Okay, this NL West divisional crown is a done deal, home field advantage for the playoffs is as good as locked as well, and we've got eight games left against a bevy of last place teams: the Washington Nationals (34.5 GB, NL East), Pittsburgh Pirates (31.5 GB, NL Central), and San Diego
Pirates Chickens (technically in fourth place, but still 22.5 GB, NL West).
We've been using the opportunity to tune up the offense and give live-action bullpen starts to Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw, as well as #3 starter auditions to Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla. And now there's one thing left to do for the remainder of this season: Get Jim Thome back in the swing of things. And we can best do that by playing Thome in the field for a game or two, to give him four to five at bats instead of the one-per-game he's getting as a pinch hitter now.
Yes, Thome hasn't played a field position since June 13, 2007, when he played first base. And yes, there is no doubt that he will be a defensive liabiilty, particularly relative to James Loney. We may see a couple more doubles down the right field line. But that cost is worth it relative to the gains from him finding a groove again.
Since joining the Dodgers at the trade deadline, Thome has appeared in nine games and gone 1-for-9 with 5 Ks, with his lone single occurring in his first game. That's a .111 average, much less than the ~.250 average one would have expected from him based on his performance this year, let alone his .277 career batting average.
We acquired Thome for his pinch-hitting bat, as well as the prospect of him DHing for us should we get to the World Series. And it's clear that acquiring the 12th all-time leader in HRs (and #3 active HR leader) was designed for one thing: to make sure we've got another power bat off the bench, if not as a DH. Thome is here to win a title, and he's here to contribute to the team's success.
But with the little dribbles of pinch-hit at-bats that Thome is getting, he's not likely to find his stroke. Thome hasn't had a homerun in over a month and now is the time to get him back swinging for the fences again. Thome also has 17 career HRs in the postseason, including four each in 1998 (NYY) and 1999 (BOS), so we know he can thrive in the playoffs, if given the opportunity.
Meanwhile, Loney has found a hot bat again--even hitting home runs at home, for pete's sake--and giving him an extra day of rest makes sense, even more so when you consider the quality of the opposition we're facing for the next eight games. The 14-2 drubbing of the Nationals last night should be an indication that we're going to coast to victories each night, even if we have a hole in the lineup (or two, if you count Russell Martin). So let's get Jim Thome suited up for position play, and prepared for the postseason.
Come on, Joe Torre; we're offering up another lineup variation. You should be salivating. Get Thome in there at first base so we can get him ready for October.
photo: Jacob de Golish, Getty Images / September 4, 2009 (hitting a single against the Padres)