Our Dodgers Nation staff gives their take on all this week’s Dodgers news.
Who are you more concerned about, the Diamondbacks or the Rockies?
Brian: With the standings the way they are currently, you’d have to say both. But if I had to pick one, I’d say Arizona. The Rockies may have a tad easier schedule, with 15 of their final 24 game being at Coors Field, but I just think the Diamondback’s are better overall. Their rotation is better. Their bullpen is better. They also having a winning record against both the Rockies (7-5) and Dodgers (9-7) this year. We’ll know a lot more after next week’s series, when Arizona travels to Colorado for a four game set.
Brook: You would have to look at the schedule and thik the Rockies are going to end up being the stiffest competition for the Dodgers. The Dbacks haven’t had a tough schedule as of late, but their bats have gone quiet. And with the Cubs, Astros, and Braves on their horizon, you’ve got to go with Colorado as the real worry.
AJ: Honestly they’re both a worry because of how close we all are in the standings, but since that’s a cop out answer, I’ll say (for the moment) the Rockies. We recently were able to take a series from the D-backs, and despite it being close, it showed how strong their pitching is, but that they’re beatable. The Rockies are such a mixed bag. Their bullpen has been bad, but the names are good. The offense is potpourri too, because we’ve shut them down at times and then been tee’d off at other times. The devil I can’t predict scares me more.
Tim: They both scare me but the D’backs have the nasties schedule. The Rockies have an easier schedule. Of their 24 remaining games, 15 are at home. With the Dodgers coming in for 3 (assuming without Kenley) I’m nervous. I remember the last time they went there without Kenley, the bullpen imploded. If they can grab 1 or 2 then they’ll be fine. The disadvantage of them playing so many at home is it might wear out their pitchers. That altitude is brutal on the pitching.
Clint E.: I am honestly most concerned with the Dodgers beating themselves. They’re better than these teams on paper, especially with the most recent moves. If they take care of business and do their thing, they will be deserving and win this thing. In a 20 or so game bubble, sometimes luck or bad bounces can happen. In terms of pure talent – the Dodgers are a lot scarier on paper and neither team scares me.
What do you see David Freese’s role being, and do you like the acquisition?
Brian: The Freese acquisition was a little surprising to me. Adding another bat didn’t seem like something the Dodgers needed to do at this point, especially given the pending September call-ups. Freese is a seasoned veteran with postseason experience, and I’m sure he can help the Dodgers in various ways. I just rather not have him starting at first base every other game. I also expect we’ll see him starting at first base every other game.
He was thrown right in the starting lineup for his first game against a lefty, and if this is Roberts plan going forward (starting him vs LHP) I’m not on board. Fresse has modest numbers this year against vs LHP, with a .773 OPS. Career-wise he’s a little better than that. Still, I’ve been leading the “Please Start Max Muncy Full-Time” train for while now. He’s hit lefties very well this year (.964 OPS) but for some reason, Roberts continues to sit him when the Dodgers face them. Personally, I’d also prefer Bellinger over Freese as well, although his splits vs LHP are more pronounced this year.
Brook: The biggest thing he adds is post season tenure and the October clutch factor at this point. Since 2015 he’s been better against LHP, but I don’t think good enough to warrant a late-season acquisition. Still, hard to ignore a guy that has played in 13 World Series games and been pretty clutch in big playoff situations. I’ll withhold judgement in the trade until October.
AJ: I like the experience and his clutch reputation–but we’ve already had to split Muncy/Bellinger a lot–and both of those guys need to be starting almost every day. In truth, I’m not sure we needed another bat option on the bench, as our versatility may have already been hurting us. That said, hard to argue with having a guy with that many clutch hits in the postseason.
Tim: I always like getting established vets like Freese. Sometimes they go Granderson on you but his right handed bat should make the post-season roster. He’s truly “been there, done that”. If it’s between Freese and Utley for the last spot it should be Freese.
Clint E.: It was a savvy move, he’s obviously going to play every day versus even subpar left-handed starters. That part – I am not really in agreement with. He’s taking the bat out of the hands of Muncy and or Bellinger who have basically become platoon players. I ride with the girl that got me to the dance here in those two and merely spell Freese against southpaws and use him as a pinch-hitter. That’s not looking like the plan though.
What September call-ups do you see making the biggest impact?
Brian: I think the Dodgers will employ the September call-ups a little differently than last year, when they had a big division lead. In such a tight race this year, I don’t see them giving as many opportunities, and Roberts has said himself, that these players are there to “support” the starters. That likely means pinch hitting/running roles, late inning defensive replacements, ect.
The most intriguing guy to me is Alex Verdugo, who has looked good in the few games he has played in since his long awaited call-up. If he continues to hit and get on base, maybe the Dodgers could give him an expanded look this month, especially if Yasiel Puig keeps struggling (.247/.298/.429 since Aug 1st.)
Brook: Alex Verdugo should probably be on the playoff roster. Will he make it? Probably not, but he deserves it. Puig has not been himself lately and you can’t really hope for a late season spark. Verdugo is young but has shown veteran status plate discipline. His ABs are so much better than most of the players on the team, and I think he could be a sparkplug all September.
AJ: Alex Verdugo, Alex Verdugo, Alex Verdugo, Alex Verdugo, Alex Verdugo, Alex Verdugo, Alex Verdugo, and Alex Verdugo.
Tim: Verdugo should have never been sent down. He has great at bats and won’t be another automatic strikeout when the heat is on. So, I agree with AJ.
Clint E.: Verdugo should be the answer – he looks poised and seems well versed after getting a cup of coffee earlier in the season. I love his quiet approach. Andrew Toles has a big moment or two in him though, gut feeling. I’m a big gut feelings guy.
Assuming the Dodgers make the playoffs, who’s the 4th starter, Hyun-Jin Ryu or Alex Wood?
Brian: Tough one. Both are viable options in my opinion, and their numbers are pretty close. If you want to go with recency bias, Ryu may get a slight edge based on how good he’s looked since his return. But Wood has been solid all year, and he’s also had more experience in the playoffs of late, pitching a great game in last year’s World Series. Ryu, on the other hand, hasn’t pitched in a postseason game since 2014. Personally, I still like Kenta Maeda as an option too, but the Dodgers appear to like him as a reliever with the current plethora of starting pitchers. I say let Ryu and Wood battle it out over the last month, and go with whoever the hot hand is. This is all assuming that Kershaw coming back on short rest isn’t an option too.
Brook: I think Ryu is going to get the edge here, but it will likely all come down to how they finish the season. Wood has been phenomenal in the second half, pitching to a 1.86 ERA across seven starts and allowing just a .207 batting average. Ryu has only ten starts under his belt all season lng due to injuries, but you could argue that he will be better rested for longer outings. It will certainly come down to the final few starts each guy has, but one has to be in the bullpen come October.
AJ: It looks like we’re all going with the same answer so far, but it seems to be the best plan of action. Let Ryu and Wood battle for it. Ryu was out for a while, and for me that’s the only reason you put on the “no” list. If he pitches well in September, and anything like he did the first part of the season–it’s absolutely Ryu.
Tim: I think it is Ryu. He’s either the 4th starter or not on the roster. I think Wood will gain some velocity on his fastball and can throw multiple innings. The 4th starter is for one game per series so Wood could actually throw almost the same amount of innings as a reliever in a series.
Clint E.: I ride the hot-hand at the time, if it were today it’s tough to argue against Ryu. To my surprise, I am completely blown away by the performances he’s logged since coming off the DL. No slight on Wood who has turned it on in his own right since May.
What’s the biggest key(s) to the Dodgers winning their sixth straight division title?
Brian: For one, stay healthy. After that, it’s just a matter of playing good baseball consistently. That may sound mundane, but the Dodgers have struggled to play well on a regular basis this year. They lead the league in run differential but find themselves with only the sixth best record. More than anything, they need their offense to show up on a consistent basis, and need their bullpen to pitch to their capability. Their bullpen and inconsistent offense have been the two biggest issues all year, and if they can sure those two things up, I like their chances.
Brook: If someone could just hit with runners in scoring position that would be great. The starters have been great over the past two weeks, and the bullpen really isn’t as bad as it seems as first glance. It’s tough to win games when you’re getting a ton of people on and not moving them over. That seems to be one of the biggest differences from last year. They rank near the bottom in batting average with runners in scoring position at 243, but realistically weren’t much better in 2017 average-wise. We need some of that late season magic back in our lives.
AJ: A more consistent approach from the offense, less 9th inning disasters, and some hitting with RISP. We’ve been horrible from a clutch perspective (I’m not counting Matt Kemp’s wild weekend) when it comes to driving in runners on base. We can’t solo HR our way to the NLDS. We have to have more hits when the game is tense. The Dodgers just have to shake off the results from before and perform. That sounds simple, and obviously it isn’t, but if they want to win–it has to happen. If Kenley can find it again, and 2 or 3 guys can pitch like Baez has lately (WHAT DID I JUST SAY?) we will be okay.
Tim: The offense can fix a lot of problems but Kenley is key. Nobody else stepped up to handle the ninth inning. Kenley’s last appearance in Oakland before his heart problems he looked his 2017 best. He’s getting closer to that. Of course, if the offense can get more than three runs a game it makes things a bit easier on the bullpen. There isn’t much room for error. Doc also needs to be better at managing the bullpen than he’s been. Part of it is the constant changes and probably not gaining the trust of some of the bullpen, yet.
Clint E.: It’s hard to pinpoint any one thing. Starters going deeper into games to take pressure off the bullpen. Management allowing those starters the chance to do so. Execution by the relievers within their defined roles will be key. However, I still think the most integral part of us pulling this off is going to be our ability to hit in the clutch. We cannot remain bipolar at the plate – one run one night and 14 the next. The lineup has to get consistent down the stretch and in the playoffs for us to do this. A different hero playing the role every night with no one player having the onus to carry us.
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