Commentary

Five reasons Dodgers aren't done

Los Angeles is down, but this talented club is far from out against St. Louis

Originally Published: October 14, 2013
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Money can't buy you everything. Those 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers of Chavez Ravine are living proof.

It can't buy you health. It can't buy you a big hit with a runner on third base. It can't buy you a high-octane right fielder who calms down enough to make contact. It can't even buy you a guaranteed win with your two Cy Young winners on the mound.

So what we have here, two games into the National League Championship Series, is a $216-million baseball team that's in trouble -- down, two games to nada, to the St. Louis Cardinals -- as it heads into Game 3 Monday at Dodger Stadium.

But there's a difference between trouble and DOA. So remember that. This team isn't dead. In fact, it actually felt as if the Dodgers were in bigger trouble in late June, when they were 12 games under .500 and 9 1/2 games out of first, and there were rumblings that the manager could get fired any moment.

"That's the thing," utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. said Sunday. "Everyone counted us out in May and June. Everyone said we had no chance of even being in the playoffs back then. But we just kept on fighting, and here we are. And that was a big part of the conversation on our plane ride home. This is still a confident group."

So why should the Dodgers have hope, even after losing the first two and looking at the terrifying prospect of having to face Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright in Game 3? Here are five reasons:

1. Do the math

There's an important principle to remember here: When a team is down, two games to none, it means the series couldn't possibly be more one-sided after two games. But if that team wins Game 3 and only trails 2-1, the series couldn't possibly be closer after three games.

So there was a lot of talk in the Dodgers clubhouse Sunday about how important it was to focus just on winning this one game -- and changing both the odds and the storylines.

"When I was with the Cardinals, we were down two games to one against Philly [in 2011], and staring down Roy Oswalt and Doc Halladay," Dodgers utilityman Skip Schumaker philosophized Sunday. "And that wasn't a good feeling. But we got it done. And what we're trying to do here, it's been done before. There's a reason it's a seven-game series."

He's right, of course. About all of that. It may be true that not many teams lose the first two games of a best-of-seven series and come back to win -- but it does happen.

Thirteen teams have done it if you include the World Series (though only three have if you just look at the LCS). Granted, it was 13 out of 74 that got themselves into this 0-2 mess. But 10 of those 13 were teams that lost the first two games on the road, just as the Dodgers did, and then got to head home for Games 3, 4 and 5, as the Dodgers are.

"It would be one thing if we were down 0-2 and going into St. Louis," Hairston said. "That would be a little tougher. But you can look at it this way: They held serve in St. Louis. Now it's our turn to hold serve at our place."

2. Ryu is underrated

OK, so the Dodgers lost Games 1 and 2 with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw on the mound. That wasn't good. But their Game 3 starter isn't some guy they dragged out of the Dodger Dog concession-stand line, you know.

Not sure if you noticed, but Hyun-Jin Ryu had a tremendous year (14-8, 3.00 ERA, with only 45 unintentional walks and 15 homers served in 192 innings). He allowed the lowest extra-base hit rate of any Dodgers starter, permitted only one stolen base all season, and his opponent OBP (.299) and slugging (.361) were remarkably similar to the numbers against Greinke (.291/.355).

Ryu is also left-handed, which creates issues for a Cardinals team that only hit .238/.301/.371 against left-handed pitching this season.

[+] EnlargeYasiel Puig
Chris Williams/Icon SMIYasiel Puig has to get going at some point, right?

Oh. And one more thing. Even when Ryu was pitching in Korea, scouts who saw him there noticed something about him: He never seemed intimidated by the big game. So it's probably no coincidence that he had a 1.54 ERA this season against the four other NL playoff teams (not counting his rough three-inning start in the Division Series).

His catcher, A.J. Eliis, told stories Sunday about how Ryu geared up to face fellow South Korean Shin-Soo Choo this July and came out throwing 94 miles per hour in the first inning, and about an August start in which Ryu got up for a high-profile duel with Matt Harvey -- and beat him.

When Ellis said something afterward, through Ryu's interpreter, about what a feat it was to beat Harvey, Ryu's reaction was: "And I've got Jose Fernandez next."

"So he knows what's going on," Ellis said. "I feel good about him being out there, for a lot of reasons."

3. Puig-mania is yet to begin

The world was dying to see how Yasiel Puig was going to perform on this stage. Well, this wasn't quite what the world -- or the Dodgers -- had in mind. Puig is 0-for-10 with six strikeouts so far in this series. And in Game 2, he became the first Dodgers position player ever to unfurl a postseason Golden Sombrero (0-for-4, four strikeouts).

The Cardinals have thrown Puig very few pitches in the strike zone so far. And he has cooperated with that plan splendidly by chasing the balls, taking the strikes and appearing massively over-amped in general.

"I don't blame him," said a man who seems to take the opposite approach this time of year, the Cardinals' Carlos Beltran. "He wants to get it done, and he's trying, but sometimes you try too hard. And that's an approach that usually doesn't work. When you come up in those situations [with men on base], you've got to try to just get a hit. Don't try to hit a home run."

Regardless, does anyone really think Puig is going to go 0-for-the-NLCS? He just finished going 8-for-17 in the NLDS against the Braves, who can pitch a little themselves. Now we're moving this NLCS show to Dodger Stadium, where he hit .360/.422./.584, and his teammates fully expect him to go off one of these days.

"You know what? It's only been two games [in this series]," Hairston said. "They just get so magnified this time of year. This guy's got a flair for the dramatic. We know that, especially in our park. So I'm looking forward to seeing him. It should be fun."

4. Hanley seems hell-bent on playing

[+] EnlargeRamirez
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsHanley Ramirez is hoping adrenaline and emotion can help him contribute despite injury.

The pain in Hanley Ramirez's ribs is so intense, he's dealing with "the toughest injury I've ever had," he said Sunday. "Even when I sleep. I can't sleep. I can't move. I still feel it."

But incredibly, he's planning to do anything and everything he can to play anyway. Somehow. He knows it's going to hurt to swing, he said, "but I'm gonna be the same guy. I'm not gonna think about anything. I'm just gonna play."

Maybe the doctors will decide otherwise when he gets closer to game time. But indications Sunday were that the Dodgers medical staff was working on ways to get him into the lineup, not keep him out, by helping him to deal with the pain through medication and sewing a pad into his uniform shirt to protect his rib cage. It certainly runs contrary to stories you used to hear about Ramirez being unwilling to play through pain.

"I've heard all the stories about him when he was with the Marlins," said one Dodger. "But I don't know that guy. We haven't seen him here. This guy's played through a lot of stuff."

And don't underestimate what Ramirez's presence means to this team and to this lineup. We saw him go 8-for-16, with six extra-base hits, in the NLDS. We saw the Cardinals intentionally walk him twice in the late innings Friday, after Don Mattingly switched Adrian Gonzalez out of the cleanup spot behind him. And we saw how Gonzalez was pitched Saturday without Ramirez sharing the middle of the order with him.

So he could have a huge impact, and not just in an inspirational, Willis Reed-limps-out-of-the-tunnel sort of way.

"I'm hoping he's playing," Schumaker said. "That's my hope. That's everyone's hope. We're a better team with Hanley and Andre [Ethier] in the lineup. Everyone's better. Our bench is better. Our lineup is longer. So I'm hoping both those guys are in there."

5. The aces are lurking

It's still mind-boggling that the Dodgers started Cy Young winners in Games 1 and 2, and lost both games. You may have heard something about that.

But the Dodgers are trying to look at this with their beverage mugs half full. The Cardinals may have won those games that Greinke and Kershaw pitched, but they still went a combined 6-for-46 (.130) with 15 strikeouts against those two men. And this just in:

It's not exactly a lock that you won't see them pitch again.

"Our goal right now is to get those two guys the ball again in this series," Hairston said. "If they get to pitch one more time, we'll take our chances. But the main thing is, right now, we just have to focus on Game 3 -- find a way to win Game 3 and go from there."

Remember, if they just win Game 3, it guarantees that Greinke will pitch again -- likely in Game 5, although there are rumors (all denied) that the Dodgers' Game 1 starter could come back on short rest in Game 4.

And then, if Greinke wins, that gets Kershaw back on the mound in the next game.

And if that happens? Then we have ourselves a series ... regardless of how one-sided the 2013 NLCS might look right now.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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