MLB: The Dodgers’ Bumpy Path Back to the Postseason
As MLB’s most expensive club with Vin Scully in the broadcast booth for his final season, a return to the postseason for the Los Angeles Dodgers seems like a must for the franchise. Unfortunately for the club, the grueling baseball season is never kind to teams that start the season with injury issues, and this year’s group has been stung at an unheard-of rate. (At last count, 25 players had gone to the disabled list, a National League record.)
Nonetheless, LA started play on August 5 with a three-game advantage in the Wild Card race and reinforcements on board to contribute as Clayton Kershaw’s status shifts to “unknown” and Yasiel Puig gets reacquainted with minor-league baseball in America. It may be a bumpy road ahead, but there is hope for another Dodgers postseason appearance in 2016. Here’s what has to happen.
A stabilized rotation
“Ravaged” wouldn’t begin to describe the state of the Dodgers rotation, which began the season with three key starters on the disabled list and finds itself in the same position four months later. Just as Brandon McCarthy returned from his rehab period following Tommy John surgery, Kershaw went down with an injury that will keep him off the mound until at least September, with the possibility the Dodgers ace could be shut down until 2017.
Hyun-Jin Ryu went back to the DL after making one appearance and may also be lost for the season. Alex Wood, though not a key cog in the rotation, has himself been written out of the club’s plans for 2016. If there is any hope here, it will have to come from one new acquisition and a starter making his way back from surgery.
Rich Hill, acquired from Oakland (along with Josh Reddick) to bolster the rotation, is recovering from a blister on his pitching hand but is hopeful to start his first game in LA on August 7. The left-hander had been having a sensational year for the A’s (9-3, 2.25 ERA, 90 SO in 76.0 IP) before running into injury trouble of his own and would help the Dodgers weather the storm if he can return to form.
Brett Anderson, lost in Spring Training to a back injury, has been on the path back to the Major Leagues and may have only rehab appearance to go. Anderson impressed in his second outing back for LA’s Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on August 2, striking out eight of the 16 batters he faced across four innings of work. He could join the club by mid-August, barring any setbacks.
Otherwise, the Dodgers will continue depending on Kenta Maeda to deliver the quality starts he’s been serving up since joining the club over the winter. Maeda is leading the club in starts (22) and innings (125.2) while notching 10 wins through August 5. They’ll need his consistency for the duration of the summer to maintain this Wild Card advantage. But the offense’s resurgence must continue as well.
More power from Turner and Grandal
While Corey Seager has been the club’s best performer on offense in 2016, Justin Turner carried the Dodgers through what could have been the team’s darkest hour. In the 30 days leading up to the home series with Boston, Turner hit .313 with 8 HR and 21 RBI while playing an excellent third base. LA needed that thump with Puig and other position players failing to produce.
Yasmani Grandal has been right there with Turner, posting 7 HR and 15 RBI with a 1.174 OPS in 19 games following July 6. Now with Reddick aboard as Puig slides to a minor-league assignment or potential August trade, the Dodgers are praying this group can carry the offensive load for a team that has gotten remarkably good pitching, all things considered. (Dodgers pitchers rank second in WAR among all MLB teams in 2016.)
Reddick was hitting .296 with 19 extra-base hits and an .816 OPS in 68 games when LA acquired him from Oakland. His offensive infusion will be essential as the San Francisco Giants welcome Hunter Pence and Joe Panik back into the lineup in the coming weeks. The September divisional showdowns will decide the division as well as the Dodgers’ hopes for a Wild Card. LA will need all the runs it can get.
Fading Wild Card competition
LA grabbed hold of the first Wild Card with a 15-9 performance in July, and the competition has missed opportunities to take back some of those games. Miami, St. Louis and the Mets have all struggled since the last weeks of July, leaving the Dodgers with a decent cushion as reinforcements arrive in Chavez Ravine. The Giants’ recent slump has also left the door open to the division.
An injury to Yoenis Cespedes in the Yankees series has left the Mets forced to depend on new acquisition Jay Bruce to deliver the power for an anemic group of hitters. In the case of the Cardinals, streaky hitting and issues with the pitching staff are keeping that club from putting any distance between itself and the competition in the Wild Card race.
So the Dodgers will be able to control their own destiny in the final two months of the season. With or without the game’s best pitcher on the mound, this team has enough to make the postseason. Management and the front office have shown every commitment to providing the resources. (Hill and Reddick are both free agents after 2016.) Whether the players on the field can close the deal remains to be seen.
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