Dodgers' Under-the-Radar Players Who Could Make or Break Playoff Run

Nick Ostiller@@NickOstillerContributor IISeptember 26, 2014

Dodgers' Under-the-Radar Players Who Could Make or Break Playoff Run

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Los Angeles Dodgers are headed back to the playoffs as National League West champions for the second straight year.

    Some of the most noticeable driving forces behind their success include MVP candidate Clayton Kershaw and MLB RBI leader Adrian Gonzalez.

    But in order for the Dodgers to advance deep into October and reach the World Series for the first time in 26 years, other less heralded players will need to play a role.

    Similarly, Don Mattingly's bunch could be faced with the disappointment of losing their final game of 2014 if certain team members fail to produce in the postseason.

    Let's take a look at some of those players who may not make the headlines but could make all the difference for Los Angeles over the next few weeks.

Juan Uribe

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Juan Uribe knows what it takes to win in October.

    After all, the veteran third baseman has three World Series rings and soon-to-be five postseason appearances to his name. The Dodgers originally signed Uribe with the hope he could provide that intangible big-game experience the year after he helped the San Francisco Giants win the 2010 Fall Classic.

    With a star-studded roster like the Dodgers have, it can become all to easy to forget what Uribe has brought to the table over the past few seasons. Besides excellent defense at the hot corner, the man known by his teammates as "Papi" is batting .311 with nine home runs and 52 RBI in the first year of a new contract.

    His game-winning home run against Atlanta in Game 4 of last year's National League Division Series vaulted the Dodgers to the next round and was arguably the biggest hit in Los Angeles since Kirk Gibson's famous blast in the 1988 World Series.

    Uribe's .375 average over the last week suggests he is heating up at the right time, and the Dodgers are hoping their battle-tested elder statesman can produce even more October magic this year.

Carl Crawford

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Center fielder Yasiel Puig and right fielder Matt Kemp receive most of the attention in the Dodgers' well-documented outfield, but left fielder Carl Crawford has actually been the team's hottest hitter over the past month.

    Like Uribe, Crawford possesses World Series experience, and his recent production bodes well with the postseason just a week away.

    Nestled behind Kemp, Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez in the lineup, Crawford has quietly put together a .433 batting average in September with 16 RBI.

    While he missed 40 games earlier in the season with a severe ankle sprain, Crawford's legs now seem as loose as they've been in years. His 23 stolen bases are the most since he swiped 47 with Tampa Bay in 2010.

    And Crawford's eight home runs are his highest total since 2011.

    The former Ray has the potential to alter postseason games with his rediscovered speed on the basepaths, and his left-handed bat provides balance in Los Angeles' lineup.

    Still, Crawford's weakness will always be his throwing arm, which was surgically repaired two years ago. Speaking of injury history, Crawford has a lengthy one, and the Dodgers just have to hope their veteran outfielder can make it through another month unscathed.

Brian Wilson

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    Colin E. Braley/Associated Press

    Brian Wilson has turned into a $10 million disappointment for Los Angeles in 2014.

    The Dodgers re-signed the eccentric reliever after he pitched well for them at the tail end of last season, but this season has been a wholly different story.

    Pegged as the eighth-inning bridge to closer Kenley Jansen, Wilson essentially took a match to that bridge with his performance over the past few months and enters the final weekend of the regular season with a 4.72 ERA in 47 innings pitched.

    His velocity is down, and his ineffectiveness has left manager Don Mattingly without a viable option in the back end of the bullpen between that night's starter and Jansen. While the Dodgers have been able to weather his dumpster fire of a season by using him less and less in pressure-packed situations, there will almost certainly come a time in October when Wilson and his beard will be called upon to get big outs.

    Dodgers fans will bristle. Mattingly will sweat. But Wilson, who closed huge World Series games for the Giants in 2010, told Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register that he is saving his velocity for the playoffs.

    Whether or not that claim is merely an excuse for his poor play remains to be seen. But Wilson will be on the postseason roster, so we will find out very soon.

Hyun-Jin Ryu

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    The biggest question mark facing the Dodgers as they enter the postseason is the status of Hyun-Jin Ryu.

    The Los Angeles' No. 3 starter behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, Ryu has been sidelined since Sept. 12 with inflammation in his throwing shoulder, but the team remains hopeful Ryu will be ready to pitch in the postseason.

    "We're notching off-days here," manager Don Mattingly told MLB.com's Michael Lananna. "I think we're pleased with the progress with Hyun-Jin and how he's doing, and he's moving forward and not having any complaints afterward. I'm happy with his progress."

    In his second year stateside, the Korean southpaw put together another solid campaign, going 14-7 with a 3.38 ERA, 139 strikeouts and 29 walks in 152 innings.

    As the third starter in Los Angeles' rotation, Ryu probably wouldn't be required to take the mound until Game 3 of the NLDS on Oct. 6. That gives him an additional week of recovery time, and he has already resumed throwing from a full windup on flat ground, according to the Los Angeles News Group's J.P. Hoornstra.

    Of course, the potential problem is Ryu will not have a tune-up game before being thrown into the fire of the playoffs. If his timing, rhythm or grip on the ball is not polished when he toes the rubber in Game 3's tough road environment, it could be a very short outing for the finesse left-hander.

Dan Haren

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    If Ryu can't go, the last realistic option in the Dodgers' postseason rotation would be veteran right-hander Dan Haren.

    Los Angeles signed Haren to serve as the team's fourth or fifth starter during the regular season, not the Game 3 starter in the first round of the playoffs.

    In 181 innings, the 34-year-old has compiled a 13-11 record but a middling 4.03 ERA.

    Haren's season was one of ups and downs. He posted an abysmal 9.47 ERA in July but a very solid 2.52 ERA in September. Haren's last start was a brilliant seven innings against San Francisco that triggered a $10 million player option for 2015. But he also allowed five earned runs in Colorado the start prior to that.

    The Dodgers have to feel confident about Haren's recent success but simultaneously wary of his meltdown potential. The question is going to be which pitcher shows up in the postseason, where Haren owns a 3.26 career ERA in 19 innings during the 2004 and 2006 playoffs.

    It's a question that may determine Los Angeles' fate. But with Josh Beckett's season-ending hip injury, coupled with the ineffectiveness of waiver-wire acquisitions Roberto Hernandez and Kevin Correia, the Dodgers do not have any other choice.

    Stats courtesy of ESPN.com and Baseball Reference. 


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