- Mark Saxon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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PHOENIX -- Had things gone differently, the Dodgers could have been spraying champagne and other eye-stinging liquids on their fans on Sunday afternoon. What a perfect moment to cap a magical season that would have been.
It seemed headed in that direction when the Dodgers won the first two games against the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks to start the homestand. Then things got a little squirrelly.
They couldn’t handle Patrick Corbin in the finale of that series, Arizona bought a little time and the Dodgers suddenly needed six of seven events to go their way in order to clinch Sunday.
It wasn’t even close. The Dodgers lost four of five games, Hunter Pence proudly delaying their clinching party with a monster five-home run weekend at Dodger Stadium.
But the real issue is injuries, exactly what made the first three months of this Dodgers series a blur of disappointment. First, Hanley Ramirez started feeling tightness in his hamstring and, after doctors took a look, they discovered a nerve is irritating his back. Then came Andre Ethier, limping off on a sprained ankle. Carl Crawford felt tightness in his back. Yasiel Puig has been dealing with some hip soreness.
In other words, the Dodgers will be trying to clinch with a rag-tag crew, most likely, this week.
Juan Uribe had a nice week on Monday.
He hit three home runs that day, four for the week and he nearly hit one out Sunday, but the ball clanged off the top of the wall (and had to be reviewed by the umpires), resulting in a triple.
Overall, Uribe batted .348 with a 1.332 OPS.
But an interesting thing happened in Sunday’s game, one that could hint at other managers’ strategy for playoff games. The San Francisco Giants intentionally walked Adrian Gonzalez to get to Uribe with first base open. Uribe struck out against Santiago Casilla. At this age -- and with how hard he swings -- Uribe often struggles against pitchers who throw 94 mph and up. That could mean Michael Young has a role on the post-season roster given his short swing and success against good fastball pitchers.
Hanley Ramirez was hot again before he had to take himself out of a game with a strained hamstring that later was determined to being caused by irritation in a nerve in his back. Adrian Gonzalez continues to be one of baseball’s great clutch hitters. He had eight RBIs, putting him at the precipice of 100 yet again.
And, still, it was a mediocre week for the hitters, who scored an average of 3.57 runs per game.
Even before Nolasco got knocked around by the Giants Saturday, this plan made no sense. For one thing, would you make the call based on Nolasco’s good two months or on Greinke’s outstanding career, including a Cy Young award, and the fact you agreed to pay him $147 million to be exactly that -- the No. 2 starter behind Kershaw.
You could make a case that Nolasco should move ahead of Hyun-Jin Ryu, but that determination will be made based on the opponent the Dodgers play. The Pittsburgh Pirates lead the National League with a .742 OPS against lefties. The St. Louis Cardinals are 13th with a .667.
Prediction: If the Dodgers face Pittsburgh, Nolasco will pitch Game 3. If they face St. Louis, Ryu will pitch.
Overall, it was a bad week for Dodgers pitchers, who allowed an average of 5.29 runs per game, but that was wildly skewed by the 19 runs San Francisco scored Saturday -- against several pitchers who won’t even be on the post-season roster.
Greinke allowed one run in six innings against the Giants Thursday and Kershaw was fine, though he blamed himself for giving up a lead in the seventh inning.
Don Mattingly is beginning to treat questions about injuries as an NFL or major-college football coach would. He provides the fewest possible details and the vaguest possible timetables.
Regardless of his public stance, how he handles this rash of injuries could have a major impact on the Dodgers’ chances next month. By all indications, he’s going to give Ramirez, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier all the time they need. Bravo. Why chase homefield advantage when there’s no evidence it makes any difference where these games are played? Since the current playoff formats were instituted, the ALDS and ALCS both are exactly 50-50 between home and road teams.
The man who said the Dodgers “can’t buy chemistry,” before spring training -- first baseman Brandon Belt -- went 6-for-13 with a home run and six RBIs in the series at Dodger Stadium over the weekend. So, he’s got that going for him. Living well might be the best revenge, so the Dodgers can just leave that one alone.
There are a lot of different personalities in the Dodgers clubhouse. Last week, Mattingly called Michael Young the “anti-Brian Wilson,” because of his quiet, attention-shy demeanor. Who would the “anti-Yasiel Puig,” be?
Probably Mark Ellis, who said this in an interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com two months ago: "Nobody would watch baseball if everybody was like me. You need guys like [Puig] that are entertaining."
Either way, the key is tolerance. And, so far, little evidence has emerged that personality conflicts are disrupting the team’s ability to function at a high level.
STATE OF CONTENTION
This week couldn’t be simpler. The Dodgers will be NL West champs for the first time in four years if they win two games in these next four in Arizona.
If they do, we can just wait to find out who they play and where they’ll play in the playoffs. No use getting too worked up.
If they lose three of four or worse, they’ll have to take the party to San Diego or San Francisco, but the champagne won’t taste any less bubbly in the cooler climate.
PHOENIX -- Had things gone differently, the Dodgers could have been spraying champagne and other eye-stinging liquids on their fans on Sunday afternoon.