Sep 19

The Dodgers’ postseason roster – another look

My last look at the Dodgers’ likely postseason 25-man roster came August 31. Most of it remains the same, but there are some tweaks.

Starters (4)
Clayton Kershaw
Zack Greinke
Hyun-Jin Ryu
Ricky Nolasco

Relievers (7)
Kenley Jansen
Paco Rodriguez
Brian Wilson
Ronald Belisario
J.P. Howell
Chris Withrow
Brandon League or Carlos Marmol

I’ve heard calls for Chris Capuano, but the guy has faced six batters all month – none since September 6 – and isn’t exactly reliable even when he’s pitched. You already have two lefties.  And no, you don’t plan for mop-up work in the playoffs, not with off days built in. (Worst-case scenario – you use the No. 4 starter in long relief and bring back a frontline starter on short rest.) League and Marmol aren’t that reliable, either, but at least game action isn’t going to be foreign to them. If Capuano were actually pitching, then it would easier to see the arguments for him.

The other question is whether Belisario’s recent slump could jeopardize his roster spot, but I’m guessing not. Would you really push him off in favor of having both League and Marmol, or adding Edinson Volquez?

Basically, the Dodgers will be hoping their starters can get the job done.

Starting lineup (8)
A.J. Ellis
Adrian Gonzalez
Mark Ellis
Hanley Ramirez
Juan Uribe
Carl Crawford
Matt Kemp
Yasiel Puig

Andre Ethier will obviously get his share of starts if healthy. In fact, if all four primary outfielders are ready to go, Crawford might be the No. 4.

Bench (6)
Andre Ethier
Tim Federowicz
Michael Young
Nick Punto
Skip Schumaker
Dee Gordon or Scott Van Slyke

Jerry Hairston Jr. has a .563 OPS this season. Since the All-Star break, it’s dropped below .430. Though Hairston started today (and went 0 for 4), Michael Young has rendered him almost completely irrelevant, especially when you have plenty of outfield options. It’s unusual for a player who has spent the entire season on the active roster not to make the postseason, but there’s no case for him – whereas Gordon or Van Slyke provide specific (if singular) skills, speed or power.

Look, I won’t put it past the Dodgers to put Hairston on the squad, and given the Dodgers’ fragile health state, Hairston could easily end up on the roster anyway, even if that wasn’t the original intention. But with a full compliment of healthy players, I just can’t see it. They’ve got proven veterans to spare, and Gordon or Van Slyke have a better chance to make a difference at a key moment.

 

Sep 18

Strange brew strands the blue

Well, it would have been a heck of a way to clinch a division.

A tragicomic game that seemed someone’s idea of a practical joke on both teams ended with the Arizona Diamondbacks staving off the Dodgers’ first match point in the National League West, hanging on for a 9-4 victory.

The Dodgers’ magic number for wrapping up the NL West remains two, heading into Thursday’s 12:40 p.m. series finale.

The game began with some horrendous pitching by Stephen Fife, who was making the start to give Clayton Kershaw a slight bit of rest ahead of October. Fife faced 18 batters and 11 reached base, on six hits, three walks and two hit-by-pitches, not to mention two wild pitches. He was lucky to only be charged with four runs, the last when reliever Carlos Marmol issued a bases-loaded walk to his first batter, with one out in the bottom of the third.

But somehow, four runs is all Arizona scored in the first six innings, the Diamondbacks stranding 12 runners on base in the process. Almost as bizarre was the Dodgers’ inability to take the lead, given what transpired in innings four through seven.

Yasiel Puig, having one of those games that makes him famous (a double in the first, followed by a pickoff, for example), hit one into orbit to lead off the top of the fourth and put the first run next to Los Angeles on the scoreboard. Consecutive singles by Carl Crawford, Michael Young and Adrian Gonzalez cut the Diamondbacks’ lead to 4-2, but with none out and two on, the next three Dodgers made outs.

The sixth inning then brought this round-the-horn extravaganza: The Dodgers got a bad call on their third baseman at home and ejection of their first baseman at second base on the same play.

With Young on first and one out, Gonzalez doubled deep in the left-field gap. Young was waved home and appeared to score ahead of the tag by Miguel Montero, but was called out at the plate – by first base umpire Jim Joyce, no less. In disbelief, Gonzalez (apparently) did something at second base to bring about his ejection. Despite yet another hit in the inning, by Matt Kemp, the Dodgers came up empty.

Los Angeles did only slightly better in the seventh. Nick Punto singled and Tim Federowicz doubled him home (no controversy this time), making the score 4-3. But frustratingly, Skip Schumaker was asked to bunt Federowicz to third base, and even though he succeeded with two strikes, it gave the Dodgers their first out. Puig hit an infield single (that could have been ruled an error), but Scott Van Slyke, coming up as a right-handed power bat against a left-handed pitcher in place of Carl Crawford, hit into a double play.

This became all but moot in the bottom of the eighth, when Arizona rapped Ronald Belisario for five insurance runs, three of them after the bases were cleared against Peter Moylan. Arizona ended up with 25 baserunners against the Dodgers. After going more than four seasons without allowing that many in a game, this was the fifth time it has happened in 2013.

Tim Federowicz’s two-out, ninth-inning homer would have been pretty nifty if Arizona still had only a one-run lead, but instead, as Vin Scully would say, it was but a murmur of protest before the game’s end.

Sep 18

The Dodgers and the stretch run

This piece on the Dodgers I penned for Sports on Earth was composed Monday evening, so it’s not 100 percent up to date, but I think it’s still on point for the stretch run. Excerpt:

No, it’s not easy recapturing the magic of Gibson, Orel Hershiser and 1988. The good news for Dodger fans is that the magic of Ramirez, Kershaw and 2013 is still very much in play, if they can just get the timing right. 

As you revel in Matt Kemp’s 4-for-4 night, read the entire piece here. 

Sep 17

Today’s top tweets

From @jonweisman:

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m.

Sep 16

Kemp was hot when he got hurt

Matt Kemp’s status was the story of the Dodgers’ afternoon, as conflicting — or rather, evolving — reports appeared on whether he would be activated for tonight’s game. At best, it appears, he would be used as a pinch-hitter.

During that time, I tweeted the following:

No, Kemp might not contribute at all to the Dodgers for the remainder of this season, playoffs or otherwise. But I’m bothered by the cynicism that assumes he can’t or won’t be a factor, not only because he so recently was the best player in the National League, but because he was looking better in the games before his freak sliding injury in July.

In his most recent 12 starts, Kemp had a .383 on-base percentage and .595 slugging, with a home run every 14 at-bats. Admittedly, those came at least two months ago, but they at least put the lie to the notion that he was fatally lost at the plate. For some reason, some people refuse to believe that he had shown signs of regaining his form.

Also keep in mind that when the season began, the Coors Field injury to his labrum and subsequent surgery were much more recent than they are now.

It’s anyone’s guess what (if anything) will happen next, but let’s start with an open mind. This is not a guy off the street.

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m.

Sep 15

A lineup the ’88 Dodgers could love

Come on, wouldn’t it be cool if this were the Dodgers’ starting lineup in Game 1 of the World Series? You can imagine Bob Costas’ reaction …

Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Skip Schumaker, CF
Jerry Hairston Jr., LF
A.J. Ellis, C
Chili Buss, RF
Edinson Volquez, P

And for good measure, let’s just that Yasiel Puig is unavailable to pinch-hit. That’s right — there’s no way you’ll see him in the bottom of the ninth as the go-ahead run.

With Puig, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier all nursing ailments, it’s starting to look like Matt Kemp is now the healthiest of the Dodgers’ four primary outfielders.

One other note: The only Dodger team ever to win three rounds of playoffs including the World Series, the 1981 squad, went 9-15 to finish the regular season. On this date in 1981, the Dodgers lost 8-2 to the worst team in the National League West, the San Diego Padres, behind Dave Goltz and in front of a crowd of 9,937.

Giants at Dodgers, 1:10 p.m.

Sep 14

Piquing too soon: Dodger injuries raise concerns

1) The Dodgers did not start a throwaway lineup Friday. Behind the best pitcher in baseball, they started five regulars.

• Hanley Ramirez sat because of an injury.

• Carl Crawford sat for any or all of three reasons: He had a .569 OPS this season against lefties and a .596 OPS in September, along with a season-long need for rest.

• Adrian Gonzalez is the only name that seemed out of place on the bench, but given that he is also left-handed and Madison Bumgarner was on the mound, you could understand.

2) Before the game Friday, I described the scenario of “a game that was essentially a tossup deciding whether or not Dodger fans would be elated or deflated.” That’s what Friday’s game was.

After Juan Uribe’s two-run homer broke a scoreless tie and Andre Ethier was hit by a pitch with two out, Giants leftfielder Juan Perez made one of the best catches I’ve seen all year (against A.J. Ellis) to rob the Dodgers of a third run and the chance for more.

Moments later, in the following inning, San Francisco scored three runs on four hits against Clayton Kershaw, the last two runs coming on a dink single by Brett Pill. An error by backup leftfielder Scott Van Slyke, fielding the previous hit, didn’t help matters.

Carl Crawford might have made the play that Van Slyke didn’t, and as a result, maybe the Dodgers wouldn’t have lost Friday’s game. On the other hand, Crawford also grounded into a double play as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth inning, right before Ethier doubled.

Most nights since June 22, the Dodgers have cashed in more opportunities than their opponents. On this night, the opposite happened. This is the tightrope we walk.

3) Ramirez is hurt, and it might not be a simple injury – it’s an irritated nerve in his back. Matt Kemp has played 8 1/2 innings since July 5. Though a .210 batting average on balls in play isn’t helping, starting catcher Ellis, with a .281 on-base percentage and .263 slugging since July 24, might be worn down. And now Andre Ethier has a shaky ankle.

Talk all you want about lineups and momentum, but this is the only issue for Dodger fans to worry about as they head toward the playoffs. Will they be at full strength?

* * *

Some fans will look at late-season losses by a playoff-bound team like a leaky gas tank, the idea being that the losses themselves weaken the team. They are not discrete events, but rather events that have impact on the future. Momentum is something that needs to be actively protected, or it will dissipate into the universe like helium from a balloon.

Either that, or the losses reflect a team that has stopped caring about winning, and that apathy is a disease that will carry into the postseason, when you can’t afford it to.

Do either of those scenarios really make sense? Or does it make more sense that the next game is a new game, and the same hunger and talent that fueled a historic midseason run won’t have evaporated just when you need it the most?

It is plausible that the Dodgers are tired. It is evident they are not 100 percent healthy. The best way to deal for Don Mattingly to deal with both those issues is not to overplay his hand. Yes, losing doesn’t feel good, and having a higher playoff seeding could be great. I’m still hoping the team wins 100 games, though they now need to go 14-1 to do it. But we should all agree that it’s not worth wearing down the active roster further if it will weaken the team in the playoffs.

A manager in this situation finds the best possible balance between giving players the rest they need and keeping the fires burning. Some days, it’s debatable how best to find that balance, and if things go wrong for Los Angeles next month, countless among us will look to September for the seeds of self-destruction.

But can you really identify a better strategy right now than:

• Giving injured players time to heal.

• Giving healthy players an occasional rest, and giving bench players an occasional start to keep them fresh.

• Continuing to push those on the field to make the best effort on the field to win.

Any student of 1988 knows that the Dodgers needed their bench to win that World Series. The same was true in 1981. If a championship is the goal in 2013, there are three things you need to do – amass your talent, avoid injuries as much as possible, and be as prepared as you can be to overcome them when they arrive. This is the Dodgers’ challenge, and it’s not an easy one.

Giants at Dodgers, 6:10 p.m.

Sep 13

The wheel keeps spinning

Let’s begin by thanking Bob Timmermann for his usual impeccable savoir-faire in guiding Dodger Thoughts over the past week. He’s the best.

It was around this time last year that I truly began to feel pulled in so many directions, leading me to put this site on my backburner for more than six months. With the team inches away from the playoffs, that won’t be happening this September, though I can’t say that I feel any more adept in managing my work efforts. Single-minded focus on one aspect of my career over the winter had twists that I didn’t anticipate – what else is new?

But at least the Dodgers have gotten their act together. And it’s just kind of crazy. In 25 years, playing in the World Series, hasn’t seemed so near-fetched.

Game 7 of the World Series, if there is one, is scheduled for Halloween. Don’t tell my kids.

But that’s so far away. Playoff baseball is when dreams go on a terror ride, a mystery train that might never reach its destination. In recent times, the Dodgers have won playoff series that surprised many (2008 against the Cubs, 2009 against the Cardinals) and lost just when some thought they would win (Philadelphia, Philadelphia), the exult and the bitter in an extreme.

Imagine Friday’s relatively meaningless September game against San Francisco happened to be the finale of the National League Championship Series in October, a game that was essentially a tossup deciding whether or not Dodger fans would be elated or deflated. It almost doesn’t seem right. It’s almost too powerful to wrap your head around.

You plan and prepare and maybe even pray. You have some control over your fate, but you never really know how much. Amid all the chaos, you just hope that it’s your turn.

Dodgers at Giants, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CLXXX: Kershawn Jon