
Outfielders (5): Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Skip Schumaker, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke
Update: As J.T. Dutch points out on Twitter, the Dodgers could simply just use Schumaker to pinch-run for Ethier if he reached base in the first inning under my plan.
Sure, it might be the injuries. Sure, it might be a weakness exploited, or a mistake easily predicted.
But when I think about the ways that the Dodgers have fallen short of their postseason dreams, I think things that should never have happened but did anyway. I think of Old Reliables stumbling when it was least expected.
I think of Rafael Furcal making an error to start the bottom of the sixth inning in Game 1 of the 2008 National League Championship Series, with the Dodgers leading 2-0 behind Derek Lowe in their first game after sweeping the Chicago Cubs in the Division Series. Long before Chad Billingsley, Corey Wade or Jonathan Broxton got into a game, Furcal’s error gave the series an instant U-turn, opening the door for three runs and a series-opening loss.
- Derek Lowe gives up two home runs in the fourth inning.
And still, the Dodgers were in the game.
- Lowe surrenders a two-run double in the sixth inning.
And still, the Dodgers were in the game, thanks to Mets manager Willie Randolph’s ill-chosen decision to let reliever Guillermo Mota bat with two on and two out in the bottom of the sixth.
- Julio Lugo is chosen to pinch-hit with two runners on in the seventh inning – and strikes out.
And still, the Dodgers were in the game. In fact, they tied it later in the inning.
- Struggling Brad Penny is brought in to relieve in the bottom of the seventh, instead of Jonathan Broxton (we saw this coming), walks two and allows two runs.
And still, the Dodgers were in the game. But hope was fading. Down 6-4, the Dodgers got the tying run to second base in the ninth, with Nomar Garciappara at the plate. But Garciaparra, who doubled in the tying runs in the seventh, couldn’t bring him home.
I also think of Game 1 of the 1988 NLCS, with their record-setting ace Orel Hershiser on the mound riding an historic scoreless innings streak, three outs away from a 2-0 victory. And then sudden as a car crash, three runs shoot across the plate.
Only the Dodgers came back and won the series. And heaven love ‘em, the next one.
Everyone’s looking for the edges in the matchup between the Dodgers and the Braves that begins tonight, but it’s all a waste of time. Both teams are completely capable of winning. But only one will execute their plays better than the other, only one will find that way to dig deep and overcome its mistakes. That’s the team that will win, and there’s no predicting. Vigilance and resilience will carry the day.
In an interview with KPCC 89.3 FM, Vin Scully indicated that he is leaning toward retiring after the 2014 season.
“Right, I’m pretty well sure – and I don’t want to go back and forth with it – but I’m looking to next year and figuring that should be about it,” Scully said.
It’s not a definitive statement, but always remember to cherish him while we still can.