MLB Playoff Race: 5 Reasons Los Angeles Dodgers Will Overcome Pitching Woes
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitching staff has fallen on tough times recently. But there are reasons to believe that a turnaround is on the horizon, in spite of all that’s occurred over the past two weeks. In that time, the Dodgers have lost two of their most important pitchers to injury, possibly for the rest of the season.
RHP Chad Billingsley has been out indefinitely since leaving in the fourth inning of his August 24 start with discomfort in his pitching elbow. Although he received an injection of platelet-rich plasma last week in an attempt to salvage his season, his return is in serious doubt. Billingsley’s had won all six of his starts since the All-Star break and was easily the Dodgers’ best pitcher during that time. His loss is devastating to a starting rotation that has been without LHP Ted Lilly since early May.
Lilly’s return is also in question as he’s been slow to recover from soreness in his pitching shoulder.
The injury news got worse for Los Angeles last week when closer Kenley Jansen was also shelved indefinitely with a recurring heart condition. He is scheduled to find out today if he can return to the Dodgers bullpen as soon as September 7 or if he’ll miss the rest of the 2012 season.
The injuries alone are a big enough cause for concern, but the Dodgers also endured a 1-3 stretch last week during which they gave up a total of 34 runs.
The combination of mounting injuries and poor pitching performances are enough to make a Dodgers fan cry. However, the darkest days are behind them, and the sun has already begun to shine on Los Angeles once again.
Not Every Game Will Be in Colorado
Of the 34 runs that the Dodgers surrendered last week, 28 were allowed during a three-game series at Coors Field in Colorado. The Rockies’ home stadium is the most hitter-friendly ballpark in all of Major League Baseball, ranking No. 1 in MLB Park Factor through September 3.
Of the Dodgers’ final 26 games, only five will be played in parks ranked among the top 15 in park factor. Those include two games in Arizona’s Chase Field (second) and three games in Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark (eighth).
Los Angeles has nine other road games this season in pitcher-friendly parks in San Francisco (29th), Washington (16th) and San Diego (27th) and the Dodgers’ twelve remaining home games will be played in the pitcher-friendly confines of Chavez Ravine (26th).
Park factor can artificially drive down the number of runs allowed by a team regardless of the quality of the its pitching staff. But it in the case of the Dodgers, it actually plays into one of the team's strengths.
That would be...
A Strong Defense
When Shane Victorino was traded to Los Angeles from the Philadelphia Phillies in late July, he gave the Dodgers the best defensive outfield in the major leagues.
Los Angeles already had two, two-time Gold Glove winners in center fielder Matt Kemp and right fielder Andre Ethier. Victorino completes the “Outfield of Gold” by bringing his three awards (2008-2010) to left field.
Age and injuries have sapped Victorino of a little of his defensive range, but a move to the corner—as opposed to center field where he won his first three Gold Gloves—will offset any slight decline, especially with Kemp backing him up in center.
The outstanding outfield defense gives the Dodgers a tremendous advantage as they play a majority of their remaining games in cavernous stadiums like AT&T Park (San Francisco), Petco Park (San Diego) and, of course, Dodger Stadium.
The pitching staff will be grateful as they watch Victorino, Kemp and Ethier track down balls that may have otherwise turned into extra-base hits.
Trades and Roster Expansion Added Depth
The injuries to Lilly, Billingsley and Jansen have been devastating for Los Angeles. But no team in baseball is better equipped to survive such losses than the Dodgers.
Long before the infirmary started to fill up, Los Angeles general manager Ned Colletti made a number of trades to add depth to the pitching staff.
He acquired relief pitchers Randy Choate and Brandon League—from the Miami Marlins and Seattle Mariners respectively—in two trades prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. He also acquired right-handed starters Joe Blanton and Josh Beckett in two August deals.
Those four moves, along with the September 1 call-ups of Stephen Fife and Javy Guerra, will allow the Dodgers to survive a trio of injuries that would cripple most teams’ pitching staffs.
The Veterans Will Step Up
The Dodgers received poor early returns from Joe Blanton, Josh Beckett and Brandon League, but each player had a strong performance over the past three days that gave Los Angeles fans reason to smile.
Beckett earned his first win for the Dodgers last Saturday by striking out nine and surrendering just one earned run in 6.2 innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Blanton delivered an encouraging performance of his own in last night’s 4-3 victory over the Padres. After giving up two runs in the first, he surrendered only one more run over 6.2 innings.
League had gone through some struggles of his own since joining the Dodgers. But he responded well when given another chance to close. He recorded 37 saves for Seattle in 2011 before losing the role earlier this season. League picked up his first save for Los Angeles on Sunday while filling in for the injured Jansen.
The efforts of these three veterans have helped the Dodgers build a modest three-game winning streak entering tonight’s game against San Diego. They will need similar performances from Beckett, Blanton and League throughout the rest of the season if they hope to punch their ticket to the playoffs.
They Still Have Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw is hitting his stride at exactly the right time.
The 2011 NL Cy Young award winner has only allowed more than two earned runs in one of his last seven starts since surrendering eight earned runs in a July 24 start at St. Louis.
With the injuries to Lilly and Billingsley and Becket and Blanton still adjusting to Los Angeles, Kershaw’s reliability is essential to the Dodgers’ postseason hopes.
As he takes the mound tonight against the Padres, Kershaw has an opportunity to help extend the Dodgers’ winning streak to four and give Los Angeles a second straight-series win.
He’ll prove his worth again this Sunday when he takes the mound in the finale of a crucial three-game series in San Francisco against the NL West-leading Giants.