Dodgers Winning With Roster in Flux


The Dodgers used 20 players in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Atlanta, their 11th win in 12 games. Of the 20, only eight – Matt Kemp, James Loney, Andre Ethier, Jamey Carroll, Tony Gwynn, Rod Barajas, Kenley Jansen & Hong-Chih Kuo – were seen as certainties to make the Opening Day roster when camp started, and Barajas & Ethier made only cameo appearances in the game. (Aaron Miles, A.J. Ellis, and Mike MacDougal also did make the Opening Day roster, but at least two got their spots due to the injuries of others and none seemed likely to do so when camp opened.)

Going in the other direction, of the 20, only eight again seem assured of being Dodgers in 2012, but it’s not the same eight – Kemp, Ethier, Jansen, Ellis, Javy Guerra, Dee Gordon, Scott Elbert and Nathan Eovaldi. You’ll also likely see some of the Loney / Juan Rivera/ Justin Sellers group return, though none should be so confident as to start purchasing homes at the moment.

On a smaller level, it’s even happening on a day-to-day basis. Take the first two games of the series in Atlanta, for example. Loney, Kemp, and Rivera hit 2-3-4 both days, yet the other six spots in the lineup were essentially completely different (Sellers did play both days, but had different spots in both the field and the batting order.)

In fact, since the streak started on August 22 in St. Louis, Don Mattingly has rarely tossed out consistent lineups. Just look at the number of hitters who have started games in each of the nine batting spots over the 12 game stretch:

1st: (5) – Carroll, Sellers, Aaron Miles, Gwynn, Gordon
2nd: (3) – Loney, Gwynn, Sellers
3rd (1) – Kemp
4th (3) – Rivera, Ethier, Loney
5th (4) – Ethier, Casey Blake, Miles, Russ Mitchell
6th (5) – Miles, Loney, Blake, Barajas, Gwynn
7th (4) – Barajas, Ellis, Carroll, Trent Oeltjen
8th (4) – Sellers, Carroll, Ellis, Eugenio Velez
9th (6) – Regular five-man rotation + Dana Eveland

That’s a lot of changes for a 12 game span; over the 138 games of the season, Mattingly has penciled in 121 different lineups (not including pitchers, which bumps it to 134). You’ll notice, however, that there’s one position that never changes, and that’s Matt Kemp hitting third. “Of course Kemp is going to play every day,” you might say, “because he’s awesome.” Indeed he is. However, over the first 126 games of the season, Kemp started and hit cleanup 125 times, with Blake getting one start when Kemp had a day off on June 10 in Colorado.

On August 22, with the club having lost five of their last seven and nine of their last fourteen, Mattingly finally bumped Kemp up to third, where he’s started each of the 12 games since with three homers and a .999 OPS. The Dodgers, as you know, have lost just one of those games, and even that was mostly due to Eovaldi’s poor start last Sunday against the Rockies.

Now, there’s a lot of reasons the Dodgers have played so well lately. Loney coming back from the dead is a big one, as is getting great production from behind the plate in the post-Dioner Navarro era and Ethier bouncing back from his knee controversy with some big hits. The rotation has been good more often than not, and the bullpen has been very good, though mostly under-the-radar. (I almost included “more Rivera, less all the other guys who weren’t Rivera” here, until I noticed that Rivera has actually been pretty lousy during the streak, with just six hits in 43 plate appearances.) Shockingly, guaranteeing that your best hitter – arguably the best hitter in the league – sees more plate appearances and always hits in the first inning has been a big positive as well.

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Clayton Kershaw goes for win #18 today against Atlanta rookie Randall Delgado as the Dodgers try to finish off a sweep of the Braves. Arizona’s Ian Kennedy moved to 18-4 yesterday, and MLB Network’s Mitch Williams – with Joe Morgan gone, perhaps the only commentator more consistently off the mark than Steve Lyons – thinks that’s a big deal in the Cy Young race:

Williams believes Kennedy and Halladay’s home ballparks give them a clear advantage over the Dodgers lefty.

“Kershaw is 9-0 at home but if you put Kennedy or Halladay in Dodger Stadium they would be 9-0 at home too,” Williams said. “Chase Field and Citizens Bank Park are band boxes so Kennedy and Halladay have to pitch.

Kershaw has indeed been excellent at home, where in 14 starts he’s allowed just 74 hits while putting up a fantastic 107/24 K/BB mark. It’s just too bad he hasn’t been able to match that on the road, where in 14 starts he’s allowed a disturbing 80 hits and a terrible 105/26 K/BB mark.

Uh, right. Thanks for playing, Mitch.

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Might we see more unexpected callups than previously thought? I still think that Jerry Sands and Tim Federowicz are locks to come up in the coming days as the AAA season winds down – Ken Gurnick reports that Ramon Troncoso was called up this morning – but Gurnick also thinks we might see some of the AA arms sooner than anyone figured:

Mattingly said that the Dodgers will call up a few more players from Triple-A when Albuquerque’s season ends on Monday, perhaps Jerry Sands and Tim Federowicz, and a few more when Double-A Chattanooga is finished with the playoffs. Allen Webster, Shawn Tolleson and Cole St. Claire have been considered.

We’re going to talk about this more in the offseason, but the Dodgers should not be spending a single dollar on adding relief pitching this winter. It’s one area they’re extremely deep in, and we’ve seen that spending big money on non-elite relievers rarely makes sense; Matt Guerrier has been fine, yet hardly making enough of a difference to be worth his contract.

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