The Dodgers are in the playoffs! I feel nauseous!
For any True Blue fan out there, they each know that October merely brings heartache and anxiety. Nothing more, nothing less. I kind of have to hurl right now!
As always, my man Que-Ese and I were commiserating about the causes for the potential ulcers likely to befall us in the coming days and (hopefully) weeks. But, like a true friends (who will never ever ever leave each other), we’ve tried to serve as the salve to one another’s Dodger blues. Below is an e-mail exchange in which we’ve both finely laid out our biggest reservations, then a rebuttal why it might not be a big deal and finally, our predictions for the series.
KOBEsh: The bullpen. Duh.
Some writers have suggested that the Dodgers only have two reliable pitchers in their bullpen, which is a disconcerting thought all on its own. However, I think that may be outshooting the truth altogether.
Kenley Jansen has been pretty great this season, though I wouldn’t say absolutely dominant. Sure, he’s got 101 strikeouts and allowed just 55 hits in 65 innings pitched, but he also got himself into trouble unnecessarily. With no outs, Jansen allowed a .779 OPS, as opposed to .567 and .466 on the second and third outs. In other words, he’s letting a leadoff man on at an alarming rate and then relying on his dominant stuff to make up for it. Not the type of breathing room you want to give up to a fellow division-winning team.
The only other “reliable” bullpen pitcher has this stat line for September: 7 games, 5.1 innings pitched, 9 hits and 2 homers allowed and a 11.81 ERA. That’s J.P. Howell, who had emerged into the team’s best 8th inning reliever.
Other than that, we’re looking at Brandon League (a nice 2.57 ERA, but an ugly 1.46 WHIP) Brian Wilson (a nice K%, but giving up hits and walks by the boatload), 39 year-old Jamey Wright (72 hits in 70 IP), Chris Perez (who had a nice September, but still walked 4 batters in 7 innings) and rookie Pedro Baez.
Yes, I’m really worried.
Que-Ese: Here’s why you shouldn’t fret about the bullpen:
Jansen is a stud. His premium pitch is a cut fastball. The thing about those, is that sometimes they get put into play. If they hit their spots, he’ll be fine.
I also believe in Pedro Baez as a legit option out of the pen. More than anything, that guys throws freaking GAS and he will serve as a good option to lead into the nightmare that is Brian Wilson (or ideally, just straight to Jansen).
The most important thought I have about the bullpen is that our starting pitching is going to go deep in these games. Superhuman Clayton and tough-as-nails Greinke are both going at LEAST 7 innings per game this series. In this best case scenario we only need two innings of bullpen. We have that… I hope.
Que-Ese: Starting. Pitching.
Does anyone know if Ryu is alive? I saw him getting slapped around by manager of the year candidate Juan Uribe but I know little else of his status. He throws a bullpen session today and I’m sure the details from Mattingly will be scarce. Donny B is going to be evasive to keep the Cardinals (and all of us) on their toes for what to expect in a game 3. If Ryu is good to go, and is throwing like he did after his last stint on the “I’m kind of out of shape and not used to pitching this much because I used to pitch in Korea” DL, then we are fine.
But if is he isn’t fine…
The rotation goes – Clayton, Greinke, Haren (who I’m terrified of every time he has the ball), and then a big ole ?
If there is no Ryu, the Dodgers have essentially guaranteed they are going to be starting Clayton in Game 4 on short rest. Clayton worked a simulated game the other day after a shortened 3 days of rest just to get used to how it feels to pitch without a full 4 days off. If Clayton goes Game 4, then we get a fully rested Greinke in a Game 5 at home. The logic here makes sense.
Clayton is a world beater and the best pitcher on the planet but I still very distinctly remember the last time he pitched in the playoffs on short rest (for those that don’t remember, it resulted in him being shellacked and the Cardinals going to the World Series). I don’t want him on short rest in the playoffs. Period.
KOBEsh: Que-Ese, my brother. I want to make you feel better about this, but the pickings here are slim. If Ryu isn’t healthy, the Dodgers are really in a boatload of trouble. As I enumerated in my little blurb about the bullpen, this squad really isn’t equipped to play the long game out of the bullpen. If it comes to that, guys like Jamey Wright and Paco Rodriguez will be charged with carrying the team for long stretches–a situation that I’m not really going nuts about.
Clayton Kershaw has never thrown on three days rest in the regular season and just once in the playoffs. He memorably went six strong against the Atlanta Braves last season in the clinching game of the NLCS, but only lasted six innings against a trigger happy squad. This is such a small sample size that I couldn’t put much credence in it one way or another, but even when talking about the best pitcher on the planet, you’ve got to have a little bit of pause. Plus, as you said, having Haren in there is an adventure (to say the least) every single time, but he’s very much capable of throwing 7 innings of one run ball at any given moment.
The only silver lining here is that if Clayton has to go on short rest…well, as I said, you’re talking about the best pitcher on the planet who hasn’t even thrown 200 innings this season. He’s relatively fresh (as opposed to the 240+ innings on his arm this time last year) and if we’re going to rely on anyone to get it done on just 3 days, it’s Clayton.
KOBEsh: Fastballs. No, not just the ones that might find their way to Hanley Ramirez’s ribcage. The fact that I’m not sure if anyone can catch up to one.
The league average percentage for making contact within the strike zone is 88%. The only two Dodgers to come within 11% of this mark are Carl Crawford and Juan Uribe. Matt Kemp? Scott Van Slyke? Hanley Ramirez? Adrian Gonzalez? Yasiel Puig? Flowing between 69% and 74%.
Essentially, if you have a pitcher throwing pitches in the zone, most of the Dodgers lineup is anywhere from 15% to 20% under average. Going to the eye test, that means that what I’m seeing is true: this team can’t catch up to a damn fastball. We saw that last season in the NLCS when the team absolutely struggled to deal with the flamethrowers that St. Louis trotted out man after man. It might be a lot of the same this year. Here are some average fastball velocities for your viewing pleasure:
Trevor Rosenthal: 96.8 MPH
Carlos Martinez: 96.7 MPH
Sam Freeman: 93.5 MPH
This also doesn’t include Shelby Miller, who averages a 93.5 MPH fastball, the man who may start Game 3 or 4 of the NLDS.
I’m scared to death that this Dodgers offense of the last few weeks was buoyed in large part because of poor competition. I feel like we could be seeing a repeat of last season’s swing and miss calamities.
Que-Ese: I’m not scared of fastballs because… CURVEBALLS!
I don’t mean to directly copy what the fine folks over at DodgersDigest did but really though, go read this.
I mean, those stats don’t lie. The Dodgers hit the shit out of curveballs. So while we may be swinging and missing wildly at those first and second pitch fastballs, all we really are doing is lulling pitchers into a comfortable enough count to throw us our bread and butter – the curve.
If you’ve watched any Dodgers games this season, you know that every time a ball is put into play, you cringe. The gloves in the field are less a sure thing than a liability. Most of this revolves around the huge gap in the infield created by Hanley Ramirez’s awful defensive WAR (-6.1). Each ball hit towards his direction is one big fat green light for the opposition. I’m pretty sure in meetings, the Cards are telling their batters to just get ahead of the pitch, who cares if you look dumb on a breaking pitch.
Then of course there is Puig (not a real CF) in CF and Kemp (a bad former CF, but not horrible RF) patrolling RF. I’ve already seen a couple games where the two of them couldn’t figure out how to communicate on a fly ball. Every ball hit to the outfield is terrifying. Not to mention in LF we have Carl Crawford who has about as much arm strength as MAMBINO.
KOBEsh: I agree that it’s absolutely terrifying, there’s no doubt about that. Hanley is, by many metrics, not only the worst defensive shortstop in the league, but very likely also the worst every day defender in the Majors. Period. At this point, there’s really no getting around that.
I’m a little less down on the outfield defense as you, as the trio of Crawford, Kemp and Puig have shown the propensity to get to the balls and make the plays, but Kemp and Crawford’s lack of juice in those arms is a huge concern, and Puig’s lack of knowledge on how to play baseball is too, a concern.
However, important to keep in mind is how well the Dodgers offense has been cooking as of late. Again, as I wrote, they’ve been playing some absolutely horrid competition. Still, over 7 runs a game is nothing to sneeze at, especially with all the core contributors as healthy as they’ve been for the last two years, almost. With that in mind, if the Dodgers can muster any sort of lead with the mammoth bats they’re swinging right now, I have faith that they can get far enough ahead that after the sixth inning, Ramirez is immediately out of the game and a stronger armed player is in for Crawford or Kemp as well.
KOBEsh: Dodgers in 4
As many questions as the Dodgers have defensively and in their bullpen, the offense is so red-hot right now and both Greinke and Kershaw are so dominant that I can’t see them not taking two out of the first three games. The Cardinals have struggled to score after an incendiary last season, but as currently constructed, I see them as cheese in front of Zack “The Masher” Greinke and Clayton “Sure, I’ll Field That Ball Behind My Back” Kershaw. The defense is a huge concern, but I’m very much banking on the bats carrying the team to a place where defensive replacements can be plentiful.
Que-Ese: Dodgers in 3
I’m going off the wall over here trying to find a way the Dodgers don’t win this series in 3 games. I’m going to just say Dodgers in 3. I know that’s entirely reliant on Ryu being around to pitch in St. Louis but I think at this point, his start is all but assured.