When you’re still under .500 on July 10, as the Dodgers are, every series is a big series. It’s important to remember that, no matter whether you’re playing the worst team in the league or the leaders in your own division. Still, this three-game set against Arizona is obviously just a bit more in the spotlight, because the Dodgers came in 4.5 games out, and leaving 1.5 games back (if they sweep) or 7.5 games back (if they were swept) or anything in between would substantially change the complexion of the race from here on out.
So far, the Dodgers have won two of three to pull within 2.5 games, and the series is going to be a success no matter who prevails in the finale tonight. A large part of the credit there goes to Ricky Nolasco, who was outstanding on Tuesday night by allowing just a single run over seven innings, not walking anyone. (He also drove in the first run on a single and later added a double, making my first-inning tweet that he’d be the best-hitting Dodger to wear #47 this year look pretty good so far.)
When the Nolasco trade was made, we liked it for a variety of reasons. He was an improvement on the back end of the rotation, the cost was minimal, the Marlins kicked in international signing pool room, and he brought much-needed depth to what was suddenly a thin group. Or as I put it at the time…
Considering the depth at this point is to bring back the zombified Ted Lilly, pretend Matt Palmer is a major league pitcher, or force Zach Lee into a pennant race, getting Nolasco is definitely a move worth making.
That’s relevant now because what I haven’t see a lot of is this: considering what’s happened since Nolasco became a Dodger, how different might last night’s all-important game have been? Remember, when Nolasco was acquired, the initial plan was that Stephen Fife would stay in the rotation and Chris Capuano would head to the bullpen. But that was Sunday, roughly around the time that Fife was reporting soreness in his shoulder that would land him on the disabled list on Monday.
Now Capuano retains his spot and is tentatively scheduled to start on Thursday as the Dodgers return home for a series with Colorado. But yesterday was his regular turn, and with few other alternatives, the Dodgers would have been forced to start a pitcher who not only had been crushed his last two times out — 19 baserunners and 13 runs (10 earned) in eight innings against the Phillies & Rockies — but who had just been publicly acknowledged as not being good enough to stay in the rotation. That’s not exactly the type of arm you’re looking to throw in the middle game of a series against the only team ahead of you in the division.
Worse, someone else would have to make that Thursday start, which would have originally been Fife’s. Short of cobbling together a bullpen game or asking Clayton Kershaw to go on three days rest, you’re dipping into the same unappealing options we feared earlier. Fewer, actually, since Ted Lilly‘s rehab is coming along slowly enough that he’s now requested to be used as a reliever. With Matt Magill only coming off weeks on the minor league disabled list tonight (and being atrocious before that), the options really would have been an emergency start by the endlessly mediocre Palmer or rushing a prospect like Lee up before anyone really wants to.
Nolasco’s not going to pitch like he did last night every time out; he’s just not that good. But he is an improvement on a team that sorely needed one, and considering the magnitude of the series, he likely provided more value in one night than Steve Ames or Josh Wall were going to all season long.
It’s nice to like a trade your team makes. It’s even nicer to see it pay off so immediately, especially in a big spot.