Monday, September 30, 2013
Grading the week: Limping into October
By Mark Saxon
LOS ANGELES – Should the Dodgers have pushed harder for homefield advantage last week?
Going into their Tuesday game at AT&T Park, they trailed the Atlanta Braves by two games and the St. Louis Cardinals by one. The Dodgers went 2-4 from that point. They weren’t going to catch the Cardinals, who won all five of their remaining games. And they weren’t going to catch Atlanta, which went 3-2, but held the tiebreaker over the Dodgers.
So, the answer to that question is a fairly definitive, “no,” unless you think that by half-stepping in the final two series, the Dodgers lost their edge heading into the playoffs. That could well be true, but it didn't feel that way. We'll find out if the Dodgers can flip the switch again Thursday.
Overall, it was a pretty bad week and a continuation of the Dodgers’ lackluster September, but you could also argue, who cares?
Here’s where the worriers might have some justification. The Dodgers’ lineup didn’t look dangerous last week, scoring an average of 3.5 runs per game and batting .222. Yasiel Puig (.167, five strikeouts in six games) struggled badly. One of the few Dodgers swinging a hot bat in San Francisco, Matt Kemp, was shut down for the entire postseason with an inflamed ankle.
And it won’t get any easier Thursday, when the Dodgers face Braves right-hander Kris Medlen, who is 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA against the Dodgers.
Of course, the counterargument to the worriers is that manager Don Mattingly continued to give his frontline players revolving days off. Beginning Thursday, barring a setback, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Puig will all be in the lineup for every game.
While the loss of Kemp and, probably, Andre Ethier, will sap the lineup of some depth, the Dodgers have the names and resumes to do damage once again. If they can only find the spark they’ve been missing.
Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke finished up their regular seasons exactly as you would want them to, by dominating. Kershaw put a ribbon on his Cy Young-bound season Friday and Greinke pitched nearly as well the following day while, somehow, picking up the loss.
Hyun-Jin Ryu had another one of those starts where he gives up a bunch of hits, but generally pitches out of trouble. Ricky Nolasco’s slump is something of a concern, but if the Dodgers’ top three starters pitch to form, maybe they won’t have to worry about a Game 4, who knows?
It was that kind of week for Dodgers pitching, which lost four games while pitching to a 1.92 ERA.
Most of the key relievers seem to be sharp heading into the playoffs, Kenley Jansen has been unhittable, Brian Wilson continues to go strong and J.P. Howell has pitched well. Paco Rodriguez has been struggling, but Mattingly said he feels fine about his young lefty heading into the playoffs.
Mattingly needs to keep his day job, because he would make a terrible psychic. All season, he has been asked to assess the severity of Dodgers injuries and, all season long, he has started out being as optimistic and conservative in his estimates as he can be.
Pretty much every time, the injury proved to be more serious than first hoped.
Last weekend, Mattingly thought Ethier was healthy enough to pinch hit, so he gave him an at-bat in San Diego. Ethier hasn’t been seen since. Going into Sunday’s game, Mattingly thought Kemp would be ready to go by Thursday. Four hours later, the Dodgers team doctor shut down Kemp for the remainder of 2013.
So, we have to assume that some of the aches and pains the Dodgers hitters have been dealing with are a bit more severe than the team has indicated. In that case, Mattingly was perfectly justified in fielding some watered-down lineups after the Dodgers clinched.
Kershaw is a good example of how players’ attitudes can affect the team’s performance. The Dodgers have provided Kershaw with awful run support all season, which means that his charmed season -- becoming just the second L.A. Dodger to finish with a sub-2.00 ERA -- only netted him 16 wins.
Now, whenever anyone glances casually at Kershaw’s baseball card, they’ll skim right over 2013 rather than recognize his brilliance this season.
All season, Kershaw has held his tongue when he was given an opportunity to criticize Dodgers hitters. Many a pitcher has admitted to frustration under similar circumstances.
People tend to focus on the big personalities -- players like Puig, Brian Wilson and Juan Uribe -- when talking about team chemistry, but a player such as Kershaw or Mark Ellis can contribute just as much by staying quiet sometimes.
STATE OF CONTENTION
The Dodgers are in the playoffs and they don’t have to bother with a wild-card game.
That’s about as good as you can hope for right about now.