For a team to make it all the way through the playoffs a lot of different players need to step up. If you look at the last two World Series losses for the Dodgers players such as Charlie Morton, Marwin Gonzalez, Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce were key pieces for their teams. None of them, at the time, were talked about much on a national level but their post-season performances cemented them in baseball history forever.
With the playoffs beginning on Thursday for the Dodgers let’s take a look at some players that could have either that “moment” or that “playoff run” that puts them on the map of Dodgers history.
Some Previous Post-Season Unlikely Heroes
“Sweet Lou” Johnson was the replacement when Tommy Davis, a budding superstar, wrecked his knee early in the 1965 season. Johnson proceeded to fill in decently during the season with a slash line of .259/.315/.391 (AVG/OBP/SLG). These were the times when the Dodgers really didn’t hit much as Johnson’s 12 home runs tied him for the team lead with Jim Lefebvre. In the World Series (there were no other playoff games) he ended up slashing .296/.321/.593 along with hitting the go-ahead home run in game 7.
Steve Yeager was one of the best defensive catchers Major League Baseball has ever seen and he’d been the Dodgers regular catcher for a few years before losing his job to Mike Scioscia in 1981. In the strike-shortened 1981 season he only had 92 total plate appearances and mostly only played against left-handed starters (yes, Tommy Lasorda used to platoon players also). His slash for the season was .209/.261/.337 but the post-season was another story.
In his limited at-bats in the first two series, he had 3 hits in 7 at-bats. In the World Series the Yankees had a heavy left-handed starting rotation so Yeager started 5 of the 6 games. He responded with 2 home runs including the game-leading home run in the 7th inning of the pivotal game 5. He ended up being a co-MVP for that World Series.
When Fred Claire was named as the Dodgers General Manager in 1987, the first thing he did was sign Mickey Hatcher as a free agent after being released by the Twins at the end of Spring Training. He’d been a semi-regular with the Twins and had established himself as a guy who could play many positions. In the NLCS against the Mets he did a lot of platooning with Franklin Stubbs at first base until Kirk Gibson got hurt. He then played mostly left field for the rest of the playoffs and World Series. Hatcher ended up getting game one of the World Series off on the right foot with a two run home run in the first inning. He then helped clinch the final game with a two run home run in the first inning of that one.
If it wasn’t for Orel Hershiser being on an unreal streak, Hatcher would have been the World Series MVP.
Possible New Unlikely Heroes
Kiké is probably the biggest gamble as he is a big time hot and cold player. As you can see in his month-to-month statistics he’s been especially cold in September. He was really getting hot in July before getting injured. Even when he came back in August he did well before sliding off the face of the earth offensively in September.
Many fans are even calling him to not be on the playoff roster but I think he makes it, easily. In 2017 he was pretty good in the post-season (3 bombs in the deciding NLCS game was memorable) and in 2018 he was awful. In 2018 he had an excellent September to earn an everyday starting job, but then he tanked in the postseason. With his awful September this season, if we’re playing the odds, maybe he will get hot in October.
Edwin Rios/Matt Beaty
In early September I made the case for Matt Beaty earning a playoff spot and I still stand by it. Beaty’s contact skills can be elite. However, Edwin Rios has opened some eyes and he could make the roster over Beaty. If he does, then Rios would have gone from not getting called up in September (he was called up later when Max Muncy got hurt) to the playoff roster. Either way, one of these guys will be a left-handed bat off of the bench. I can imagine one of them coming off the bench and hitting a game winning home run at some point.
Both of these rookie pitchers have made a good case for being on the post-season roster and I expect at least one of them to make the team as a reliever. One could even start a game if Rich Hill can’t make it (so far, so good for Rich). What I see from both of them is the potential to me a major contributor in the bullpen.
Imagine an extra inning game and the Dodgers have May or Gonsolin in those last innings. Something to also take into account, most teams the Dodgers will be facing in the playoffs have not seen much of either of those guys.
Even though Kenley Jansen has shown some improvement it is highly unlikely the Dodgers will use him as frequently as they did over the last few post-seasons. Kenta Maeda has been very good as “Bullpen Kenta” this season. He’s even been given some save opportunities and has converted all three of them. When used in one inning situations he is dynamite, especially against right-handed hitters.
Don’t be surprised to see him closing out a game or two this October.
This one would be the ultimate surprise but if Alex Verdugo can be ready by the NLCS, he could be a huge jolt to the team. I know it is highly unlikely but this is why this article is about unlikely heroes. If Verdugo can make it back that might be the most unlikely scenario of all. His approach and contact skills at the plate are very important to the Dodgers. He helps drive those pitch counts up on the opposition. I’m not counting on Verdugo but I hold out hope.
I don’t expect any of these players to be a series MVP but I can see many scenarios where they have key moments in the path towards the World Series. It always takes contributions from unexpected players in unexpected moments to go all the way. The 1988 Dodgers were a classic case of many players, many unexpected, who stepped up and helped the Dodgers win. The Dodgers have those players that can fill the same type of role. When the Dodgers raise that World Series trophy it will be partially because of some of the players mentioned above.