When the Dodgers acquired Manny Ramirez, they were in second place and were stuck at .500 after more than a hundred games in the season. Since then, they’ve clinched the division by winning 29 of 50.
Although Manny’s ridiculous two-month run has certainly catalyzed the L.A. offense, he’s not the only reason they’re headed to the playoffs.
The recent consistency of Hiroki Kuroda and Clayton Kershaw, along with the acquisition of Greg Maddux, has created one of the league’s deepest rotations down the stretch—and along with Manny’s bat, it could make the Dodgers true contenders in October.
The Dodgers don’t have an ace to match up with Harden, Hamels, Sabathia, or Santana, but their top end of Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley is strong enough to give them a chance in the first round. Add any two of Maddux, Kuroda, and Kershaw, and you’ve got a strong postseason rotation.
Many sinkerball pitchers claim to pitch better when tired, and Derek Lowe fits that mold. He’s done better in the second half virtually every year of his career, and this season was no exception: since an eight-run meltdown against the Cardinals on Aug. 6, he’s gone 6-1 with a 1.32 ERA and 0.87 WHIP.
Focus has long been a problem for Lowe, but that usually clears up in October. Despite a rough NLDS against the Mets in 2006, his 3.34 postseason ERA is still 40 points below his career line.
While he’s always a "blister" or infield error away from losing his touch, Lowe should be a dependable if unspectacular anchor for the rotation.
In his first full season as a starter, Chad Billingsley overcame a rough April to demonstrate dominating stuff. He hasn’t been quite as overpowering recently, and his WHIP is up around 1.50 since August, but he’s still a strikeout machine, with a K-rate over nine on the year.
On a good day, he’s lights out. But unless he can get on top of his control, a patient team could take great advantage of his tendency to allow walks.
Over the first half of the year, Japanese “rookie” Hiroki Kuroda was the model of inconsistency. In June, he bookended a complete game, four-hit shutout of the Cubs by giving up 12 runs over five innings in two starts—the second against the Padres in the Petco pitcher’s paradise.
After a stinker against the Giants on July 28, he has settled down, with a 2.79 ERA since. That’s mostly thanks to a stellar August, which he probably won’t recreate. However, if he can avoid the meltdowns in October, he’ll be a good third or fourth starter.
On the other hand, apart from two bad outings with Los Angeles, Greg Maddux has been a model of consistency. If you expect five or six innings and two or three runs from him, you probably won’t be disappointed.
Despite a 5.71 ERA in Dodger blue (mostly thanks to those two outings, combining for 14 earned runs in just over 10 innings), he’s maintained a 4:1 K:BB ratio. That control is a constant, even in poor starts; but when Maddux is off, he’s extremely hittable. Should the Dodgers draw the Phillies, hopefully Maddux and Jamie Moyer will get to square off for bragging rights on the senior control-pitcher tour.
Lefty phenom Clayton Kershaw joins Billingsley in giving the Dodgers two starters that can be expected to produce as many strikeouts as innings pitched. While his heater reaches the mid-90s with late movement, it’s his curveball that makes batters shake their heads. When it’s in the zone, it’s practically unhittable.
The development of a changeup, along with improved command of his fastball and curve, has allowed Kershaw to live up to his billing down the stretch. But that success probably has something to do with luck—batters are hitting just .208 off Kershaw in September, which is pretty unsustainable.
Whether Kershaw’s recent performance is for-real or not is probably a moot point. Experience usually makes the difference for Joe Torre, so expect to see Maddux and Kuroda filling out the rotation. Besides, with longman Hong-Chih Kuo likely out of the NLDS with elbow troubles, Kershaw is more useful to the Dodgers pitching from the 'pen.
The rookie might not be the only starter making his way out to left field. With experience pitching both as a closer and between playoff starts, sinkerballer Lowe is particularly well suited to throw on short rest. If Torre sticks to a four-man rotation, Lowe could see action in relief.
Unfortunately for Los Angeles, all four of their potential N.L. opponents feature strong, patient offenses. That means that control will be just as important for fireballers like Billingsley and Kershaw as for finesse guys like Maddux and Kuroda.
Even worse, no matter whom they draw, they’ll have to face at least one of Santana, Sabathia, Sheets, Harden, Zambrano, or Hamels.
Los Angeles won’t make it out of the first round unless their offensive renaissance continues. But they’ll also need quality starts. If the Manny show continues and the back end of the staff stays strong, the depth of the Dodgers rotation could make up for the lack of a true ace.