Who Must Step Up for Dodgers to Replace Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier?
If you're a believer in karma—and took issue with the impromptu pool party that the Los Angeles Dodgers threw at Chase Field after clinching the NL West—then perhaps you view the news that the team is likely to be without Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp in the starting lineup as it heads into the playoffs as payback.
USA Today's Bob Nightengale sums things up:
The Los Angeles #Dodgers ruled Matt Kemp out for the entire postseason, and Andre Ethier likely available only as pinch-hitter.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) September 30, 2013
While Kemp was limited to only 73 games this season due to a rash of injuries, anytime you remove a perennial MVP candidate from the equation, it leaves a gaping void that is not easily filled. Yet the Dodgers were able to win 92 games and the NL West with relative ease in spite of Kemp's extended absences.
When you take a pair of All-Stars out of the equation, it makes finding success in any season—whether it's exhibition play, the regular season or the postseason—significantly more difficult, especially when home-field advantage belongs to the competition.
Still, to pen a eulogy for the 2013 Dodgers would be premature and, quite frankly, foolish at this point.
Los Angeles has more than enough talent on its lineup to beat Atlanta and advance to the National League Championship Series, but to do so, a handful of players are going to need to take their games to another level.
It's time for these guys to step up.
Don't let Crawford's .267 September batting average fool you, as things were not been going well for the 32-year-old outfielder as the regular season came to an end.
Always something of a free swinger, Crawford has seemingly silenced the little voice in his head that told him to hold off on swinging, as both his walk and strikeout rates are moving in the wrong direction:
|Month (Games Played)||Walk Percentage||Strikeout Percentage||BA||OPS|
As would be the case with nearly any player, Crawford is far more productive when he exhibits patience at the plate, forcing the pitcher to work deeper into the count and taking advantage of mistakes to get on base.
Hitting in the two-hole for the Dodgers, Crawford must get on base far more frequently than he has if Los Angeles has a chance to defeat Atlanta, giving players like Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez a chance to come to the plate with a runner on to potentially drive in.
The regression that many warned was waiting for Yasiel Puig as the season progressed manifested itself in September, with the Cuban sensation mustering a .214/.333/.452 slash line, a .214 BABIP and 38 total bases, the lowest monthly totals of his four-month major league career.
That's not to say that September was a complete waste for Puig, who smacked six home runs, drove in 11 runs and, according to FanGraphs, posted the second-highest walk rate of his career (10.1 percent) and a .238 ISO, the highest of his career and more than 100 points above the major league average for the month.
While Puig's numbers against the Braves in four games this season are terrific, with him hitting .500/.529/.938 with three extra-base hits (two home runs) and five RBI, all four of those games came in the cozy confines of Dodger Stadium, a place where Puig is more comfortable and productive than he is on the road:
Of his 11 RBI in September, eight came courtesy of the long ball, something he can't count on in Turner Field, which isn't necessarily a home run-friendly ballpark, and against a Braves pitching staff that allowed only 127 dingers on the season, the fourth-lowest total in baseball.
The two home runs that he hit against Atlanta came off Cory Gearrin and Paul Maholm, two pitchers that are not expected to be part of the Braves opening round playoff roster.
That said, the Dodgers need Puig to rediscover some of the magic that captivated baseball earlier this season, producing runs in multiple ways—not just from home runs, which are sure to be at a premium during the series.
Likely to be Ethier's replacement in the starting lineup, patrolling center field in the playoffs isn't a foreign concept for Schumaker, as noted by the Los Angeles Times' Bill Shaikin:
Skip Schumaker started the last 3 games of the 2011 World Series in CF. His Cardinals won. #Dodgers— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) September 30, 2013
It's not as if Schumaker played a large role in St. Louis' success against Texas in that series, hitting only .167 (2-for-11) with three strikeouts and one RBI, picked up on a first-inning groundout in a Game 5 loss.
The 33-year-old stumbled to the end of the 2013 regular season in his first season with the Dodgers, hitting only .204/.246/.241 in September with a pair of extra-base hits and RBI, striking out three times as much as he drew walks.
The good news, however, is that throughout his career, he has always performed well against Atlanta—especially at Turner Field:
|vs. Braves||.304||.385||.759||4 (2)||9||15/14|
|At Turner Field||.345||.397||.880||4 (2)||6||5/10|
Regardless of where he's hitting in the Dodgers lineup, Schumaker needs to find the stroke that has allowed him to post the kind of numbers that he has against Atlanta throughout his career. Serving as an automatic out, as he did for most of September, simply isn't an option.
More importantly, Schumaker needs to elevate his game defensively.
Per FanGraphs, he's logged 167 innings in center field for the Dodgers this season and struggled badly, posting a minus-12.8 UZR/150 and minus-3 DRS, numbers that rank 48th out of the 66 players to play at least 160 innings in the middle of the outfield in 2013.
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