No one seemed all that concerned about Matt Kemp‘s left ankle after the game tonight, including Kemp himself, who stopped on the way out of the clubhouse to pose for a photo with a fan who was waiting outside the door and flashed that familiar smile that kind of told you there was nothing seriously wrong. He had been scratched from the lineup just before game time because the ankle just never quite got loose during batting practice, and manager Don Mattingly said Kemp isn’t likely to play in tomorrow’s regular season finale, either, just as a precaution with the playoffs coming up.
In a weird way, though, Kemp’s latest issue with an ankle that landed him on the disabled list in July — a stint that wound up lasting almost two months because he felt tightness in his right hamstring during what were supposed to be the final days of rehabbing the ankle — seemed to underscore the fact that these Dodgers might have become alarmingly vulnerable at the worst possible time.
Andre Ethier already is questionable for the National League Division Series roster with his own ankle problem, which he is trying to work through now in the Arizona Instructional League. Mattingly still has to be extra careful with Hanley Ramirez, although after playing him sporadically since the Dodgers clinched the division title more than a week ago, Mattingly has vowed that Ramirez will be in there every day during the postseason — unless, of course, another injury gets in the way of that plan. And Mattingly admitted after the game that Kemp probably won’t be able to run full strength at any point the rest of the way, however long that ends up being.
Oh, and Yasiel Puig fouled a ball off his foot last night and wasn’t in the lineup tonight, although he did pinch hit and is expected to start tomorrow.
In a way, it’s like being out in the desert on bald tires, the nearest towns 100 miles behind you and 100 miles ahead, and you’re just hoping you can make it to civilization before one of those tires blows out. The Dodgers are hoping their playoff run lasts a while, and three of their most important offensive players are dealing with physical issues of varying degrees while everyone in the organization crosses their fingers and holds their breath in hopes that those players can make it all the way to the end of that run without something else happening to them.
By my quick count from just going down the list, the Dodgers enter the final day of the season with an exact total of 1,100 games missed by guys on the disabled list this year — and that doesn’t count the guys who missed games with little injuries that weren’t serious enough to put them on the DL, or guys who would’ve gone on the DL if their injuries hadn’t happened after Sept. 1, when the Dodgers had extra players already on hand to pick up the slack.
As magical as this season has been for the Dodgers, it also has been a snakebitten one. Those injuries probably were THE reason the Dodgers got off to such a slow start, and they have been the biggest hurdle the team has had to overcome as it turned that season around and marched toward the playoffs.
Those playoffs are looming now, less than a week away. And if we know nothing else about how it’s going to go when the Dodgers finally get there, we at least know this: the Dodgers can’t really afford to lose any of their key players in the postseason. It’s not necessarily a death knell if an injury does occur — we all know what happened after Kirk Gibson got hurt in Game 5 of the 1988 National League Championship Series — but it will create another uphill climb for a team that spent much of the summer doing exactly that, climbing uphill.
So go ahead and get excited about the fact that the Dodgers are about to play either the St. Louis Cardinals or the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs. But as you’re doing that, don’t forget to cross your fingers and hold your breath, as well.
Because right now, the Dodgers are in the desert, and there isn’t a tire shop around anywhere.