OK, that was just an attention-grabbing headline. In fact, what I’m going to lay out here is a case for why you SHOULDN’T abandon ship at this point, why you shouldn’t sink into a deep funk as the Dodgers prepare to take on the Atlanta Braves in a National League Division Series and why just because the Dodgers are without Matt Kemp and may be without Andre Ethier, too, all hope is not lost, and neither is this series.
First of all, though, I want to say this: before we start feeling bad about the Dodgers, we need to take a minute to feel bad about Matt Kemp. Speaking to a large media scrum in front of his locker after the game, he was humble in a way that we have rarely seen him over the years. No matter what I may have written about him here and there in the past, this is a human being who was just told that every ounce of hard work he has put in over the past year to get to this point, much of which was painful rehabilitation from various injuries, was all for naught because the Dodgers playoff run is going to take place without him. Even for a guy who seems to have the world by the tail, this is a tough blow, and here’s hoping he comes back from it stronger — and an even better player than he already was.
I got the Dodgers beating the Braves. I’m not claiming to be any sort of expert, and I very well could be wrong. They could just get wiped out and be done by this time a week from now. But I don’t think so. I think they’re going to win this NLDS. If they were playing the Cardinals, I might not be so sure. But I think the Dodgers match up better with the Braves. For one things, having Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke for the first two games is huge. These guys strike out a lot of batters, and the Braves have a lot of batters who strike out.
Just look at some of their most important guys: Justin Upton strikes out once every four plate appearances; notorious helmet tosser Chris Johnson whiffs every 4.7 PAs; and Dan Uggla strikes out a staggering once every 3.1 times he steps into the box. And then, there is B.J. Upton. I swear, I went back and checked this four different times just to make sure I wasn’t misreading something or doing the math wrong. This guys strikes out ONCE EVERY 3.0 PLATE APPEARANCES, and that’s when you ROUND IT UP, because it’s acutally once every 2.95. I haven’t seen the Braves much on TV this year, and not at all in person, so this is just a guess, but I’m thinking that’s probably a major reason why he the former No. 2 overall draft pick is hitting .184.
Compared to those guys, best buds Jason Heyward (once strikeout every 5.9 PAs) and Freddie Freeman (5.2) are contact hitters.
By the way, those figures were going INTO today’s games.
Anyway, that’s why I think the Dodgers are going to find a way to win this one.
But on the other hand … even if Kershaw and Greinke begin the series with back-to-back no-hitters, the Dodgers still have to find a way to score. And this is a team that pushed exactly one run across in its final two regular-season games — against the last-place Colorado Rockies. Against a mediocre Juan Nicasio, a possibly washed-up Jeff Francis and an assortment of relievers with names like Manship and Bettis and Oswalt. Actually, that last guy was a three-time All-Star who had a couple of 20-win seasons, but you get my point.
The Dodgers are going to have to overcome the loss of Kemp. Kemp is a great player. But honestly, this can be done. How do we know this can be done? Because it has been done before, earlier this year. Kemp has missed 88 games this season over three separate DL stints with injuries to his right hamstring, left shoulder and left ankle. The Dodgers went 55-33 in those games. These are no longer the 2009 Dodgers. This is a lineup full of star-caliber players, so the days when Kemp had to carry the vast majority of the offensive load are over.
Here, though, is the thing that exacerbates the problem: Ethier may not be available either. Remember all those questions to Don Mattingly all year about how he was going to juggle four outfielders? Remember how he always said the problem would take care of itself? Well, it just keeps taking care of itself, over and over.
Stan Conte came into the interview room after the game and told us he gets no indication whether to be pessimistic or optimistic at this point on the subject of Ethier’s ability to run the bases in time for Thursday’s playoff opener. Ethier will return from Arizona tomorrow and be re-evaluated on Tuesday. The only thing left to re-evaluate him on is whether he can run the bases, but that’s kind of a big thing. If he CAN run the bases, he’ll be on the roster, and he’ll be playing center field on Thursday at Turner Field.
But if he CAN’T, then you have a major dilemma. Do you put him on the roster as a left-handed pinch hitter, knowing he can’t play the outfield and knowing you have to use a pinch runner if he gets on base? Or do you give his roster spot to a healthy guy who doesn’t have such issues?
And either way, who is going to play center field? It was clear from the way Mattingly answered the question after the game that he doesn’t want to put Yasiel Puig there, although he might do it anyway. And who takes Ethier’s roster spot if Ethier doesn’t make the cut?
Best I can figure, without Ethier, the Dodgers will begin the playoffs with only three pure outfielders — Puig, Carl Crawford and Scott Van Slyke. The backups probably would be versatile utility guys like Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston. Hairston finished the season batting .211, and honestly, if the Dodgers were totally healthy, it’s tough to see him even making the postseason roster.
As it is, Hairston may be a lock.
And finally, there is this: if they do keep Ethier strictly to pinch hit, knowing they have to burn two players if he gets on base because they have to pinch run for him, how do they plan around that? Do they keep Dee Gordon as a pinch-running specialist, even at a time when they will have only 25 precious roster spots? Can Mattingly use a pitcher to pinch run?
These are all decisions Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti will have to make in the coming days. The roster doesn’t have to be set until 10 a.m. Atlanta time on Thursday morning, but Donnie and Ned probably will have at least a rough outline by the time they get on the plane Tuesday afternoon. The big thing everyone is waiting for now is finding out how Ethier feels when the medical staff sees him on Tuesday morning. Pretty much everything is riding on that.
As good as the Dodgers’ pitching is, the Braves are pretty decent, too. Their Games 1-3 starters, Cerritos’ Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran, all have ERAs in the low threes, strikeout-to-walk ratios better than 3:1 and WHIPs in the low-one range. And the one thing the Dodgers haven’t been especially adept at this year is beating good pitching.
But all of this notwithstanding, I got the Dodgers in this series. It’s just a gut feeling. I think they’re going to win it.
Unless, of course, they don’t.