Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Joe Torre says plenty to play for
By Tony Jackson
LOS ANGELES -- On the day after his club was mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre stressed the importance that the club continue to push forward, especially when playing against contending teams.
Five of the Dodgers' 11 remaining games are against the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies, both of whom remain in the thick of the National League West race.
"The challenge is to have an impact," Torre said Wednesday, a few hours before the Dodgers hosted the Padres. "I know that if we're sitting in that dugout over there or we're sitting wherever Colorado is, we're hoping that the team playing one of those contenders can knock them off. It's our obligation to try to do that, and hopefully, we can win some games."
Although the Dodgers weren't officially eliminated until Tuesday, it has been clear for weeks they weren't going to the playoffs, and they haven't exactly fared well when given the chance to play spoilers.
Beginning Aug. 27, the day the Dodgers began a three-game series at Colorado and a day after they completed a three-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers that made it appear the Dodgers might still have life in the NL wild-card race, the Dodgers have played a total of 16 games against the Rockies, Padres and San Francisco Giants and have lost 12 of those games.
Throw in a three-game series against another contender, the NL East-leading Philadelphia Phillies, that also took place during that time and the Dodgers are 5-14 against contending clubs over the past 26 days.
Fueling the suspicion the Dodgers might not be especially motivated when playing those teams is the fact that in 10 of those 16 games, they have scored two runs or fewer.
"Yesterday was our elimination, but I think we knew we were eliminated before last night," Torre said. "The only thing we can do, and I brought it up at the meeting [Tuesday], is it's our job to come out here and try to beat these ballclubs and do everything we have to do to win games."
On the flip side, the Dodgers will play six of their final 11 games against the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks. Because of that, Torre has adjusted the starting rotation slightly to ensure that his team, in theory at least, will put its best foot forward against the Rockies and Padres.
Clayton Kershaw, who was to have started on five days' rest Saturday night at Arizona, will now start on regular rest Friday night against the Diamondbacks, which lines him up to pitch the finale of next week's three-game series at Colorado on Wednesday night. Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda also will pitch against the Rockies.
Chad Billingsley and rookie John Ely will make all four of their remaining starts -- two apiece -- against the Diamondbacks.
More rest for Blake?
Although Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake is signed through next year, Torre said Blake might benefit from more rest. While Torre didn't come right out and say it, Blake might find himself in a utility role in 2011 if the Dodgers can find someone younger to play his demanding position on an everyday basis.
Blake's power numbers didn't drop off dramatically -- he hit 18 homers and drove in 79 runs last year and entered Wednesday with 15 homers and 60 RBIs this year -- his batting average went from .280 last season to .248 so far in 2010. He also turned 37 last month.
"I think if he had a smarter manager, he would have rested more often," Torre said. "I think the trick right now is to find that right number of games. At the start of the season, I was looking to rest him maybe three days every two weeks. But he started out swinging the bat really well, and we wound up pushing the envelope a little bit."
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.