“Turbulent” is the word I’d choose to describe the Dodgers’ season to this point. An absolute avalanche of injuries, the demotion, promotion and sudden improvement of a polarizing cuban superstar, and the extended absence of the league’s best pitcher from the Dodger roster has all transpired over the last six months.
Another word I would choose to describe this Dodgers ball club would be “unwavering.” Even after all of this, the Dodgers continued to live up to their expectations. While the Giants did their best Jekyll and Hyde impression this season, the Dodgers have been steady the entire way as they captured their fourth straight N.L. West Division title.
Now the most exciting time of the year is upon us as the Dodgers prepare to play the Nationals in their fourth straight postseason appearance. With only days remaining until game one on Friday, there are some looming arcs and Dodgers rumors that are sure to be the topic of conversation over the dinner tables of many Dodger fans. Let us examine some of these storylines as we head into the fall classic.
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Can Clayton Kershaw silence the doubters for good?
Many Dodger fans are tired of this old narrative from around the league, but it’s an unfortunate one that could remain until Kershaw owns a World Series ring of his own. The best left-hander this side of Koufax has been on a Hall of Fame trajectory for quite a while now, but his regular season dominance has not meant success for the Dodgers during October… yet.
Since returning from his lengthy DL stint, Kershaw has resumed his position as headliner when he takes the mound. It’s also worth mentioning that his strong outing during game four of last year’s NLDS has done a lot to repair the stigma he faces going into the fall classic. The question is- can he truly bury this perception for good in 2016?
In order to do so, all he would need to do is build on his dominant (albeit, abbreviated) season thus far. On the year, he still holds a miniscule 1.61 ERA. In his last four starts, his ERA is an even better 0.86.
If Kershaw can show this dominance and the ability to shut the other side down for six or seven quality innings, the Dodgers have the best chance to win during any game Kershaw starts on the mound.
Will the Dodgers’ bullpen remain strong?
The Dodger bullpen has been the second best in the MLB with an ERA of 3.36, just behind Baltimore’s league-leading 3.35. They have also been the hardest working pen in the league as they have accrued a total of 584 innings pitched. This has been one of the most pleasant surprises for the Dodgers since the bullpen has been their achilles’ heel for the past three seasons.
The resurgence of Joe Blanton in a late-inning role has proven to be just what the doctor ordered to help the Dodgers’ bullpen troubles. In over 70 innings pitched, he still boasts a fantastic ERA of 2.28.
In an equally surprising development, career minor-leaguer Grant Dayton has blossomed onto the scene as an effective option out of the pen. In 25 innings, he has an ERA of 2.13 and a K/9 of 13.5. The Dodgers could lean on both pitchers in particular in bridging the gap between the starter and closer Kenley Jansen.
There is some bad news. Adam Liberatore has been one of the most effective left-handed options the Dodgers have in their pen and it was recently found that he requires surgery on his left elbow. The concerns for his health all began after the all-star break when his ERA ballooned to 9.45 in the second half. This all after posting a microscopic ERA of 0.61 before the break. He will certainly be missed this postseason.
Is the young Julio Urias ready for the biggest stage in baseball?
It has been an impressive year for the young phenom Julio Urias. At just 20 years old, he has put the league on notice as he has shown a lively fastball as well as the ability to locate all three of his secondary pitches. (That’s right. He has a four-pitch arsenal. Fastball, curveball, slider and changeup.)
It took Urias a little while to settle in after getting hit quite a bit in his first few starts, but his ERA for the year now sits at a comfortable 3.39. With Dave Roberts going on record stating that no Dodger starter will pitch on short rest in the playoffs, there is a likely possibility that Urias will see a lot of action this postseason. Can the youngster still deal in the playoffs though?
In his last month, his innings have been well governed by the coaching staff, but in the nine innings he has thrown, he has surrendered only one earned run. However, he also gave five batters free passes to first, so his walks will surely be a concern. It’s also worth noting that he started twice against the Nationals earlier this season. The Dodgers altogether took five of the six games they played against the Nats and Urias did his part. Across both starts, he pitched nine innings, only surrendering three earned runs while walking one batter.
Who will be the Dodgers’ ‘X’ Factor?
There is a variable on every championship team that somehow goes unaccounted for every fall. Who would have guessed that Daniel Murphy, a once ordinary middle infielder, would become a postseason legend? Another example came just a year before in Joe Panik. The Giants went through a carousel of players at second base in 2014, even employing the struggling Dan Uggla at one point. One trait that every World Series contender has is that unknown variable on their squad that arises from obscurity to catalyze their team in some way. We usually refer to these players as “X Factors.”
When a team tallies a record 27 different players who suffered a surprise vacation upon the disabled list, there needs to be an outstanding supporting cast in order to pick up the slack. The injuries to outfielders Scott Van Slyke, Andre Ethier and Trayce Thompson has left rookie manager Dave Roberts with only the beginning of his patchwork on the year. At the deadline, the think-tank upstairs gave Roberts some much-needed help by acquiring OF Josh Reddick from the Oakland Athletics along with the crafty lefty Rich Hill.
When Reddick first arrived, he had “bust” written all over him as he went hitless in his first several series with the Dodgers. Thanks to Roberts willingness to put him in the lineup on a regular basis, he has since corrected his woes at the plate and has caught fire. In his last month, he is batting well over .350 with an OBP of .406.
With so many players in the Dodger lineup who have demonstrated an impressive ability to hit for power, guys who can get on base consistently is a vital tool in late-postseason runs. Reddick could be the key to turning solo homers into multi-run bombs throughout the games.
Outfielder Yasiel Puig has logged quite a few travel miles this season. The young phenom seemed to sputter throughout the first half of the year as he was soon tagged as “consistently inconsistent” by execs and writers close to the team. It was even bad enough to earn him a very awkward demotion to Triple-A OKC after the all-star break. Since being called back to the big club, he has been a more-than-suitable lineup option in the corner outfield positions. In his last month, he’s batting a comfortable .283 with four homers.
His flare for the dramatic in the outfield has never left him at all this season. Puig has made numerous diving/sprawling catches all year, showcasing his ability to turn balls hit in the alley into much needed outs. If opposing pitchers are not careful, Puig may just turn into the edge the Dodgers need to make it to the promised land.
Rookie Andrew Toles has been one of the biggest surprises for the Dodgers this season. Toles was called up earlier in the year and billed as a player who can get on base and demonstrate some speed along the base paths. More recently, we’ve seen Toles show that he is no slouch when it comes to doing his share of the heavy lifting as well. On the year, he is batting .314 and smashed a clutch late-inning grand slam in Colorado that made everyone in the league take notice. The bad news is that in his last month, he has gone ice cold.
In his last 22 games, he’s batting .222 and his OBP has fallen off just as much. However, this is what the “X” factor is all about- those sneaky guys that slip through the cracks in some scouting reports. Toles could end up being that player who can come up in late innings for a much needed stolen base or base hit.
The Dodgers will begin their journey towards World Series glory on Friday, October 7th at 2:30 PT on FS1 as they take on the Nationals in the NLDS. For the rest of the 2016 MLB Postseason schedule, follow the link here. For more updates this postseason, check back for LA Dodger News and more!
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