Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2008 NL West Champions

Somewhat anticlimactic, since the final blow was delivered about 1500 miles away in St. Louis while the Dodger players weren’t even at the stadium yet, but who cares – we’ll take it! Can you believe this day has actually come? This has been an absolutely unbelievable season of ups and downs. For every Nomar walkoff dinger, there’s Rafael Furcal having back surgery. You have Andruw Jones being the most disappointing player ever, but you also have Andre Ethier becoming one of the most solid outfielders in baseball. Really, what can sum this up better than an eight game losing streak followed by an eight game winning streak?

We’ve loved Manny, and we’ve panned Pierre. We’ve praised Torre, and we’ve really hated Torre. We’ve watched Chad Billingsley grow into a bona fide ace, and we’ve seen former ace Brad Penny be nearly useless. We’ve watched Chan Ho Park resurrect his career and Blake DeWitt and Cory Wade come out of nowhere to start theirs, and we’ve seen Mark Sweeney struggle along like a horse on its way to the glue factory.
And here’s the best part: the Dodgers have a real chance in this thing. Yesterday I posted that a large debt is due the Diamondbacks and the rest of the crappy division for allowing the Dodgers to be in this position, and I still believe that to be true – if the Dodgers played in any other division, we’d have given up playoff hopes long ago. It’s not only a fact, they’d likely have been so far out that the Manny and Blake trades would never have even been made.
But what I did not mean to imply was that the Dodgers are somehow impostors, undeserving of the chance to compete. The fact is, the Dodgers of September 25, 2008 are markedly different than the Dodgers of May 25, 2008. That team didn’t have Manny Ramirez. That team still gave serious playing time to stiffs like Jones and Pierre. That team had just lost Furcal, rather than just regained him. That team still counted on Brad Penny, while this one has seen Andre Ethier emerge. That team watched DeWitt,¬†Nomar¬†and Andy LaRoche scuffle around third after DeWitt’s hot start, while this team has Casey Blake solidifying the position – horrible trade for him aside.
Need proof? The Dodgers are the best team in baseball since September 1, and it’s not even particularly close. They have 16 wins, while no other team has more than 13. The pitching has been excellent, as their 2.99 ERA tops the game – as does the .643 OPS against. But we always knew this team could pitch. That’s not the exciting part; the fact that their offense has been so good is. During September, they have the third best OPS in baseball at .826, and the only teams topping them are noted bashers Texas and Florida. Thanks mostly to Manny and Russell Martin, they are walking a ton, as their OBP of .378 tops the NL and is only .001 behind Texas’ mark.
When the playoffs get going, we’ll be seeing plenty about how the Dodgers have a mediocre offense, as their season OPS is only 21st in MLB on the season, between Houston and Cincinnati. They’ll say the Blue have no power, since they rank 22nd – behind Pittsburgh. And those people will be wrong, because this Dodgers team has changed remarkably over that time. Call it seeing things through blue-color glasses if you must, but no team in baseball is playing better on both sides of the ball right now.
This is the year we forget about Jose Lima forever. But probably not his wife.
In the four games remaining, this team needs to accomplish two things and two things only:
1) Rest the guys who need it. Manny has yet to take a day off since coming to LA. You probably don’t want to do that tonight since the home fans want to see him, but he’d better get at least one day off in San Francisco. Ditto for Martin, who’d better be seeing pine in at least two of the four games. The same goes for Chad Billingsley, although I believe the plan is to start him on Sunday just for a few innings to get his work in and have him be ready to go for game 2 of the NLDS. Can we please see Eric Stults out there?
2) Sort out your injury concerns. Can Jeff Kent contribute? If he can’t play defense at all, he’s unlikely to make the postseason roster. He did get a base hit last night in his first game back, and while he was immediately lifted for a runner, he didn’t seem to be limping at all while running back to the bench. Possibly more important is Rafael Furcal, who got an at-bat and an inning at shortstop last night. Even if it’s not realistic for him to be a 9-inning shortstop in the playoffs, just the thought of him back at the top of this lineup makes me drool. On the pitching side, Takashi Saito seems to have proven his health, so the only concern lies with Hong-Chih Kuo. If he can’t get into any of these remaining games, I have a hard time thinking he’ll make the playoff roster.
Playoffs start in six days, baby! Enjoy it!

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg