Now To The NLDS

Now that the Dodgers are in the NLDS, I thought I would take a look back to see how they got here.  While I never gave up hope, I absolutely had my doubts.  I had concerns about how the team was structured, and in game management.  It became apparent that the primary focus for the front office was to get below and stay below the competitive balance tax threshold. If they could improve the team without risking going over the limit, okay.  Otherwise they would play with what they had.  They were not going to replace Brandon Morrow because they did not know what may be needed during the season as far as salaries go.  So FAZ settles on a left-handed ground ball specialist pre-arbitration with 5 years team control; Scott Alexander.  Of course, their big transaction was swapping the salaries of Adrian Gonzalez (Released twice – Braves and Mets), Scott Kazmir (Released), Brandon McCarthy (60 Day DL…again), and Charlie Culberson for Matt Kemp; AKA the Charlie Culberson trade. I have often stated that I do not believe that FAZ really values a strong bullpen.  When asked how the Dodgers could make up for the loss of Morrow and Watson, GM Farhan Zaidi stated that a combination of Alexander, Cingrani, and Yimi Garcia would replace Morrow as the 8thinning bridge to Kenley Jansen.  That didn’t work out too well.  No problem, they also picked up Daniel Hudson, JT Chargois, and Zach Neal off the waiver wires and journeyman minor leaguer Wilmer Font made the roster.  In early May, they added yet another waiver wire transaction with Erik Goeddel.  Hudson, Shaggy, and Goeddel all had good games, but overall were very average, and not high leverage relievers. In addition to the average (at best) bullpen, the Dodger starters were dropping.  First Kershaw and Ryu went on the DL in early May, and Rich Hill in mid-May.  Buehler and Maeda followed them.  Only the much-maligned Alex Wood stayed off the DL, even though many believe he is injured.  To counter the injured starting rotation, FAZ brought up Brock Stewart, Dennis Santana, and Caleb Ferguson to be starters, and moved Ross Stripling into the rotation.  Stewart and Santana both became injured and Ferguson struggled through three starts before he was sent to the bullpen where he has been solid.  Stripling went on to the AS game, as Alex Wood did in 2017 from beginning the year in the bullpen.  The starters all came back and restored order, and became the strength of the LAD team. On March 19, the final Monday in Arizona, Justin Turner was hit by a pitch by RHSP for the A’s, Kendall Graveman.  That HBP broke JT’s wrist and he started the season on the DL.  JT would be out for the first 40 games of the season.  By the time JT returned, Corey Seager had TJ surgery and was lost for the year.  So the Dodgers started 2018 without their two best all-around players, JT and Corey. To say they struggled is putting it mildly.  On May 17, after a loss to the Marlins, the team dropped to 16-26, and dropped 8.5 games behind the DBacks.  They were previously down by 9 games on May 8 after yet another loss to the DBacks.  Two games after JT returned (May 17) the Dodgers went on a 14-4 run over the next 18 games to finally get back to .500 at 30-30 (June 5) and knocked 6.5 games off the lead. When the Dodgers were struggling early on, in late May GM Farhan Zaidi was asked to comment on the team’s struggles. His response…“We just haven’t hit homers,” Zaidi said. “When you look at our overarching team performance, I think we still have a positive run differential. There are some positive indicators. But we have been outhomered. We’re a team that’s played a lot of close games. When you’re playing close games and you’re getting outhomered, it’s really tough to win those games.” I might have gone with losing JT and Corey Seager, and the rash of starting pitcher injuries, but Zaidi felt it was the lack of HR’s.  However, something clicked in June when the Dodgers broke the franchise record for HR’s in June with 55, eclipsing the record achieved in 2017.  The Dodgers went 17-9 in June and followed that up with 16-10 record in July.  The trade deadline came, and the Dodgers acquired SS Manny Machado for 5 prospects at the AS break.  They also picked up Brian Dozier for Logan Forsythe and two prospects.  The Dodgers also got some salary relief.  They also picked RHRP John Axford for another prospect.  But they did not go out and get that late inning high leverage reliever they so desperately needed (at least to some of us).  And that decision turned out to be a big one as the Dodgers lost several games due to poor relief pitching, with 6 consecutive blown saves, including 5 losses. At the AS break the Dodgers seemed to be on a roll and went into the break with a 53-43 record and came out with a new SS, Manny Machado.  The entire baseball community believed the Dodgers were about to embark on one of their patented big runs.  But the Dodgers did not catch fire and finished the season 39-28 for a cumulative 92-71 record. FAZ deserves huge kudos for going out of their comfort zone and getting the big player at the trade deadline.  They did their part, but the player also has to perform.  Machado was good, but not elite. The Dodgers struggled all year long with scoring WRISP.  The relied heavily on the HR rather than moving the runners over, going with the pitch, choking up with 2 strikes to make contact…etc.  The Dodgers led the NL in HR’s, but they seemed to be all solo shots.  They would win a game 17-3 with 6 HR’s, but then not score more than 2 runs in the next 6 games. There is no question that the strength of this team is the starting pitching.  The season started with Clayton Kershaw as the Ace but ended with Walker Buehler assuming that role.  In his last 12 games covering 75.1 innings, Buehler compiled a 1.55 ERA and a .158 BAA.  He had 87 K’s and 23 walks.  His final audition for staff ace came on game 163, when he went 6.2 innings and allowed one hit and zero runs.  He went on to win the NL Division championship game against the tough hitting Colorado Rockies. With Ryu, Kershaw, Buehler, and Hill scheduled to start the NLDS against the Braves, former starters, Maeda, Wood, Ferguson, and maybe Stripling will be taking key bullpen roles.  The first three have been doing it enough lately that they now feel comfortable in that role, and all will be used in high leverage situations takingsomeof the sting away from not getting an experienced high leverage setup reliever.  Someone like say Jose Leclerc???  Oh well, I digress. The other Dodgers strength is their depth and versatility.  With their talent, and if they do decide that sometimes less is better (as ARod said so often at the NL WC game, especially in the 13thinning for the Rox), they will be very hard to beat in the NL and should get a return ticket to the WS. One other comment about the season, as much as many of us fans have been hard on Doc Roberts, it was a lineup switch from Chris Iannetta to Tony Wolters at catcher by Rockies manager Bud Black that may have changed the Rockies season.  Wolters allowed the PB on a strike three to Max Muncy allowing Cody Bellinger to come to the plate and hit a 2 run HR in the 4th  inning in Game 163.  I do not think Iannetta allows that PB.  Bud Black over- managing???  In the NL WC game Wolters gets the game winning hit, but also misses a pitch that almost destroyed the umpire in the bottom of the 13th.  I do not see Iannetta out of too many innings against the Brewers. Now it is on to the NLDS to face the Atlanta Braves who seemed to have arrived a year early.  I do not know how Kershaw feels about it, but I like Ryu starting Game 1.  More than anything, Kershaw wants to win.  If this helps, he will have no problem with the switch.  Besides it does set up Clayton for Game 5 (which will not be necessary).  Ryu’s big game in SF against MadBum showed that he can pitch in big games.  Foltynewicz will be tough, but if they can get by him, the Dodgers could (should) sweep the Braves.  I like Ryu and Kershaw in LA, and Buehler anywhere. 

This article has 81 Comments

  1. From THE LA TIMES today:

    [Yasmani] Grandal’s final numbers illustrate elite production at his position. His 3.6 FanGraphs WAR was second among catchers, behind only J.T. Realmuto, who is regarded as the game’s premier backstop. He ranked second in Baseball Prospectus’ framing metric, providing further evidence of his reputation as a standout framer. His 24 home runs were second and his .466 slugging percentage was third. Most importantly, he had the highest walk rate.

    “When you factor in the offensive bar at the position and just, I think, that position takes such a toll on your body, which is a big part of why the offensive bar isn’t extremely high,” Friedman said. “And he’s obviously significantly above that bar…The overall production and value is really high.”

    The performance surfaced at an opportune time. Grandal is a free agent this winter. He’ll enter the fray atop the free-agent catching crop and should garner a multiyear contract. A strong postseason would only help bolster his standing on the market.

    1. People are now talking about offering all three potential free agents the Q.O.–Grandal, Ryu, & Kershaw [if he opts out]. Personally, I’d be shocked if it came to that with CK, but the other two I’m fine with. “It’s just money,” said the guy with no financial stake in the team.

    2. I tend to be on both sides of the Grandal dynamic.
      I think he’s remarkably under-rated by a small, yet vocal portion of the Dodger fan base.
      I also find his pendulum swings from slump to hot streak maddeningly and that they tend to skewer his value (especially when contextualized against other catchers) upwards.

      1. I’m all for Grandal. Despite the number of balls he dropped on plays at the plate this year I think he’s a plus defender and thrower. The passed balls seem to have declined this year. He’s perfect in the 7 hole where his HR or Walk approach fits. Can’t hit him 8th because he’s tough to sacrifice over. Shouldn’t hit a guy 5th that was being pinch hit for just a couple of weeks ago. A strong offensive post-season out of him just once would go a long ways. I’m all for the QO offer or signing him for 3 years.

  2. Last year, the Dodgers were #1 in the Power Ratings of MLB teams at the start of the playoffs. This year, they are #7. I like #7 better. These guys are playing for this. Here we go!

    1. I agree. We just need to survive the NL scrum. The AL is unbelievably loaded. I think the four best teams are there. We will only need to beat one 🙂

  3. It’s gonna be a long day till this evening! The team has an unseen for a long time energy and so with their fans! I feel it! We know something that only Dodgers fans know. ‘Stellar’ is the password. CHEERS!

  4. AC

    Another good summary, and analyzation!

    I wondered why Iannetta was not in those games!

    And I also wondered why Bud Black set up his rotation the way he did, at the end of the year, too.

    But I guess you can’t bet against Buehler, even though the Freeland has pitched some pretty good games against us, this year.

    I think we have to be the heavy favorite to win the National League pennant, for all the reasons AC pointed out.

    But in these short series anything can happen, just look at the Cubs, and that is why we have to still play these games.

    I heard on TV that the Braves top starter, was looking tired out toward the end of the season, but I am sure he will be up tonight, against the Dodgers.

    The A’s opener game sure went the wrong way fast!

    But that is not surprising to me, because baseball players or pitchers, are more then their numbers, especially in these games, in the post season.

    1. In no way should we be “heavy favorites” to win the pennant. I won’t argue with our being clear favorites [on paper] against Atlanta, but both Colorado & Milwaukee [if we advance] would present clear problems for our team. Even if we appear better than both [Milwaukee’s overall record and scary offense/bullpen certainly makes them no pushover & Colorado’s ballpark alone should give pause], any NLCS would have to be considered a close contest and definitely up in the air.

        1. i hear you. i will heed my own advice and focus only on atlanta right now. we should be getting the rosters any minute . . .

  5. Wow, nice post AC, and I disagree with some (while agree with most as always):
    1) I do NOT agree that “the primary focus for the front office was to get below and stay below the competitive balance tax threshold. ” The primary focus, as always, was to win the World Series. A secondary, and very important focus, was to also stay below that luxury tax.
    2) “playing with what they had” was a team that won 104 games, dominated to the World Series, and lost in a game 7 at home in the Word Series. That’s not a bad hand to play with.
    3) I know it’s easy to say we had a stud in Morrow, and we replaced him with a bunch of questions. Well, in 2017 Brandon Morrow was a huge question. There was no evidence in March that Morrow would become what he was in Sept/Oct (or that we’d stupidly use him in every single World Series game!) Cingrani was a big question when we acquired him, and he too became better than any of us anticipated. It was reasonable to assume he could take on an important role in 2018. He got injured; it happens.

    Otherwise, I’m in agreement with you that Kershaw, or anyone, won’t be needed for any game 5. We will take this in 3, may be 4. This will be like AZ NLDS last season.

  6. just a reminder: pundit predictions are completely meaningless. if everyone picks us to win, that just means that everyone thinks we will win. it doesn’t have any predictive value. i’m certainly picking us over Atlanta and am leaning toward Milwaukee over Colorado, but that’s about it. the AL can all just kill each other off for all i care. houston and cleveland could play each other 100 times and end up split 50/50. i like cleveland [and especially kluber] but houston’s rotation is amazing. i’ll go with cleveland in a slight upset. i guess i’ll take boston but hate them both. might as well ride LA all the over Cleveland for the crown. but Milwaukee beating us would not be a major upset. they are good. i think only we can unseat the AL winner.

  7. it’s funny. i really like their starter [Folty]. he’s young, throws hard, and maintains his velocity deep into games [like verlander]. he could be a great one some day, but not yet!

    1. Madson better not be this year’s McCarthy. He did nothing (except in his last outing) to warrant any confidence from anybody

      1. Madson had a 6.48 ERA in 9 appearances with the Dodgers. But over his last five, he allowed just one run on two hits while striking out seven in 5 innings

          1. I just looked at the teams Madson has made appearances against, in his last 5 appearances.

            Two against the Cards, one against the Padres, one against Arizona, and one against the Giants.

          2. hey, that’s baez’s role!

            i think madson is our, “oh shit, it’s the 13th inning–what do we do?” guy. and he’s probably better suited to that sort of role than stripling.

  8. Interesting article from NBC Sports in Chicago about player frustration with Joe Maddon’s ever-changing lineup. The interviewee is Theo Epstein, the Cubs head honcho:
    “But while Epstein did his best to put that issue to bed, he was refreshingly honest to the point that he revealed not everyone in a Cubs uniform is always happy with Maddon’s methods. The team president fessed up that certain players are a little frustrated with Maddon’s constant lineup shuffling, something that’s been a Maddon trademark since he arrived on the North Side ahead of the 2015 season – and the Cubs’ rise to the top of the baseball heap.

    “Maybe a little bit, honestly,” Epstein said when asked if there’s frustration among the players over the lack of a set, everyday lineup. “But I also think they understand. They look around and they see the talent here. And that’s how players talk about it. ‘We have so many talented players who deserve to play, and that’s what makes us great, that’s what makes us really good. But here’s how sometimes it makes me feel, and here’s how if we could communicate about it it could make things a little bit easier.’ I just think it’s important to hear that and to listen and to communicate as much as possible about it and to be transparent.

    “In a situation that’s more uncertain -more uncertain than a set lineup every single day, which we don’t have with this group – helping players anticipate as much as possible when they’re going to play, their role so they can think along is really important. And I think that’s something that Joe tries to do and does effectively. But we can all get better at it. I learned some things from talking to the players today, and I’m going to share those with Joe. I’m sure Joe learned some things from his discussions with the players, too. We’re going to continue to try to get better at it.”

    Does anyone think that the Dodgers don’t have this same issue in their clubhouse?

    1. roberts is probably slightly better massaging the situation than maddon AND the cubs seem to have an inordinate share of primadonnas [we just have puig and maybe bellinger] to deal with. i mean, i don’t care about the whole new school/old school debate, but the cubs were freaking celebrating bases on balls! side note: verdugo’s swagger cracks me up and i can’t wait for him to be a full-time player next year. watch him make the all-star team.

  9. i’m not real happy with the madson news but i also think he doesn’t need to throw a pitch and we can still win. while i’m not extremely surprised stripling was left off [he was kind of caught in between starting and relieving and i imagine they’re getting him sharp for the next round], i am a little disappointed we didn’t go with fields instead. he looked very good in a recent appearance. but really, the difference between madson and fields shouldn’t sway the series. i imagine urias is getting primed for the nlcs as well and poor verdugo can’t catch a break. he might need an injury to claim a roster spot [or a World Series with a DH that opens up another offensive spot].

  10. another madson thought: he’s played in the NL East with Washington the last two years. maybe he knows Atlanta very well and can “add some value” above and beyond what he does with his right arm. call him the chase utley of the bullpen.

    1. If Stripling was pitching well this would be an issue but he isn’t. The real question is why he got three starts if he wasn’t up to it. I would not want to see Ross come out of the pen these days. I’m no Madsen fan but he could fill a Roogy roll potentially.

  11. Questions to be answered as the playoffs start tonight.
    Can Roberts manage in the playoffs as he did against the Rockies in game 163?
    Can Kershaw finally pitch in the playoffs as he does in the regular season?
    Can Jansen be the closer the Dodgers need him to be?
    Can Bellinger have a better playoff then he did last year?
    Play Ball

    1. The Dodgers were 3-1 in Kershaw starts last postseason. I just hope he throws better than his last two starts. I hope the extra day of rest rejuvenated him.

  12. On the radio they were mentioning that Madson has some great stats vs. Atlanta. I wish I was on the laptop when they discussed it.

    I”m sure our smart guys analyzed all this extensively, so let’s see how it works out.

    1. I m not sure where “great stats” against Atlanta came from. In 2018, Madson pitched against Atlanta 7 games, 5.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 7 K, 0 HR. 1 save, 1 hold, and 1 extra inning loss.
      In contrast, Stripling started twice against Atlanta, compiling 8.2 IP, 11 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 11 K, 3 HR. He had one win and one loss.
      I think you can make an argument that Madson might have been better against Atlanta than Stripling, but he was not great.
      Fields did not face Atlanta this year, but has pitched better than both in September.

  13. Here are some random things to look for as our postseason begins in earnest:

    1. Ferguson’s debut. He was one of the stories of the season, rising fast and never looking back. How will he perform and how much will he be trusted?
    2. Muncy on the big stage. Can he continue to give focused, dangerous at-bats or will scouting reports catch up to him?
    3. Who will replace Morrow in the pen? Maeda is the bridge to Jansen but who comes before that? One of Wood, Floro, or Baez is going to have to step up this offseason to make up for some key lost innings from last year.
    4. Is Bellinger still a star? He was exposed last postseason but can he come back strong. If so, he’s a crucial bat for us, especially against RH starters.
    5. Can Joc & Keekay keep their October magic going. They were breakout stars last year and will likely need to repeat their performances for us to go all the way.
    6. Is the bench really as good as it looks on paper? Kemp, Taylor, Freese, Dozier, Barnes–these are guys with impact potential and will get their share of at-bats anytime from the 5th inning on.
    7. Roberts. Can he resist the urge to yank his starting pitchers so early? Can he trust all 25 men to do their jobs?
    8. Can Grandal be a difference maker? Barnes was the man last postseason, largely out of necessity. We need Grandal to be a calming force on our pitching staff and hold his own at the plate with some quality PA’s.
    9. Manny Machado tries to prove he’s a $300 million player. No more weak grounders on the first pitch with runners on base. He needs to be a force that pitchers have account for every few innings.
    10. Defense. Can Puig turn around a game with his glove/arm? Will Turner snare every screamer down the line? Is Dozier the answer up the middle?

  14. Dodgers are big favorites (again) and pretty hard to bet on even though they should take this series.
    Tonight: Dodgers -190 (Bet $190 to win $100)
    Series: Dodgers -260!
    Too much risk for the likely reward for my taste.

    Madson has been throwing heat with movement and is playoff tested. Stripling had no role and Fields is still not 100% I like the roster except the Braves have a lot of RHP so some will play more than others, it’s up to Doc to get everyone to buy in.

    Does anyone else think the A’s made a huge blunder going with a bullpen WC game? Sure hindsight is 20/20 but I called it out as soon as it was announced and I am still shaking my head. Maddon would have completely messed up his rotation if they had advanced using Lester, Hamels and Kendricks for multiple innings in their WC game. The Yanks and Rocks played it traditionally and both advanced.

  15. I’m an NL guy all the way but man this AL field is stacked. Every single potential ALCS is a winner [on paper].

    1. Houston vs. Boston (immovable force et cetera)
    2. NYY vs. Houston (the rematch)
    3. Cleveland vs. Boston (do you remember the 80s?)
    4. Cleveland vs. NYY (do you remember the 90s?)

  16. Ross Stripling was an All-Star… now he’s an afterthought.

    What happened?

    It feels like an injury!

  17. Joc
    Macho Man

    Doc has given Atlanta a perfect opportunity to bring in a lefty with Grandal and Bellinger back to back.

    1. Really don’t like Grandal hitting 5th ahead of the 2 fastest guys in the lineup. It’s a good defensive group and gets the hottest bats in there.

      1. I like Grandal, but I feel it is better for both Grandal and the team, if he is hitting seventh or eighth.

        I would have batted Cody fifth, and Puig sixth.

        And hit Grandal in front of Kike.

  18. As the Dodgers face the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. Dodger fans are reminded of the Kirk Gibson home run and our last World Series title in 1988. My memory of that moment was being 11 years old at my aunts house in EL Monte, Ca. Being in her front room with my cousin Adam. We jumped for joy when that home run was hit. My love for the Dodgers began that night. Well another nostalgia moment will be coming for us to partake in.

    Walk-Off Stories: Improbably Gibson, debuts Sunday, Oct. 7 at 11:30 pm ET on FS1 following the MLB on FS1 postgame coverage. Directed by Mike Tollin and Jon Weinbach of Mandalay Sports Media, the film presents an entertaining and fresh retrospective of Gibson’s historic walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. It features unique footage and insightful interviews from players, coaches, broadcasters, and fans including Gibson, Dennis Eckersley, Orel Hershiser, Vin Scully, Dave Stewart, and more.

    The Dodgers made me believe in miracles and underdogs that year. This Documentary will be different from other 1988 Dodger Documentaries that have come out recently because we can get to see interviews with fans which are hardly heard from in regards to this moment. I will be tuned in. Here’s to hoping for a Dodger World Series run.

    Below is a link to the trailer.

    1. One thing we do know about Madson, are that the Braves have seen him a lot more, then any of our pitchers, in our pen.

      And those last five appearances he made, was not necessarily against really good teams, either.

  19. The Kirk Gibson homerun changed a whole series by breaking the spirit of the A’s. How do you even begin to describe or quantify that? It set the tone, broke all momentum and sealed both teams’ fate. How do you explain that? How can you justifiy that? You can’t but it happend.

  20. That swing and miss not only cost the Dodgers a run, but it kept Foltynewicz from running his pitch up way into into the 30’s.

      1. Colts? Who dat? 😉

        Pacers are playing too. I’m so confused….

        the Dodgers are on the big screen.

  21. Getting the feeling Dodgers are more comfortable than I am with the 4 run lead. But it’s really probably about 3 runs more than they need.

    1. Machado got rung up on two bad calls. Ump has given the Braves low strikes but won’t give Ryu the inside corner.

      1. He’s always been a big game pitcher. I remember he kind of pooped himself his first playoff game years ago, but other than that he’s had nerves of steel.

  22. Clearly these announcers don’t do their homework. Capacity at Dodger Stadium USED TO BE 56,,000. A number of years ago the Dodgers did renovations during which the capacity was dropped down to about 53,000.

  23. Yasmani was trying to do the right thing. Tried to hit to RF to beat the shift. Unfortunately he got under the ball and hit it in the air to RF. Good approach.

  24. Wow – i loved the way that Ryu pitched tonight – that’s the point. He PITCHED. Changed eye level, speeds direction, hit the glove. I am frankly a little tired of the idea that the only way to win is to throw 98. Ryu put on a clinic. I can see the Dodgers sweeping the Braves – you never know of course but with Kershaw going tomorrow and Buehler in Game 3, they should sweep.

    Great game. But not for Machado – 0 for 4, 3 Ks, 1 GIDP, 1 error.

  25. Ryu was impressive, and Ferguson did well.
    I woulda let Kenley pitch the 9th to give him the work that he needs, and build his confidence.
    We were actually out hit 6 to 5, but our ability to hit HRs saw us through.

    Get the impression that Clayton not overly happy with not starting game 1.
    Wonder if that will effect his decision to opt out?

    Not so worried about Machado, more Bellinger tbh.

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