The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the postseason for the first time since 2009. On June 21 the Dodgers were in last place in the NL West division with a record of 30-42. Since that time they have won 60 of 85 games, including a remarkable 42-9 record between June 22 and Aug. 18.
Many experts will point to the arrival of Cuban hitting sensation Yasiel Puig as the sparkplug that led the Dodgers’ resurgence, and they wouldn’t be altogether wrong. Puig was on fire from the moment he donned the blue Dodgers uniform until cooling somewhat recently.
But Puig hasn’t been the only player that has catapulted the Dodgers to the top of the standings in the NL West division. Manager Don Mattingly has been masterful in mixing and matching the Dodgers lineup, especially with injuries to Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Chris Capuano that kept them sidelined for significant portions of the season.
But the Dodgers do have questions entering the postseason.
Will a Lack of Overall Postseason Experience Hurt?
The Dodgers roster is not loaded with players who have achieved success in the postseason. Reliever Brian Wilson and third baseman Juan Uribe won a World Series title with the San Francisco Giants in 2010. Utility player Skip Schumaker won two titles with the St. Louis Cardinals. Other than that trio of players, postseason success is limited.
Playing in the postseason is a completely different animal altogether. Teams and players pace themselves over a grueling 162-game regular season. In the postseason it’s all about going all out in a five-or-seven game series. Some wilt under the pressure while others shine.
Can Yasiel Puig be one of the Dodgers who shines in the spotlight? How about Korean rookie pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu? Without having history as a guide, it’s impossible to answer that question.
Can the Starting Rotation Step in Spite of Past Postseason Disappointments?
The Dodgers’ top two starting pitchers—Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke—have not enjoyed much success in their limited postseason appearances. Kershaw has a 5.87 ERA in five appearances, Greinke a 6.48 ERA in his three postseason outings.
Ryu and Ricky Nolasco will likely make up the rest of the postseason rotation, and neither have appeared in the postseason at all.
The Dodgers won’t get very far if their top two starters can’t reverse what has thus far been a downward trend in playoff competition.
Will the Health of the Dodgers Outfield Play a Factor?
As previously mentioned, the Dodgers have endured a bevy of injuries to key players this season. All-Star center fielder Matt Kemp has played in only 70 of the team’s 157 games to date. Andre Ethier has missed the last 10 games with a sore ankle. Carl Crawford has missed 45 games with assorted injuries. It’s entirely possible that Ethier could be left off the roster for the upcoming NLDS. He suffered a setback in his return during a workout on Tuesday.
Kemp has been on the disabled list three times this season and just recently returned from a badly sprained ankle. He is hitting .333 in the eight games since his return and hit a monstrous 430-foot home run against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday. His game could be rounding into form at the perfect time for the Dodgers.
Overall, the Dodgers outfield should be fine, even if Ethier is not able to resume playing. Schumaker and possibly Scott Van Slyke can provide capable backup for Crawford, Kemp and Puig.
The questions are definitely a cause for concern. However, it would be difficult to bet against the Dodgers, considering what they have achieved already with different hardships and roadblocks standing in their way.
The Dodgers are a favorite in the postseason for a reason—they’re very good.