What We Learned About the Los Angeles Dodgers from the Divisional Round
In a relatively quick but drama-filled series, the Los Angeles Dodgers dispatched the Atlanta Braves three games to one. As happens with playoff series, we are all quick to make definitive statements.
During the regular season, patience is needed: Four games aren’t enough to draw any substantial conclusions.
But now, when results are all that matters, we can take away some legitimate lessons.
The Top of the Rotation Is as Big a Strength as We Thought It Would Be
In what was not a shock but is certainly good to see, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke were the dominant starters the Dodgers need them to be. The duo combined to give up just three earned runs in 19 innings, while striking out 21 (although, admittedly, 18 of those belonged to Kershaw).
Kershaw, of course, carried the load in the National League Division Series, as he made two starts—including the clinching Game 4 on short rest. But Greinke will start the first game of the National League Championship Series, which puts him at the forefront. Kershaw will back him up in Game 2, so the Dodgers' aces will be able to pitch four of the seven possible games.
Andre Ethier Is Sorely Missed
Skip Schumaker started each game in center field. In four games, he got three hits (all singles) and was never a legitimate offensive threat.
He offers no power threat—he has a career .086 ISO—and isn’t even an elite defensive player. His career UZR in center field is negative, and that passes the eye test as well: Justin Upton hit a ball in the first inning of Game 3 that a better defender would have caught, but Schumaker dove and missed.
Ethier, while not a better defender, is a vastly superior offensive weapon. His .783 OPS, while not up to his previous career marks, makes him a threat that pitchers are aware of. Schumaker’s presence means the lineup only goes six deep, but adding Ethier drops Juan Uribe down a spot and makes the bottom third of the Dodger lineup (Uribe, A.J. Ellis and the pitcher) much more formidable.
The Dodgers are still hoping that Ethier will be available to start the NLCS.
The Bullpen Will Be Altered
One of the strengths of the team during its run, Paco Rodriguez, struggled mightily versus Atlanta.
He allowed four hits and four runs in his two appearances—significantly, both big hits were by left-handed hitter Jason Heyward. One, as we all remember, brought in the insurance runs that would end up being the difference in Game 2. The other was inconsequential in terms of results (a home run at the end of the Game 3 blowout), but cannot bode well for Rodriguez’s chances of being called upon in tight situations during the NLCS.
J.P. Howell and Chris Capuano, the other lefties in the Dodgers pen, pitched fantastically, as they combined with late-inning stalwarts Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen to be the four relievers who didn’t allow a single run during the NLDS.
The Rotation Is Not as Set as We Thought It Was
Hyun-jin Ryu was the Dodgers’ third-best starter this season and therefore got the ball to start Game 3. But he pitched very poorly, allowing four runs in three innings, and the team only escaped with a victory because Julio Teheran was worse than Ryu.
The presumptive fourth starter for the team, Ricky Nolasco, also faces questions. His last three starts of the season were horrible, and manager Don Mattingly brought ace Clayton Kershaw back on short rest rather than trust Nolasco to close out the NLDS in Game 4—which makes the issue of whether or not the Dodgers trust Nolasco a legitimate concern.
This Team Will Not Quit
More important than the tactical concerns that the NLDS raised, though, is the revelation that this team is closer to the one that went 42-8 over the summer than the one that went 12-15 in September. Even though they lost Game 2, Hanley Ramirez’s big two-run home run in the eighth inning showed that they hadn’t given up.
And, of course, Juan Uribe’s massive home run to win Game 4 and the series was emblematic of the season as a whole. They didn’t waste a fantastic pitching performance from Kershaw, and Uribe put an exclamation point on his bounce-back season.