I wrote a piece when Manny returned to the order about the impact he would have on Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier, Orlando Hudson, and Casey Blake. The Dodgers are now 9-5 since Manny came back on Jul. 3 and have had offensive outbursts of seven runs (three times), eight runs, 11 runs, and 12 runs.
They also hit a team-high of five home runs against the Milwaukee Brewers on Jul. 10.
But what if I told you that it was another spot in the Dodgers' order, not Manny’s three-hole, that was the key to their offensive production?
All hitters in this position are batting .339 with a .397 OBP and a .530 slugging percentage on the season. What position would you think that production was coming from?
Maybe second? Whoever is in front of Manny must be seeing better pitches and doing more damage.
How about fourth? Fifth?
The Dodgers are producing an insane amount of runs and putting many runners on base for the top of the order to drive in, which gives them a decided advantage over other playoff contenders.
Let’s look at the other division leaders in the National League (including San Francisco, the Wild Card leader when these stats were taken) and see how they compare in the eighth spot to the Dodgers.
Los Angeles (NL)
*St. Louis stats are from ninth position because the pitcher hits eighth
That is an unbelievable jump from not only the league average for No. 8 hitters, but also puts them heads and heels above the other NL contenders.
The Giants have zero spots in order even managing a .300 average. The Phillies have the second and third spots over .300, with the second spot at a dominant .335. The Cardinals have the three-spot (a.k.a. Albert Pujols), which is producing .328/.424/.711.
But those are positions in the order that you would expect a high amount of production to come from. The Dodgers are getting those numbers out of the last position player in the order.
That means when the lineup turns over, after the pitcher’s spot, the Dodgers already have someone on base many more times than other elite teams in the NL.
The last position player, whoever it may be, is absolutely tearing the cover off the ball for Los Angeles.
Matt Kemp has played a huge role in catapulting the bottom of the Dodgers order into these astronomical numbers.
But let’s take a look at the other top production from the eighth spot and the players who have had at least 15 games in that position.
Joe Torre recently tried the old Tony LaRussa lineup switch by bumping his pitcher up to the eighth spot and batting Juan Pierre ninth. Torre wanted to gain more speed in front of Manny and also have the effect of bolstering two leadoff hitters in a row.
The Dodgers won 5-2 that night, but Pierre went 0-for-3 and the team gained nothing from the impromptu flip-flop. The victory was more a reflection of the brilliant pitching by Clayton Kershaw rather than the change in the lineup.
Torre needs to put his best lineup out there, which in my opinion, looks like this:
1. Furcal (S)
2. Ethier (L)
3. Ramirez (R)
4. Blake (R)
5. Loney (L)
6. Martin (R)
7. Hudson (S)
8. Kemp (R)
This lineup gives great balance throughout the order and leaves little or no weaknesses from top to bottom.
It also makes it hard for opposing managers to replace pitchers late in the game to face either a lefty or righty hitter. Sure, you can bring in a tough right-handed relief pitcher to get out Manny and Blake, but then you must address Loney with a lefty specialist.
The more you can force other teams to blow through the bullpen, the better chance you have during a seven—game series. This lineup, which Torre has used, produces runs and puts the pressure on pitchers to be 100 percent focused for hitters one-through-nine, not just for the top of the lineup.
They have something unique going on with the hitters in the eighth spot and Torre needs to embrace production from the bottom of the order while it lasts.
Blake has proven that his stats look better when bumped down in the lineup, but I think he fits best within the rest of the offense following Manny in the cleanup spot. He may not be your prototypical power hit, but the guy is a professional in every sense of the word and knows how to get clutch hits.
The placement of Loney in back of Blake gives you a proven run producer, and it gives Loney cushioning to be patient at the plate because of the quality hitters in front of and behind him.
And the night they hit five home runs and exploded for 12 runs total?
They used the lineup I proposed above as the best suited for run production.
Torre also toyed with bringing Kemp up to the fifth and sixth spots. He moved him in the final game against the Brewers before the All-Star break and in the first two games after the break, and Kemp went just 1-for-12.
Torre needs to understand that Kemp puts too much pressure on himself when he bats higher in the order. Young Matt tries to drive the ball too hard, and he becomes impatient, which results in more strikeouts and less production.
I too have lobbied to keep Kemp lower in the order, and I stand by that position.
I think bumping Ethier in front of Manny is a good move to enable him to see more pitches to drive. Ethier is a .250 hitter, and isn’t going to have a much better average than that, but at least he gets pitches to hit in front of Manny.
It’s unbelievable how well the bottom of the order has produced for the Blue Crew, and it has surely been one of the big keys to success this season.
PJ Ross is a Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers