Oct 08

U-RI-BEAR! Dodgers swing into NLCS on redemption song

All the thrills and the joy and yet I must start with this.

In July, I wrote, that there really hadn’t been a story like Juan Uribe in Los Angeles Dodger history: “What Dodger endured two miserable years, while collecting a big paycheck, before putting it together in his third season?” In the post-1975 free agent era, no such player exists. There have been players who struggled coming up in the system, there have been acquisitions that got off to slow starts (Dusty Baker comes to mind). But none was such a disappointment, none was so marginalized, none was so close to being released … only to come back to become the subject of chants and cheers and curtain calls, as Juan Uribe.

As the Dodgers advance to the National League Championship Series with their 4-3 victory Monday over Atlanta, you can be sure it was a team triumph. Absolutely, there are stars – clearly, this is Clayton Kershaw’s world that we rent existence in – and absolutely there were nearly goats, but to get to this point has taken contributions from everyone on that roster.

But holy cow, for those of us who come to baseball for an escape, for answers or even suggestions, to feel something that we can’t often or otherwise find in everyday life, consciously or unconsciously, and see such a tale of redemption played out right at center stage, see one who was so mercilessly derided become the hero, and to know it’s real, brings an emotion to cherish above and beyond the revelry of victory.

Yes, I know Juan Uribe was well compensated as he stunk up the joint in 2011 and 2012 and he didn’t need my sympathy. And I never offered it. But strip everything else away, and you have the story of someone who found his way back from tar and feathering into sweet serenity. If you’ve ever felt like you’ve been failing, it is an inspiration. I’ll never be Clayton Kershaw, the best in the world. But I might be Juan Uribe. I might have my moment.

* * *

To say the least, this National League Division Series Game 4 tossed expectations of success and failure into a blender.

Clayton Kershaw, starting for the first time in his major-league career on three days’ rest, was absolutely on his game, burnishing his legend as this generation’s Sandy Koufax. (Fine, they’re two different people and one hasn’t locked up the Hall of Fame yet, but I’m tired of people trying to deny their equivalency.) Kershaw faced 24 batters and allowed only three singles and a walk while striking out six – meaning that he had struck out 18 in 13 NLDS innings.

But the first sign that not even Kershaw can control the earth’s rotation and the winds of the fates came with the very first batter, when a simple groundball eluded the glove of Adrian Gonzalez at first base. The short-term ramifications were that Kershaw had to throw seven extra pitches to get out of the first inning – and it took a backhand play on the line behind third base by Uribe to do it – but immediately you feared the domino effect on a night he would be on a shorter leash than normal.

If that had been the only deviation from the ideal script, it wouldn’t have mattered. The rest of the night called for the Dodgers to pound multi-organization moundsman Freddy Garcia early and often, and it looked like that would happen. Carl Crawford, 24 hours after his huge three-run Game 3 homer Sunday, jumped on a 1-2 offering from Garcia and drilled it over the right-field wall for a leadoff blast, the first of his career since hitting one off Garcia eight seasons ago. One out later, Hanley Ramirez singled and stole second, and one more out later, Yasiel Puig absolutely smashed a ball to right field that looked as much like a homer as anything I saw from my seat on the Reserved Level all night. But Justin Upton caught it at the fence, and the Dodger lead remained 1-0.

Kershaw cruised fairly easily through innings two and three, allowing only a single to the consistently bothersome Chris Johnson, before Crawford came up again with one out in the bottom of the third. Unbelievably, Crawford hit a second homer, this one high down the right-field line, to double the Dodgers’ lead. When Mark Ellis followed with a bloop double, placing Ramirez and Gonzalez at the plate with one out, you wondered whether the bell was tolling for Garcia.

But the 37-year-old showed us. Through the end of the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth Garcia would go, and no more runs would he allow. And by the time someone else was pitching for the Braves, they would be winning.

Freddie Freeman singled off Kershaw to start the fourth inning. Gattis, who always seemed to be involved in interesting plays this series, hit a sharp grounder to Gonzalez, who turned to throw to Ramirez. On the Dodgers’ postgame show, Gonzalez said he forgot how deep Ramirez had been playing and that although he threw the ball on a line, it arrived too early. Ramirez couldn’t catch it. The Braves had two on with none out, and for those keeping Kershaw watch, Gonzalez had blown three potential outs out of the first 13 batters.

It gets worse. Kershaw didn’t get three consecutive strikeouts like the situation basically demanded. Instead, he threw a wild pitch and gave up a single to That Darn Johnson (who had RBI in every NLDS game), and Atlanta was on the board. The next batter, Andrelton Simmons, hit the second potential double-play grounder of the inning, but while Uribe fielded it smoothly and threw to Ellis, the second baseman’s relay to Gonzalez at first was wide, and Gattis scored. Two runs and four outs given away by the Dodger defense, and the game was tied, 2-2.

The sixth inning ended with Kershaw at 91 pitches, but he did not come out for the seventh, in what purely had to be a nod to protecting his arm. I’m not questioning that, because I’m all for protecting his arm, but I’m just curious how that was determined to me the limit. In any case, it became at that moment the Dodgers’ bullpen against the Braves’ bullpen in a tie game, a turning point that was supposed to go Atlanta’s way.

And so it did, immediately. Ronald Belisario got the first out but gave up a triple to Elliot Johnson, previously hitless in the series. With the infield in, pinch-hitter Jose Constanza – the guy the Dodgers were afraid to have Chris Withrow face in Game 2 – hit a legit single up the middle. In that moment, Garcia and Constanza were positioned to be the Brave heroes sending the series back to Atlanta for Game 5.

More and more, Game 4 was taking on the shape of Game 2, a game that the Dodgers came close to breaking through time and time again, only to be foiled. In the bottom of the seventh, for the second time in the evening, Ellis doubled ahead of Ramirez and Gonzalez. But after Ramirez was walked intentionally, Gonzalez flied deep but not deep enough to right field.

Brian Wilson entered in the eighth inning and struck out the first two men he faced, then gave up singles to Chris Johnson (his third) and Simmons. An insurance run was a solid hit away from scoring. But Elliot Johnson flied to center field, and I’ll just say this – seeing Atlanta waste one of its few scoring opportunities (only their second runner stranded in scoring position all night) – felt different.

Puig was the leadoff batter for the bottom of the eighth against David Carpenter. He would need to get on base to get a rally going, and he would surely need an extra-base hit to avoid putting the Dodgers in what Don Mattingly would surely turn into a bunting situation. And Puig delivered, a beautiful, go-with-it, opposite-field shot down the right-field line for two bases. (He looked dangerously close to coming off second base in his exultation, but all was well.) There it was, the tying run on second base and three shots to get him home with a single single.

And still, Uribe showed bunt! The headline of this paragraph should be “Grrr! Mattingly!” The sheer frustration watching someone make a decision based entirely on the premise that Skip Schumaker will hit a sacrifice fly or that a ball will get away from the catcher is rarely replicated in civilized society, but there it was.

Uribe twice fouled off bunts, leaving him simply with the task of batting with an 0-2 count against a pitcher whose regular season stats included a 1.78 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings and fewer than a home run every 13 innings.

And then …


Said Vin Scully after calling the home run: “Isn’t it amazing what someone will do when he can’t bunt?”

Joked A.J. Ellis on the postgame show: “And Uribe, wisely, decided not to get the bunt down.”

Even the Dodgers’ radio team seemed to feel the Dodgers dodged one simply when Uribe fouled the bunts off, with Kevin Kennedy pointing out that handing the Braves an out might bring uber-closer Craig Kimbrel into the game that much sooner.

And so Mattingly gets derided for his performance in this moment. But what does Uribe remind us if not the potential for redemption?

* * *

Kenley Jansen for the ninth. Earlier in the evening, Tampa Bay had scored a go-ahead run in their bottom of the eighth against Boston, only to surrender that lead in the top of the ninth. The Rays still won, but who wanted any part of that kind of drama?

Not Kenley Jansen.




Five years after clinching an NLDS series at home against Chicago, four years after a two-run rally in their last at-bat to win their final NLDS home game against St. Louis, the Dodgers had done it again.

They will next play Friday, either at home against Pittsburgh or on the road against St. Louis. They will be able to start Zack Greinke and Kershaw in the first two games of the NLCS, as well as two other games if necessary.

They will perhaps have the exact same roster, with the only changes potentially Andre Ethier starting in center field, and maybe a tinker for the ever chancy bullpen.

For all that has happened, they will be trying to win a seven-game series for the first time in 25 years.

They will continue on their path, their path to turn past disappointments into pure happiness.

Oct 07

Boldly and not without risk, Dodgers push Clayton Kershaw into Game 4 start

My reactions to the official news that Clayton Kershaw will start Game 4 of the National League Division Series tonight are complicated.

It’s not that I don’t see the obvious, that Kershaw, even on short rest, seems preferable to Ricky Nolasco when it comes down to one game.

It’s not that I don’t see that Zack Greinke is still available to pitch Game 5 on Wednesday, if necessary.

But you’re also trading one unknown (how Nolasco will do after his long layoff) for another (how Kershaw will do on his first short-rest start ever). And the latter unknown includes a heightened wear-and-tear risk.

And there’s the problematic issue that even if the Dodgers win tonight, they are kicking a pretty big can down the road: a seeming lack of confidence in anyone beyond their top two starters.

What will Kershaw’s pitch limit be, after throwing 124 pitches on Thursday? You know that Atlanta is going to try to make him work. You know that in all likelihood, you’ll need the bullpen to close this game out.

Kershaw is going to need to throw strikes. He’s going to need to have his best control, and he’s going to need that despite not having his regular time off.

For all the attention this is getting, the Dodgers’ fate might rest as much as anything on whether they can turn Freddy Garcia’s Game 4 start into child’s play.  If the Dodgers score, it won’t matter much who started for them.

I think this boils down to a belief that Kershaw won’t be negatively affected by the shortened rest. If you believe in that, there’s little reason not to support using him. But if you have fears about short-rest starts, it’s going to be an uneasy time.

My belief in Clayton Kershaw is pretty close to limitless, but that’s why I was fine to let Nolasco wade into Game 4. Because with Kershaw on the mound in a close-out game on full rest — that’s as good an scenario as you can paint. Whereas I see the potential tonight for Kershaw to have to leave inside of six innings, the Dodgers losing and a lot of pressure on Greinke to win somewhere he lost five days earlier.

But it’s a tough call. Whatever happens, I will not second-guess the Dodgers’ choice unless I find out that there was the slightest physical concern about Kershaw.


Oct 06

Braves rocked, Dodgers roll, fans jazzed, team’s got soul

That was like Sisyphus getting ready for another long, hard push up the mountain – and then Zeus changing his mind and just handing him a beach chair and a Mai Tai instead.

Too wacky? Maybe so, but wacky suits what happened tonight for the Dodgers. who shrugged off Hyun-Jin Ryu’s uphill outing and bam-smashed the Atlanta Braves in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, 13-6.

The Dodgers tied their all-time postseason high in runs, set in Game 2 of the 1956 World Series (breaking their Los Angeles record of 12 in Game 4 of the 1974 National League Championship Series) and can eliminate the Braves with one win in their next two games. The game also set a record for most combined runs ever at Dodger Stadium in the postseason.

After allowing two runs in the first inning, the Dodgers came back in the second inning on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Ryu and Carl Crawford’s marvelous three-run homer, their biggest hit of the playoffs so far. And then, after Ryu gave up two more runs in what would prove to be his final inning, Los Angeles struck for two more runs in the bottom of the third and four more in the fourth to all but put the game out of reach.

The Dodgers tacked on three runs in the eighth, building their lead to nine before Jason Heyward hit a two-run homer off in the ninth off Paco Rodriguez, who couldn’t finish the inning in what might be a sign that his usefulness this season is over. Kenley Jansen came in to get the final out, four hours and a minute after the game began.

Nearly every Dodger starter had a say in the game, but none more than Crawford (2 for 5 with three runs), Hanley Ramirez (walk, single, double and triple), Yasiel Puig (three singles) and Juan Uribe (single and two-run home run). Oh, and Chris Capuano, who had one of the oddest relief outings you’ll ever see, walking the leadoff batter in three consecutive innings but allowing no other baserunners, on his way to earning the win.

The game deserves more ink than this, but some of us are going to rest up for the week ahead.

Ricky Nolasco will now probably take the ball in Game 4 of the playoffs Monday against Freddy Garcia, with Clayton Kershaw prepared to start Game 5 on Wednesday or, if not necessary, Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday.

Oct 06

National League Division Series Oh Boy Game 3 chat

Seems like most of the National League Division Series material I read today isn’t about today’s Game 3, but rather Monday’s Game 4 and whether Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers on three days’ rest.

For what it’s worth, I’m not as gung-ho about using Kershaw on Monday if the Dodgers lose tonight. I mean, I realize you pretty much have to use him, but the downside is you really don’t know how pitching four days after a 124-pitch outing will affect him, both in terms of overall effectiveness and duration.

But for now, the focus should be on tonight’s Game 3, which offers a pretty great matchup between Hyun-Jin Ryu (amid some mystery of his overall health) and Julio Teheran, with the stakes the highest we’ve seen all year. After dominating Game 1 and coming within several different eyelashes of stealing Game 2, the Dodgers would seem to be well-positioned to take the upper hand of the series at home. But of course, I’ll be sitting on the edge of my fingernails like the rest of you.

Braves at Dodgers, 5:07 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Skip Schumaker, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Hyun-Jin Ryu, P

Oct 04

This game’ll get you: Braves bear down on Dodgers to even NLDS

The Dodgers and the Braves were like that old joke about the two guys who were being chased by a bear, and one guy says to the other, “I don’t need to be faster than the bear – I just need to be faster than you.”

Atlanta caught and passed the Dodgers early, and then managed to stay at least one step ahead through the entire trip through the woods, leaving Los Angeles to be chewed up by defeat in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, 4-3.

Not only was the game close, it was a rare thing this postseason — the first major-league game decided by fewer than three runs since the regular season ended Sunday.

After taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning, three double plays thwarted Los Angeles in the most frustrating ways. One came after the leadoff batter reached in the second inning, and was followed by a single. Another came even though the Dodgers were doing a hit and run. And a third, most painful one came with runners on first and third and one out in the seventh.

Meanwhile, Atlanta got two-out RBI hits from Andrelton Simmons in the second and Chris Johnson in the fourth off an otherwise impressive Zack Greinke (six innings, four baserunners), then poured across two more runs in a vexing seventh inning made of the stuff that causes division-winning managers to be at the risk of losing their jobs. Just like that, the Braves had a 4-1 lead.

I could go into greater detail here about the bottom of the seventh, but I think one moment sums it up: Reed Johnson was walked intentionally to face Jason Heyward.

Mark Ellis drew his second walk of the game to start the eighth, and it was at that moment that I commented at Dodger Thoughts, “Just realized Dodgers will probably lose this game 4-3.” No sooner did that get typed than did Hanley Ramirez — who had the RBI double to score Ellis in the first and another double in the sixth — hit a down-the-line two-run homer to slice the lead back down to a run.

But Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig struck out, and Juan Uribe grounded out, and the Dodgers would remain behind, even after a shutout eighth inning by Brian Wilson, heading into the ninth.

Braves super-closer Craig Kimbrel, who got the final out in the eighth inning, struck out Skip Schumaker to open the final frame, but walked A.J. Ellis after being ahead in the count 1-2. Dee Gordon pinch-ran — three stolen bases from glory, right? — as Andre Ethier came up to pinch-hit. But on a pitch in the dirt, a perfect throw from backup Braves catcher Gerald Laird nailed Gordon at second base (your view of the replay might dispute this), an excruciatingly bitter pill on a night full of them.

Then Ethier walked on a 3-2 pitch (bringing us the irony of Scott Van Slyke as pinch-runner), and the angst continued for one more batter, but Carl Crawford finally struck out to finally end the game.

Even putting aside the playoff stakes, it was the most agonizing game of the year for Los Angeles.

The Dodgers will fly to Los Angeles retaining the chance to win the NLDS at home, a two-game effort beginning with Hyun-Jin Ryu in the gloaming on Sunday.

Oct 04

National League Division Series Game 2 chat

Watching the Pirates tip the table on the Cardinals in a 7-1 romp that evened the other National League Division Series was a sobering reminder of how short-lived success can be. Zack Greinke will aim to keep things stable in Game 2 for the Dodgers, who will now face a lefty starting pitcher in Atlanta’s Mike Minor.

Be strong, be fierce, be winners.

Dodgers at Braves, 3:07 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Skip Schumaker, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Zack Greinke, P

Coverage of the game will begin on TNT, because of the length of the Tampa Bay-Boston game on TBS.

Oct 03

A playoff opener worth waiting for: Dodger offense and Kershaw pound Braves, 6-1

For the first three innings of tonight’s National League Division Series opener, I listened to Vin Scully on the radio while watching the game with the sound on the TV off. The radio call was about seven seconds ahead of my television feed, which meant that Scully would paint a picture for me, and then I’d have a short and satisfying period of imagining it in my head before I’d see it in full color.

The Dodgers’ gratification wasn’t delayed much longer than mine was.

With two runs in the second inning and two more in the third quickly erasing the ennui of their sub-.500 September, Los Angeles bit into to a 4-0 lead on their way to a satisfying 6-1 victory to take a 1-0 NLDS lead over the Atlanta Braves.

Though the offense made the most noise, Clayton Kershaw had a night to remember. Almost as an afterthought, Kershaw struck out nine of his final 11 batters and finished with 12 whiffs, the most by a Dodger in the playoffs in 50 years and one day, since Sandy Koufax fanned a team-record 15 in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series.

Rk Player Date Series Gm# Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO
1 Sandy Koufax 1963-10-02 WS 1 LAD NYY W 5-2 CG 9 ,W 9.0 6 2 2 3 15
2 Carl Erskine 1953-10-02 WS 3 BRO NYY W 3-2 CG 9 ,W 9.0 6 2 2 3 14
3 Don Drysdale 1965-10-10 WS 4 LAD MIN W 7-2 CG 9 ,W 9.0 5 2 2 2 11
4 Don Newcombe 1949-10-05 WS 1 BRO NYY L 0-1 CG 9 ,L 8.0 5 1 1 0 11
5 Tim Belcher 1988-10-05 NLCS 2 LAD NYM W 6-3 GS-9 ,W 8.1 5 3 3 3 10
6 Sandy Koufax 1965-10-14 WS 7 LAD MIN W 2-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 3 0 0 3 10
7 Sandy Koufax 1965-10-11 WS 5 LAD MIN W 7-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 1 10
8 Sal Maglie 1956-10-03 WS 1 BRO NYY W 6-3 CG 9 ,W 9.0 9 3 3 4 10

After going down on three Kris Medlen strikeouts in the first inning, nearly every note the Dodgers played tonight was a sweet one. And Yasiel Puig was arguably the conductor.

While nearly everyone was waiting to jab their fingers at Puig’s first mistake, the rookie Dodger outfielder showed them the much bigger picture of his abilities in a dynamic second inning. With one out, he singled to center in his first career playoff at-bat. After drawing several pickoff throws from Medlen, he roared all the way to third base on a single to center by Juan Uribe, seemingly catching Jason Heyward off guard. Puig then scored on a Skip Schumaker sacrifice fly, also to center, with Heyward being the one to make a poor throw home that allowed Uribe to take second base.

A.J. Ellis then ripped a ball to left field that a better outfielder than Evan Gattis would have caught, but instead it went past for an RBI double that doubled the Dodgers lead to 2-0.

To top things off, after Kershaw gave up a bloop single to Gattis in the bottom of the second inning, Puig helped put an end to it by catching a one-out fly ball and doubling off Gattis at first base.

Moments later, Carl Crawford singled to start the third and Adrian Gonzalez doubled the Dodgers’ lead with a two-run homer to dead center. And in the fourth, the Dodgers’ converted A.J. Ellis’ second double into their fourth two-out run of the game and a 5-0 lead when Mark Ellis singled him home.

Kershaw hardly had a perfect night. After needing only 23 pitches over the first two innings, he found himself pitching from behind in the count in the third and fourth. At one point, Brian McCann hit a fly ball near the wall in left field with two runners on that was worth a good scare. However, Crawford flagged it down, and though Kershaw subsequently allowed an RBI single to Chris Johnson, the Dodgers ended the inning still up 5-1.

The 25-year-old Dodger lefty soon hit his stride, striking out six batters in a row at one point, and with Hanley Ramirez doubling in another run, the Dodgers headed into the bottom of the seventh comfortably ahead, 6-1. Kershaw then took the mound despite already having 104 pitches to his name, pretty much eliminating any idea that the Dodgers would bring him back on three days’ rest for a potential Game 4 start Monday. (If there is a Game 5 on Wednesday, Kershaw would have five days’ rest.)

After a leadoff walk and with Paco Rodriguez warming up behind him, Kershaw struck out the final three batters in the inning to cap his 124-pitch night, having allowed but three singles and three walks.

Though the final 11 Dodger batters made outs (including Andre Ethier as a pinch-hitter for Kershaw in the eighth), it didn’t matter. Brian Wilson pitched a shutout eighth inning, and Kenley Jansen, getting his playoff feet wet (no doubt to the consternation of those worried about him being wasted) after throwing only 24 in-game pitches in the past nine days, allowed a walk and a bloop single but closed the door on the Braves in the ninth with three strikeouts.

It was a brilliant night for the Dodgers, but it will be a short one. Game 2 looms on the docket, 18 hours after tonight’s final out.

Oct 03

2013 postseason: Who’s hungriest?

The last time they won … Postseason Spot Division Series Championship Series World Series
Dodgers 2009 2009 1988 1988
Braves 2012 2001 1999 1995
Cardinals 2012 2012 2011 2011
Pirates 1992 —- 1979 1979
Red Sox 2009 2008 2007 2007
Rays 2011 2008 2008 —-
A’s 2012 2006 1990 1989
Tigers 2012 2012 2012 1984
Oct 03

Rest allows Dodgers to emphasize matchups in bullpen use

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.


Oct 03

Andre Ethier should bat leadoff

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.

Oct 03

NLDS Game 1: Expect the unexpected, then roll with it

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.

I think of Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew earning instant infamy in Game 1 of the 2006 NLDS, thrown out at home on the same play. And that wasn’t all:

  • 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.