Well, we are officially in the middle of the dog days of summer. It’s the second week of August, baseball races are tightening up, and playoff hopefuls are licking their chops, prognosticating about who they’re gonna face, who they match up well with, and who they want nothing to do with.
I honestly feel like this year’s Dodgers fall squarely into that last category; a team that NOBODY wants to face come playoff time, and today we’re going to go over why that is. First, a few things about playoff baseball I want to point out.
The games are shortened. No, I don’t mean they play 7 innings like in little leagues, it’s still 9. Playoff teams have, for the most part, defined roles for their bullpen. Starters go 6 or so innings, hand it over to the short relief corps. If you haven’t capitalized on the starter, chances are you’re going to be starved for runs, and playoff baseball games exploit that much more than regular season games. Innings 7, 8 and 9 are normally dominated by guys who throw GAS. Hits are at a premium and runs are basically non-existent. Again; if you didn’t get healthy off the starter, your odds of putting up a crooked number on the scoreboard got even slimmer.
Now, for the last month to 6 weeks, the Dodgers haven’t been able to squeeze 7 innings out of starter. 23-14 since their ace and GOAT Clayton Kershaw went down, the Dodger’s starters have struggled to go deep into games, giving the pen plenty of opportunity for work. Now, some will point to that as a negative; they’ll claim that the pen arms will be dead by the time the post-season rolls around, and everyone will be gassed. Could not be further from the truth with this squad. Guys like Joe Blanton, Adam Libertore, Pedro Baez, acquisitions like Jesse Chavez and Josh Fields…all these guys can bring it, and with the amount of guys we’ve had on the DL, for every unfortunate injury like Libertore, we have a guy like Josh Ravin, whose arm is fresh as a daisy and throws 98 mph darts. Did I mention Kenley Jansen, one of the best closers in the game? Dodgers lead going into the 7th? To steal a phrase from a former Dodgers closer: GAME OVER.
Offense is at a premium. Runs are hard enough to come by when you’re facing a starting pitcher in the major leagues. Come playoff time, you have a better chance of finding something Donald Drumpf says that’s true instead of scoring 3+ runs in a playoff game. As we just discovered, once the starters go out, the order becomes just that much taller, with elite level bullpens everywhere you look. One of the keys of the Dodgers ability to stay contending has been their offense, consistently scoring 5+ runs a game since Clayton Kershaw went down. 5 runs in a game should net you a win in the regular season; 5 runs a game in the postseason would be phenomenal, and I think this offense has a chance to not only meet, but eclipse that mark.
We have hitters up and down the line-up, and we have legitimate STUDS who haven’t found their stroke just yet, but once they do, this offense will look like the baseball version of the Golden State Warriors. I mean, after all, we do have our own Thompson just to stretch that out further. Guys like Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Howie Kendrick…heck, even Yasmani has been SMASHING the ball of late. If we can get Josh Reddick to find his groove; dang, that sends chills down my back. Talk about a potent offense.
Pitching and defense win. It’s tried and true. You need 3 good starters, and you need the equivalent of gold gloves all over the field. The Dodgers have both of those, in spades. Our starting pitching has struggled to get to the 6th inning of late, but our bullpen has been up to the task and then some, carrying more than one game for more than 5 innings. Plus, there’s this guy, Clayton Kershaw, maybe you’ve heard of him? Out since late June, he still leads the majors in WAR (wins above replacement), and he is slated for a September return that will not only fill Chavez Ravine, but the hearts of Dodger fans across the world as well. Brett Anderson!?!? Remember that guy? Rumor has it, he’ll be making a return here in the next month as well, and don’t overlook Rich Hill, a deadline acquisition. Mix in the stalwarts that are Kenta Madea, Brandon McCarthy, Julio Urias and Scott Kazmir, and we have an abundance of starting pitching, and guys that will translate well into long relief roles in the pen as well.
Now, pardon me while I channel my inner AI with a little tweak of my own…’Defense…we’re talking about DEFENSE?!?!’ Damn right we’re talking about defense. If you’ve read this far, I’ve made it abundantly clear that runs are at a premium in the postseason, and that also implies that defense has to be razor sharp. Double plays. Holding runners from advancing on fly balls. Taking away a lead runner and keeping an inning under control. These things add up, and that is magnified in the post season.
The front office, for all the flack they’ve taken from thousands of twitter scouts and the like, have done a resplendent job of putting together a water-tight defensive group that has multiple players that can play multiple positions. Look at Howie Kendrick; before this year, his career # of games in the outfield in the low 20’s throughout his 9yr career before he became a Dodger, has not only lead the team in starts in left field, but flashed some stellar defense out there as well. Guys like Kiké Hernandez can play multiple positions as well, in both the infield and outfield. We have the equivalent of gold gloves from positions 1 to 9, and if you want to win the world series, that is crucial.
The X Factor. Every world series champion has that X factor; last year it was Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas who helped lead the Royals to their first world series victory in 30 years. In 2013, the Red Sox had guys like Shane Victorino (remember him?!) and Stephen Drew. This year? Well, let’s start at the top: Dave Roberts. A key cog in the machine that brought the first world series to Boston in almost 90 years, Doc has been nothing short of spectacular with the Dodgers in his first year as a manager; dealing with the 9001 DL stints, a starting rotation that looks like a MLB the Show team after it’s been raided via lopsided trades, and a clubhouse looking for some stability. Dave knows how to win, has the ear of all of his guys, and has the jewelry to back it. His leadership spill over to guys like Chase Utley and Adrian Gonzalez, who, in turn, set the example for guys like Joc Pederson and Corey Seager.
The Dodgers have all the necessary parts for a deep postseason run: plenty of starting pitching, insane bullpen depth, an offense that will light you up like a christmas tree, defense at every position and leadership everywhere you turn. Even better yet; nobody outside of Los Angeles believes in them. That’s ok, it’ll be our little secret. Until October, that is.