Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Nobody Loves the Playoff-Bound Dodgers

Over the weekend, a couple of similarly-themed articles about the Dodgers' starters caught my eye. The first was from the LA Times' Kurt Streeter, who channeled Vic the Brick in saying he doesn't have a good feeling about the Dodgers:

Right now, this team has no identity. Are they bashers? Not when the post-purgatory, post-prescription Manny Ramirez is looking every bit his 37 years.

Are they line-drive-hitting machines? Not with a leadoff man playing as if he should be chained to the dugout rails. Not with James Loney and two-time All-Star Russell Martin playing as if they've forgotten who they are and what they're supposed to be.

Are the Dodgers dishing chaos on the basepaths? With the exception of Matt Kemp and, when he can get in a game, Juan Pierre . . . nope.

They do have the best ERA in the majors since Aug. 10. This hasn't brought a winning streak, but it's good news on its own. Still, do Dodgers fans really feel secure knowing that if their team had to trot out a pitcher to win an all-or-nothing game, right now it would be Randy Wolf? Hey, I love the guy, seriously, but him against Chris Carpenter or Lincecum or CC Sabathia in the playoffs? I'm not feeling it. [emphasis mine]

Besides, let's just say Wolf runs easily through another stellar eight innings. How secure can anyone feel when the relievers take over for the ninth?

And then there's ESPN.com's Steve Berthiaume, who also discounts the Dodgers' chances due to what he deems unimpressive starting rotation:

So, let's be proactive, put it on record before the September swoon. Tim Kurkjian asked me out of the blue while we were watching games this weekend, "Who makes it to the World Series?"

I said, "Cardinals vs. Yankees." Think about your World Series contenders; who really scares you come October? It illustrates just how difficult it is to be great for 162 games and THEN play the season's most critical games. [...]

It's hard to believe in the Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw hasn't won a game since July 18 (he's 0-3 with six no-decisions). He simply throws too many pitches and leaves innings that have to be picked up by an overworked Dodgers bullpen. Hold that thought, because that bullpen needs to be talked about.

Randy Wolf has been the Dodgers' best starter all season, but at one point recently, HALF of Wolf's starts had ended with no-decisions. You can see Wolf stepping up with some clutch October starts. He eats innings and is the only guy on that staff who consistently goes deep into games, which gets us back to that bullpen. It may be completely gassed by the time the postseason arrives. Tim Kurkjian points out that in the past 12 years only one team, the '07 Rockies, advanced to the World Series with a bullpen that finished the season in the top 10 in innings pitched. As of now, only the Padres' bullpen has worked more innings than the Dodgers' bullpen. L.A. could be a three-and-out in October.

No one loves the Dodgers, though there seems to be begrudging acceptance that they're going to make the playoffs. The question then is how to handle the 23 final games of the season, which amounts to roughly four to five starts for each starting pitcher.

For one thing, I'd use the rest of the time to leverage our bullpen, rather than wear out our key starters' arms. Billingsley and Kershaw may have seen their performance dip of late due to a season's worth of heavy lifting, and workhorse Randy Wolf has gone six or more innings every time since June 24. Throw Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland out there to get us through these dog days and try and give the bullpen a little more rest.

But I'm not afraid of our bullpen being overworked, either. The Dodgers' league-leading 3.45 ERA (2009) reflects the strength of our overall pitching staff, with large lead-maintaining and game-saving performances from George Sherrill (0.50 ERA), Ronald Belisario (2.07), Jonathan Broxton (2.57), Ramon Troncoso (2.52), and Hong-Chih Kuo (2.91). Maybe they don't have the identity for which Streeter is looking, unsurprising given Joe Torre's penchant for mixing up roles of the relief corps all year. But they've been solid, and with the exception of the young and still developing James McDonald, have appeared pretty confident out there on the mound. Throw in Guillermo Mota and Jeff Weaver for long relief, and I think we've got enough options that we can play around a bit.

The holes in the offense, particularly with Rafael Furcal, James Loney, and Russell Martin, are indeed concerning. The former two have appeared of late to show sparks of getting out of below-expectation performances; Martin has unfortunately not shown promise of getting out of his year-long struggles. In all three cases, this may reflect the dog days of summer finally grinding down a player who has pushed all year. But that's why we've got reserves like Ronnie Belliard, Brad Ausmus, Jim Thome, Juan Pierre, Juan Castro, Doug Mientkiewicz, Jason Repko, and Mark Loretta all hanging around--to give some of our key guys a rest and let them enter the postseason fresh, while at the same time tuning up some of the non-regulars to be ready for playoff play in a pinch.

Unlike Streeter and Berthiaume, I'm still feeling it about these Dodgers. I think we've just got to take it easy, play ball just well enough to beat the teams we should, and not worry too much about experimental lineups and well-deserved rest days causing degrading statistics. We'll take the division, and have to go up against the Phillies or Cardinals; and it is on that which we should focus. In the meantime, relax, as we're going to be just fine.


Paul said...

I think everybody loved the Cubs and Red Sox going into the last postseason so I am cool with dat.

JuanLove said...

Nice write up Sax.
I agree with you.

people keep drooling over the Giants and Cards pitching.
Never mind the fact we have the best ERA in the majors at the moment.

It's not the pitching, it's the offense. Don't these people realize this?

I'm like you Sax. Though things looks kinda rough at the moment with s being 500 for like 2 months, I too am feeling the club.

And I don't think I'm being biased here.This team has proven when they get on a roll, watch out.
I think yesterday was the start of a roll(that might be some bias, but i dont care lol)

Kyle Baker said...

That's ok, JL, we need some bias! Feel the Blue love, folks.

JuanLove said...

Oh and this is just some projections on my part.

Dodgers have the same record as the Cards.
Phils have more losses and less games played.

Now, I don't know who will have the best overall record in the NL between the Dodgers and Cards. The Dodgers have to finish a whole game in front of STL to get HFA throughout because if they tie, STL gets it.

So that means whether or not the Dodgers get the best record or not, we're playing the Phils in round 1...IF we win the division which I think we will.

JuanLove said...

"whether or not the Dodgers get the best record or not"

my bad, added an extra "not"

rbnlaw said...

Gawd, I hope you're right JL. We haven't seen a roll since early July (which is also when we first saw cracks in the bullpen, especially Brox).

Kyle Baker said...

I wish we could go ahead and play Phils right now, the way they're playing.

Steve Sax said...

@Dusty Baker: Or, not playing. Happ is pulling a Kershaw and missing a start.

Kyle Baker said...

Bet he's not Happ-y.

karina said...

You are right, Steve. Let's take one step at the time: first, getting into the playoffs, then we'll worry about what comes next.

They talk about Bills and Kershaw, but they don't say how many quality starts have between them. Obviously, the highest liability the Dodgers have is the offense.

Nostradamus said...

I'm feelin' ya, Sax.

Ok, that sounded weird. What I meant was - and I'm contractually prohibited from spilling the beans - that you make some sense there. That's all I'm sayin'.

Fred's Brim said...

the season feels like the Reds season in 90. They got up big and and then cruised, playing sub .500 ball after the break. We chipped away and chipped away, but they won the big matchups when they had to. When the playoffs came around they played "better" Pirates and As teams and handled them both with poise and confidence (and better baseball).