Los Angeles Dodgers: Predicting Who Could Be a 2013 Playoff Hero
The way the Los Angeles Dodgers' season unfolded, it would surprise nobody if Tim Federowicz or Scott Van Slyke came off the bench and played hero in the playoffs. There is seemingly no shortage of magic for the team that crawled out of the cellar and became the first club to clinch a division in 2013.
And as we've seen with guys like David Eckstein, David Freese and Tony Womack in the past, it really can be anyone. But we'll try to be realistic here when composing a list of Dodgers who could play the hero in the playoffs.
Will one of the starting pitchers step up and dominate in a must-win game? Can Kenley Jansen channel his inner Mariano Rivera and kill opposing batters with cutters? Will it be the oft-injured Matt Kemp or the rookie phenom Yasiel Puig hitting a walk-off home run?
Any of the big names can make it happen, but here is a list of the five most likely candidates.
5. Ricky Nolasco
There are four very good starting pitchers in the Dodgers rotation, which should cause plenty of headaches for opposing teams. The likely fourth starter will be Nolasco, which means he could get the first look at a big elimination game later in a series.
Nolasco started off hot with the Dodgers and has cooled off significantly since, but he has the repertoire and mentality to be an absolute shut-down guy in a big game. That's not to take anything away from Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke or Hyun-Jin Ryu—it simply means that if Nolasco is put in that spot and comes through, it might be even more noteworthy.
Keep an eye on Nolasco in a tough first-round matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals (if the Cardinals win the division and the Braves finish with the best record in the league). Against the Redbirds this season, Nolasco is 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA.
4. Andre Ethier
Though Ethier is a much different hitter than in 2009 when he had six walk-offs and earned the nickname "Captain Clutch" from the Dodger faithful, the lefty has come through time after time in 2013. Of his 131 hits this year, 13 have given the Dodgers the lead and eight have tied the score in a game they were losing.
With a strange outfield rotation on the horizon, Ethier will probably face righties, depending on the starting pitching matchups, and might be squeezed into a bench role for most of the postseason. But this is where Ethier's awful career splits against left-handed pitchers work to the Dodgers' benefit.
With Ethier coming off the bench, and only hitting when Don Mattingly wants him to, he can play his cards in a way that negates bullpen moves by opposing managers. If a skipper brings in a right-handed reliever in a spot where Ethier can be used, Mattingly forces the other team to waste a pitcher or face Ethier in a situation that favors the Dodgers.
3. Hanley Ramirez
There are so many players who could come up big for the Dodgers this postseason. Ethier, Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe and more. But my last two hitters are going to be guys who can get red-hot for an extended amount of time and actually carry the team to a series victory on their bats alone.
The first is Ramirez, who, when healthy, is arguably the best hitter in the National League. In 82 games for the Dodgers this season, he's hit .350 with 20 home runs and 57 RBI. I'll do the math for you—that's a 40-homer, 115-RBI full season. Just for good measure, Ramirez has put the Dodgers ahead with a home run 10 different times this year.
As if you needed more evidence of Ramirez's clutch gene, look no further than the day the Dodgers came back to clinch against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ramirez hit two home runs that day, including a game-tying bomb in the seventh inning.
If Ramirez gets in a groove in the playoffs, the Dodgers can afford to have a couple other bats slumping and still have a great chance at advancing.
2. Yasiel Puig
This doesn't mean that Puig is a better player than Ramirez. Or a better hitter. Or more clutch. But for all the headaches Puig can cause on the basepaths or in the outfield, the risk highly outweighs the reward. That's why he's racked up a WAR of 4.9 (according to Baseball-Reference.com) in just 98 games in 2013.
Puig's numbers in the seventh inning and later are impressive (eight of his 18 homers and 18 of his 41 RBI have come between innings seven and nine), and he has 11 go-ahead hits to his name. Perhaps the most important aspect of his splits concern his first-pitch swing rate. When Puig swings at the first pitch, he's hitting an absurd .552 in 67 at-bats.
For all the rookie mistakes Puig has made after getting on base or with high throws from right field, those talents can be harnessed and make all the difference in a short playoff series. As a Dodgers fan, I'm willing to risk a base-running blunder if I know he can sneak us an extra base or throw a runner out at home in an elimination game.
1. Clayton Kershaw
What more can you say?
A breathtaking 1.88 ERA. The minuscule 0.92 WHIP. A league-leading 224 strikeouts. The Cy Young all but locked up, with the near-guarantee of a sub-2.00 ERA finish. Kershaw has blossomed from one of the best pitchers in baseball to the undisputed champ.
In a seven-game series, if the Dodgers take it that far, Kershaw can conceivably make three starts. That's going to be three games in which the other team starts in a hole. Especially if the Dodgers play the Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds at some point. Against the Reds this year, Kershaw is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in two starts. And the Pirates are even worse off: 1-0 with a 0.64 ERA in two starts.
Kershaw is that ace who can set the tone for an entire series and give the Dodgers an early lead to go with some momentum for Zack Greinke to feed off in the following game.
Just ask yourself one question: When it comes down to it, in a do-or-die situation, who is the one pitcher in baseball you want on the mound? It's Kershaw, and the Dodgers are lucky enough to have him.