The 2012 Los Angeles Dodg...WHO?
When Don Mattingly prepared Wednesday night's lineup card, it consisted of exactly one player who was a starter on a major league roster on opening day 2011 (aside from Ted Lilly). That player? Bobby Abreu.
Of the other seven position players, just two of them were in the Dodgers' starting lineup on opening day this year (Dee Gordon and A.J. Ellis).
Aside from Abreu, Gordon and Ellis, Mattingly filled out the lineup card with the names of Elian Herrera, Jerry Sands, Scott Van Slyke, Ivan De Jesus and Justin Sellers. Not exactly an all-star lineup.
But at least the Dodgers are getting some of their top prospects some much-needed major league experience, right? Well, not quite.
Sure they're getting some youngsters experience, but it's not like this group is made up of players scouts were expecting to be major contributors at the major league level. According to Fangraphs, only De Jesus ranked among the Dodgers' top 15 prospects coming into the season (no. 14). Likewise, Baseball Prospectus ranked only Van Slyke among the Dodgers' top 20 prospects, coming in at No. 19.
In fact, Baseball Prospectus didn't even rank Van Slyke as a three-star prospect, describing the Dodgers farm system in saying, "There is depth here, but there's also a disturbing lack of future impact talents."
With all that in mind, the outlook inside the clubhouse must have been bleak when Mattingly witnessed injuries to Matt Kemp, Jerry Hairston, Juan Uribe, Juan Rivera and Mark Ellis. Trying to replace five opening day starters with a "lack of future impact talents" didn't sound feasible.
Then, the unthinkable happened.
They won. And then they won some more.
The Dodgers are currently in the midst of a 13-game stretch in which they are 11-2 and have outscored their opponents by a total of 32 runs. While some support has come from familiar names like Andre Ethier and James Loney, most of it has come from relative unknowns like the names mentioned above.
One night, it was the 31-year-old catcher, A.J. Ellis, drawing a bases-loaded walk to win the game. Then, it was a pinch-hit home run for Van Slyke, the first of his career. Just two nights ago, it was back-up catcher Matt Treanor getting things started with a two-run bomb in the Dodgers' 6-1 win over Arizona. Finally, the trend continued last night in what was arguably the most unlikely victory of the season.
After falling behind 5-0 early on, the Dodgers rallied to tie the game up at six in the top of the seventh. In the bottom of the eighth, however, the rally seemed for naught, as the Diamondbacks returned the favor with the go-ahead run, leaving the Dodgers with just three more outs for their second comeback of the game.
In perfectly fitting fashion, the ninth began with a one-out walk from Herrera, the career minor leaguer who was only called up because of the career year he was having in AAA. (Herrera had never even been invited to spring training before despite 10 years in the organization.)
After the next batter, Abreu, walked to put the tying run in scoring position, the Dodgers sent Ethier to the plate.
Ethier, once dubbed "Dre-Matic" on a promotional poster, was the perfect man for the situation. As one of the few regulars still standing upright, and one of just two positional all-stars on the Dodger roster, if anyone was prepared to tie the game, surely it was the league leader in RBIs.
Then, he struck out swinging.
With just one out remaining, the Dodgers turned to De Jesus for a bit of magic. Making just his fifth at-bat of the season, De Jesus had come into the game in the seventh as a pinch-hitter for Adam Kennedy.
Without even taking a pitch, De Jesus connected on a low fastball and sent a line drive over the centerfielder's head that rolled all the way to the wall. Through a haze of disbelief, I watched as both Herrera and Abreu scored easily, giving the Dodgers their first lead of the game.
After a shaky bottom half of the inning saw the Dodgers turn a game-ending double play with a runner on third, the Dodgers had done it, extending their winning streak to a league-high six games.
It was the perfect picture of what the Dodger season has become. No longer relying on stars like Kemp and Ethier, it's minor league cast-offs and role players like De Jesus who have become the driving force behind the best team in baseball.
As for how long the Dodgers can keep this up, the answer remains unknown. History and logic say it can't much longer, but then again, history and logic never game this group much of a chance anyways.
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