Los Angeles Dodgers: Advantages Going into the Playoffs
When the Dodgers went 53-13 in the heat of the summer, they ran off win streak after win streak of five-plus games, making a name for themselves as they tore up the league.
As a result, they are still the favorite to win the World Series according to Bovada.com, despite going 7-11 over their last 18 games.
This new era of Dodger baseball, being played by no-class, overpaid, immature, arrogant, spoiled brats, has put the team on everyone’s radar and should make for plenty of intrigue come playoff time.
Nestled somewhere between the big names and big money on the roster and the cockiness and swagger the team seems to be playing with, one takes a look around and comes to the realization that the team does not have much hiding in their back pocket.
There is no proverbial ace up their sleeve. What there is, instead, are six distinct advantages (each unique in their own way) that no other team has, or can truly game plan for.
Note: All player statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference
The Not so Hidden Advantage: Yasiel Puig
Yasiel Puig, having now played in 98 games, is hitting .327/.397/.544 with 18 home runs, 41 RBI and 11 stolen bases.
While it may be the opinion of a somewhat biased Dodgers fan, I truly believe we should see his name somewhere in the top-five when the National League MVP vote breakdown is released.
His name won't be there though, tragically. His cockiness, his swagger and his bravado, turn off the opposition and offend the baseball purist in the press box.
He's already chomping on stogies and rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, and he appears to have worked on his home run bat drop and base-rounding trot the way some professional wrestlers practice their finishing moves.
Dan Bickley, beat writer at AZ Central, either hasn't read Morris' piece or blatantly disagrees with it. He took the easy way out, and called Yasiel Puig (and the Dodgers as a whole) "idiots".
Regardless of your take on Puig you cannot look at his numbers and the Dodgers turnaround and not correlate one with the other. While teams find him disrespectful, immature and insulting, I find him to be breathtaking, attention-grabbing, and flat out talented.
How many 22-year-old rookies do you know that can just make Vin Scully go, "wow!"
The Uncertainty: Hanley Ramirez
When the Dodgers clinched the NL West title in Arizona on September 19, they went for a swim.
For Hanley Ramirez, who had played in 1,090 games to that point without having stepped foot on the diamond during the playoffs, jumping into that pool was about so much more than his two-home run, four-RBI performance that day.
It was about so much more than showing up the Diamondbacks, despite the fact that they threw at Yasiel Puig and Zack Greinke earlier in the summer. It was about taking his talents, immense as they are, into October.
Ramirez has been a changed man this season, much of the reasoning going to his time spent playing in the World Baseball Classic earlier this year. Winning the championship for his national team, the Dominican Republic, cleared his eyes and filled his heart. Coach Taylor would be proud.
As locked in as he has been throughout the season, as well as he is swinging the bat and as protected as he will be in the new look Dodger lineup, Ramirez is poised for a breakout playoff run.
The Hopefully Healthy: Matt Kemp
Matt Kemp appears to be back. This spells trouble for the teams in the Dodgers way as the march towards a World Series. On Sunday in San Diego, the Dodgers trotted out a lineup that went Puig, Crawford, Ramirez, Gonzalez, Kemp.
As Eric Stephen of truebluela put it:
In the 11 games that Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig have started together, including Thursday, the Dodgers are 9-2 and have averaged 6.8 runs per game.
You can make the "small sample size" argument or the "well now it's the playoffs so the competition is better" argument or even the "most of those guys are unproven in the playoffs" argument all you want but facts are facts.
No team, in either the National or American League, will be able to trot out the kind of offensive firepower Los Angeles will.
If, knock on wood while simultaneously crossing your fingers, Kemp is able to stay healthy, the Dodgers playoff lineup will potent, to say the least.
The Inconsistent: Dee Gordon
Dee Gordon has been one of the more frustrating Dodgers in recent memory. His panicked mechanics at shortstop combined with his inability to string together meaningful at-bats has made him a nightmare-and-a-half.
However, there seems to be hope for the youngster, the Dodgers and the fans.
Despite the minuscule size of this sample, Gordon is 5-for-11 since his September call-up. The highlight of the numbers being the fact he has not struck out and has walked twice.
A slight turnaround offensively would not be enough to shorten manager Don Mattingly's memory enough to forget all the bad that came before so little good. What will help Gordon's case however, is his speed on the base paths.
As Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds has demonstrated, wheels off the bench are a game changer. In addition to hitting north of .500 in September, Gordon has swiped all four bases he has attempted to steal and has scored as a pinch runner.
The pressure Gordon faced earlier in his career is entirely gone. He does not need to be a solid leadoff hitter, he does not need to hit .250 (at least) and he does not need to drive the ball into the gap.
He just needs to go 90 feet, at a fast pace.
The Unproven: Bullpen Depth and Youth
J.P. Howell, the senior citizen of the group at 30 years old, is a hard throwing lefty with an ERA of 2.09, a WHIP of 1.077 and he strikes out roughly eight hitters per nine innings.
Chris Withrow, also a righty, is the latest call-up to the big leagues for the Dodgers. In 24 games at the big league level, Withrow has a sub-3.00 ERA, a sub-1.00 WHIP and he strikes out (I hope you're sitting down) 11.5 hitters per nine innings.
Paco Rodriguez, the baby of the group, is a 22-year-old lefty. His ERA is 2.21, his WHIP 0.887 and his strikeouts-per-nine-innings number is 10.5.
While the youth this group has might not seem relevant for one postseason run, I think it is. The Dodgers, for the first time in a long time, have a bullpen full of young guns. Guys that are not afraid of the big moment, because they haven't looked her in the eye yet.
Mattingly can go R/L/R/L late in games, trusting each guy more than the one he is replacing.
The Ever so Faithful: Dodgers Fans
I was born in Los Angeles, I was raised in Los Angeles and I love Los Angeles. However there are few things in life seemingly more desirable than catching a baseball game in St. Louis, or Cincinnati or even Boston and New York.
I always see those games, those stadiums and those fans on TV and think, "wow they're loud" or "wow they're all wearing matching colored shirts" or "wow would it be boring to live in Cincinnati."
Then, I go to a Dodger game, and remember why I love Los Angeles.
The Dodgers lead the MLB in attendance, with roughly 15 percent more total fans than the number two team, the New York Yankees. Those numbers themselves are impressive but merchandise sales have doubled from last year and television ratings have increased 40 percent (we see you, Yasiel).
Right now, the Dodgers are one game behind St. Louis for the second seed in the NL standings and are two games behind Atlanta for the one seed.
Whether or not they catch St. Louis and Atlanta likely won't matter. Kershaw will throw game one, Greinke game two, and then its home to the Ravine where I don't see the Dodgers losing a game.
They'll do it for the fans.