The Dodgers resume their quest for a championship this Wednesday as they host the Milwaukee Brewers in the new best-of-three Wild Card Series. After leading the league in regular season wins for a second consecutive year, can the Dodgers finally win the championship that’s eluded them?
The Dodgers Nation team answers five important questions that will shape the Dodgers 2020 playoff run.
Who will be the Dodgers X-Factor this postseason?
Gail (@GJOH29): There are a lot of candidates for this – offensively, Chris Taylor continuing his hot, clutch streak into October could make the Dodgers unbeatable. I also think that a guy who has “quietly” been reliable out of the bullpen all season, if he keeps this up, could be the pitching X-Factor that has been missing in last Octobers: Jake McGee.
AJ (@AJontheguitar): The bullpen. If I’m going to be optimistic and upbeat (a strange choice for 2020 I know) then I think the bullpen will not cost the Dodgers a series and will perform admirably. If I am going to get specific, Graterol and Jansen. I think Kenley finds it.
Hitting wise, I have to believe the usual suspects show up. Mookie and Turner loom in my head the biggest, as well as Max Muncy. I think Max’s struggles in the shortened season become a distant memory when he slugs his way through October.
Brian (@BriRobitaille): I’ll say Justin Turner. He had a hamstring injury that kept him out for a while this year, so his numbers haven’t been what they usually are. Still, a healthy Turner makes a huge difference in the lineup, and he’s a career .310/.411/.520 hitter in the postseason. With other great players like Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, and Cody Bellinger on the team, I think Turner can get lost in the shuffle sometimes. But don’t be surprised to see increased production from him come playoff time, and that will make an already good lineup that much better.
Daniel (@Daniel_Palma96): Offense will come and go, but October is all about pitching. Kershaw has had an amazing season, but Walker Buehler has had some trouble keeping it going due to injuries. If the Dodgers are going to win it all this year, it will be because Buehler cements himself as a top 5 pitcher in the game when it matters most.
Tim (@SDDodger): Corey Seager. He has had well known playoff issues. If he can lay off pitches out of the strike zone he could be a real offensive force.
Eric (@EEulau): This is hopefully the first and last playoffs for the Dodgers where you could say this, but for me, it’s Cody Bellinger. After hitting .239 this year, are we going to get MVP Bellinger or something close to it? Or, do we get the version of Bellinger that struggled in both the 2017 and 2018 World Series? The .178 career playoff hitter’s performance this postseason could swing a series either direction.
Clint (@realFRG): A lot will be riding on the shoulder of Mookie Betts this postseason, and rightfully so. He’s a guy that’s been there before and he may very likely well be the most valuable player in the National League in 2020. However, his production is expected. With that, for me the x-factor is a guy that Dave Roberts recently called the team’s MVP. Chris Taylor.
CT3 has the ability to elite defense anywhere on the field, and his swing is as locked in as it’s been since he’s been a Dodger. With the sexy names like Mookie and Cody already having a glut of expectations on them, if the sneaky, stoic Taylor can knock in runs from the latter part of the batting order, LA may finally be able to go all the way in Octo
With Kershaw and Buehler pitching Game 1 and Game 2, which pitcher should start for the Dodgers in an elimination Game 3?
Gail: Code Red! Code Red!
AJ: Tony Gonsolin. His stuff plays so well, and he appears more refined at the moment. Dustin May has 20/10 ‘stuff.’ His movement and ‘stuff’ is better than Gonsolin, but Gonsolin’s command and execution are already at professional level. He may only be able to give 5-6 innings (or Dave may only allow that) but he will give a solid 5-6 innings.
Brian: Tough one. If the Dodgers are in a Game 3, it will be an elimination game and equivalent to a Game 7. That means all hands on deck, so everyone outside of the Game 1 and Game 2 starters will be available to pitch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin in a potential Game 3. As far as who starts the game, I think both are solid options, and wouldn’t be disappointed with either. I may side with Gonsolin, but who the Dodgers play in the first round could also determine who the best option is.
Daniel: It has to be the Cat Man for me. Dustin May has been excellent all season, but there’s something special about what Tony Gonsolin has been able to do when called upon. His ability to keep runners off base will be huge in a potential elimination game, and his pitch control is slightly better than May’s as well. A 1, 2, 3 punch of Kershaw, Buehler, and Gonsolin can match up against any team they face in October.
Tim: Gonsolin. He’s been good against some good lineups.
Eric: Without question, it needs to be Tony Smokes. His outing last year against the Yankees, in the only game of the series the Dodgers won, plus his stats this year against the Padres (1 ER in 11.2 IP), show what he can do against elite lineups in big games. The last two starts for Gosnolin haven’t been pretty, but I still trust him more right now than Dustin May or Julio Urias.
Clint: With the way Doc Roberts has been running with it, I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see the team go with a bullpen/opener game. Even with that, there would be the need for someone to actually open the game. The Brewers are a fairly balanced offense in terms of left/right handed batters. While I would prefer to see the traditional route of Tony Gonsolin starting, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Brusdar Graterol start the game.
Besides Kenley Jansen, which Dodgers reliever are you the most unsure about heading into the playoffs?
Gail: I don’t think we’ve seen enough of Pedro Baez in this short season to feel completely comfortable seeing him get the call out of the ‘pen…especially if he comes in to relieve Clayton.
AJ: Pedro Baez, always.
Brian: Joe Kelly. He made his contribution this year with the now famous pouty face incident, mocking Carlos Correa and the Astros. That will suffice for me. As far as pitching goes, I’d prefer not to see Kelly in any high leverage situations this postseason. Only Scott Alexander, who the Dodgers recently optioned, has a higher BB rate among Dodgers’ relievers this year. Giving away free passes in playoff games isn’t ideal. Also, Kelly’s 1.44 WHIP is one of the highest among team relievers, and his 8.0 K/9 mark would be his lowest since he converted to a reliever.
Daniel: It’s going to have to be Alex Wood for me. Assuming that the rotation is rounded out with Gonsolin, May, and possibly Urías, Wood will be coming out of the pen for LA in the postseason. I have nothing against Wood personally, but his relief appearances this season have been… interesting. If he appears in a game this October, I’m hoping it comes with a 10-run Dodgers lead.
Tim: Joe Kelly. He will be either great or truly awful. I hope he mixes in more fastballs. This plethora of curveballs is getting silly. If he keeps doing it then he cannot be trusted as the batters will know what is coming.
Eric: The new Pedro Baez – Blake Treinen. Much like Baez, Manager Dave Roberts overuses Treinen and is under the impression he can get out of any jam. Yes, he has superb swing-and-miss stuff, but he walks too many batters for a late game reliever. Also, he has the most innings pitched this season as a Dodger reliever (25.2 IP) which doesn’t help in an opening playoff series with zero off days. An overworked and preferred reliever who has already had a couple meltdowns this year doesn’t inspire confidence.
Clint: I’m echoing literally every sentiment listed above.
Where should Cody Bellinger bat in the lineup?
Gail: I still like him 4th or 5th as long as he has a hot bat like Pollock or Taylor behind him. On that note, I’m much more worried about Max Muncy than I am about Cody. Muncy hasn’t looked comfortable at the plate or in the field most of the season and runs more of a risk of letting the October stress get to him than Cody does.
AJ: Switch him with Pollock. If he has a hot game, put him back at cleanup where he belongs. If they bat him 4th anyway, I am honestly okay with this.
Brian: Personally, I still like him batting cleanup. I know he’s struggled this year, and not put up anywhere close to the same MVP numbers as last season. But if, and when, Bellinger heats up, you want him in the middle of the order.
Daniel: The 5th spot in the lineup has seemed to work out best for Cody this year. In the 7 games that he’s batted 5th, Belli is hitting over .300 and has looked like his old self. Whether that has anything to do with actually batting 5th or not, I’d stick with what has worked so far.
Tim: If he continues to get better then he should be 4th.
Eric: I have zero issues with him batting cleanup against righties, but he shouldn’t be hitting any higher than 5th against southpaws (.301 OBP vs LHP this season). However, if Bellinger can stay disciplined, lay off those back-foot breaking balls, and limit his strikeouts, then keep him in the heart of the order. Just seems like a lot to ask, especially this season.
Clint: Mookie, Seager, JT, Muncy, Smith, Bellinger. R/L/R/L/R/L. It has been working quite well of late for the Dodgers. And while I’m don’t feel that Max has earned that cleanup spot in 2020, he’s a guy that sneak up on a pitcher with a dinger to change the complexion a ballgame.
If the Dodgers make the World Series, which AL team are you most worried about potentially facing?
Gail: There is no one Big Scary Team this year. so I’ll go with the obvious. If the Dodgers somehow end up facing the A*tros in the Fall Classic and lose again, it may finally be the end of all of us.
AJ: The Rays. They play well and their matchups look difficult. Other than that, I think the Dodgers can win it all.
Brian: Woah, jumping the gun a bit here, huh? There’s obviously no guarantee the Dodgers even make the World Series, and there’s plenty of teams in the N.L to worry about. I think the Padres pose the biggest threat overall, but if we’re talking specifically about A.L teams, the White Sox lineup is scary good, and the Rays rotation is very solid. I’d prefer to avoid either of those two.
Daniel: Don’t quote me on this, but the AL Champ will come out of the East this season. The Rays have a stud pitching staff and the Yankees have lived up to their Bronx Bombers moniker, which makes these two clubs the ones that make me the most uneasy. While I’d still take my Dodgers against any team in baseball, a World Series against either of those two will be a battle for sure.
Tim: Yankees if they have enough health.
Eric: I agree with AJ – Rays. The preparation is so different based on how they deploy their pitching personnel. They remind me of the 2018 Brewers that gave the Dodgers so much trouble in the NLCS since the Dodgers lineup is so matchup based. Like Craig Counsell, Rays Manager Kevin Cash is a chess master who consistently puts his team in position to win.
Clint: I’m going to take the homer route and steal from Dave Roberts here: “I think that we all get caught up in looking at scenarios of who we potentially could play, not play … everyone’s worried about playing us.”