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?
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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.