The real is answer is “We don’t know.”
It’s likely that the Dodgers will win 100 games this year and the NL West (they will have to go 4-6 to do that). That’s an improvement of 8 games in a Division that is dramatically better, as at least one, and maybe two other teams will be NL Wild Cards. This version of the 2017 Dodgers has been both the hottest team in baseball and are now one of the coldest teams in baseball, going 5-20 in their last 25 games. It’s not any fun being a Dodger fan right about now, but does it really matter? “We don’t know.”
The fact of the matter is that the Dodgers have been “coasting.” Since late August, they have been in that mode. They were about 20 games ahead in the division and Doc decided to rest some players. They held Kershaw out way past the time he was ready and the sense of urgency evaporated. When you lose that sense of urgency, it’s hard to get it back… maybe impossible. But, can they just flip a switch in the playoffs and re-gain it? “We don’t know.”
I think that the conventional wisdom is that they can’t just flip a switch, but conventional wisdom is often wrong. “We don’t know.” Sports and especially baseball, are littered with “rags to righes” stories. When things look like doom and gloom, the human spirit can overcome just about anything. Can the 2017 Dodgers do that? “We don’t know.”
What we do know is that the league has “caught-up” with the Dodgers in the way that they are pitching them. Some of that is the Dodgers fault. Tom Verducci of SI.com explains it best:
High fastballs are their Kryptonite
The Dodgers love to hit the ball in the air. The Mets and the Padres, both well under .500, are the only teams in the league that hit a greater percentage of fly balls than Los Angeles.
The way to combat fly-ball hitters, who love to hit the bottom third of the ball, is to attack with velocity up in the zone. The Dodgers this year have seen a greater percentage of four-seam fastballs than any team in baseball (40.5%), and they rank 23rd against those pitches in batting average (.262).
If we look at only high four-seamers, L.A. is the fifth-worst team in baseball (.195), behind only the Brewers, Rays, Mets and Cubs (the league average is .228).
During the 1–16 stretch, the Dodgers have been even worse against high four-seamers (.176), partly because they have been giving more plate appearances to Curtis Granderson and Enrique Hernandez (filling in for Corey Seager), both of whom have swings that are vulnerable to high fastballs. The Los Angeles hitters most vulnerable to high fastballs are Granderson (.146), Hernandez (.156), Yasiel Puig (.156), Joc Pederson (.167) and Yasmani Grandal (.182).
OK, that can be fixed: Curtis and Kike will not be in the lineup together, Joc will be gone, Yasiel should just hit 8th (on the season he’s hitting .187 in the 5-hole) and Yasmani should lose playing time to Austin Barnes. I think that Austin should be the starting catcher and hit leadoff. Chris Taylor should move to the #5 spot to protect Cody. Or, in the alternative, Utley and Forsythe can platoon at 2B and leadoff. The Dodgers’ #5 hitters have been deplorable all year. According to TrueBlueLA.com, they average just .213 from a very critical spot in the batting order. FIX IT!
Verducci goes on to talk about their coasting:
Los Angeles has been in spring training mode for too long, playing with the luxury of a big lead. The Dodgers’ current NL West lead of nine games is the lowest it’s been since the All-Star break, and it peaked at 21 games ahead on Aug. 23.
Manager Dave Roberts has started a pitcher on four days of rest only seven times in the second half of the season, down from 34 in the first half. Presumptive playoff starters Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish and Rich Hill have thrown just two combined starts on “normal” rest in the second half. Their 41 team starts on four days are the fewest in baseball.
Right about now, Doc needs to keep his Big Four in a 5 day rotation. Clayton and Yu will get two more starts that way and should be ready for the playoffs. Will that work? “We don’t know.” What we do know is that the Dodgers had better change up their pitching methods come playoff time. Again, Verducci says this:
The irony here is that the Dodgers’ pitching staff was an early adopter when it came to throwing high fastballs as a counter to the Launch Revolution by hitters. Looking at possible postseason opponents, the Rockies and the Nationals now look like difficult matchups for Los Angeles: They rank first and second in the league, respectively, in throwing the highest percentage of high fastballs.
In the playoffs, the Dodgers need to pitch down in the zone against teams that hit the high fastball successfully. Look, the Dodgers know all of this and could deliberately be doing some of this to obfuscate what they intend to do later. They have that luxury. “We don’t know.”
They might “flip that switch” and win out or maybe their “coasting” cost them the championship. “We don’t know.” However, we are going to find out!
P.S. Once a Knucklehead, always a Knucklehead: Raul Mondesi sentenced to 8-years in prison for corruption and mishandling of public funds while serving as mayor of his hometown of San Cristobal, Dominican Republic.