Eight losses in a row, including three against the worst team in baseball, Washington.
Eight wins in a row, including five against the division-leading Diamondbacks, with basically the same players, save swapping out Jeff Kent for Blake DeWitt.
What in the hell is going on? How does the pendulum swing so quickly, and for no apparent reason? Last week I put forth the idea that maybe Kent’s absence from the locker room, more than his absence from the field, could have played a role – and indeed, the Dodgers haven’t lost since that day. But even I don’t believe that alone explains what we’ve seen. In fact, people way smarter than I are struggling to explain it as well, judging by today’s article from Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus:
This is what baseball players and baseball teams do: perform within a range that’s centered on their true talent level. If the extremes aren’t usually quite this obvious, the one truth we can pull from this is that looking at a larger picture will give us a better idea of what the Dodgers are. They’re 8-8 in the their last 16 games. They’re 27-21 since the All-Star break. They’re 73-70 for the season. This is a team that’s a little better than .500—with Manny Ramirez, anyway. That they’ve piled up wins and losses in a newsworthy pattern is interesting and makes for good copy, but it doesn’t tell us anything more about the team than 8-8 does.
On the larger point, I agree, but I don’t think you can say that going 0-8 followed by 8-0 is the same thing as going 8-8, alternating wins and losses – simply because in the playoffs, you don’t get the opportunity to have your luck even out. If the Dodgers make it into October and the 0-8 team shows up, then October is over before it even starts – but if the team we’re watching right now is still playing, then LA could really be making some noise in the playoffs. Up a game and a half on Arizona, the team really has their destiny in their hands, which is all you can really ask for. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
Speaking of getting ahead of ourselves, the playoff roster! I didn’t want to be the one who jinxes things by talking about October yet, but since Joe Torre’s brought it up, here we are. (Actually, I’m going to get into the possibilities more in-depth on the next offday, should the team still be in first. You wouldn’t believe how difficult this is going to be.) From Jill Painter of the Long Beach Press-Telegram:
Joe Torre hasn’t figured out what his playoff roster would be yet, but look for Andruw Jones to be a part of it. There’s only one reason he’d be off the playoff roster.
“Not unless he physically can’t do it,” Torre said.
The rational response to this is somewhere between running down the street screaming and jabbing your thumbs into your eyes to relieve the pain. Really, Andruw Jones? How could you possibly waste a roster spot more? But the more I think about it, the less it bothers me. Torre refuses to play Jones now – he’s yet to even make an appearance since returning from the DL, and Jones has all but admitted that he’s done for the season. So I think there’s a hidden meaning in the way Torre phrased this, saying that the only reason he’d be off the roster is if he “physically can’t do it.” That has to be a nice way of saying “when – not if, when – we leave him off the playoff roster, it’s because his knees won’t let him play. Not because he sucks. Which we all know that he does, historically so.” Right? Right?
Anyway, let’s talk about the pitching staff for the remainder of the season. First things first, some good news – an update to a post I made last week saying that Derek Lowe wouldn’t be a Type A free agent this offseason. MLBtraderumors now has an update saying that he in fact will be a Type A free agent, which makes more sense. I’m not sure if the initial accounting was faulty or if his two outstanding starts against Arizona bumped him up, but either way, it’s good news.
As for the rest of the staff… it’s time to start keeping an eye on innings pitched. I’m not suggesting that a 1.5 game lead with 19 games left is time to coast into the playoffs, because it’s not. But it’d be irresponsible to not keep an eye out for keeping some guys, especially the young ones, fresh. Naturally, we’re talking about Clayton Kershaw, who is now up to 151.1 IP (90 MLB + 61.1 AA), leaving him just 19 innings or so short of his 170 IP limit. However, he’s not even the biggest concern, though – unquestioned ace-of-the-staff Chad Billingsley is up to 182 IP, which is already 35 IP higher than he had last year. It’s well known that letting young pitchers – and make no mistake, at 23, Billingsley is still “young” – throw more than 30 IP more than they did the year before adds an extra risk of injury. (Some call this “the Verducci rule“, which I find a little silly, but the article is a worthwhile read.)
No, it’s true – this rule doesn’t apply to everyone. Some guys are built to withstand it, and you’d have to think that a guy as well-built as Billingsley could be one of them, especially with how great he’s been lately. So no, I’m not saying sit him down until the playoffs, because clearly the team’s going to need him to get there. But, depending on how the stretch race goes, is it really a bad idea to let him get some extra rest? There’s some real concerns in overworking Kershaw and Billingsley, especially if you hope to add an extra month to the season. While Billingsley is still going strong, Kershaw struggled greatly in his last start, and in fact, I’m in favor of that being his last one. So with 19 games left, why not go on a modified schedule like the one below, which you can always change based on events of the pennant race? It’s not as though the Dodgers don’t have plenty of other starting options. If we go this way, we not only get Billingsley extra rest between starts and less starts, but you can add Kershaw as a weapon out of the pen while conserving his innings.
For the #5 starter, I personally go with Eric Stults. Let’s not forget how thoroughly he dominated the White Sox earlier this year. But you can make a case for Jason Johnson, Chan Ho Park, James McDonald, etc., or even better, a combination of them in order to keep the regular guys fresh.
19 games (projected starts)
I know, and you know, that this isn’t going to happen. The Dodgers aren’t going to pull Kershaw out of the rotation – even though he’s not going to start a postseason game – and they’re not going to limit Billingsley. I just think it’s a really smart thing to do if you want your guys who are already in the danger zone to be fresh. Besides, how awesome would it be to add Kershaw to an already strong bullpen?
- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness