The Limping Dodgers And The Truth About Playoff Baseball

Updated: October 14, 2013
Photo Courtesy of SFGate
Photo Courtesy of SFGate

The playoffs stink. Not just in baseball but in every sport (expect maybe basketball). Sure, the playoffs give us the most intense action, unlikely heros, legendary moments and, over all, the most awesomest, exciting, top notch baseball possible for an entire month–but they still stink. For a lot of these teams, playoff success all boils down to who gets hot at the right time and who stays the healthiest. Really, it has surprisingly little to do with who was the best over the course of a 6 month season. We talk about this problem with the one-game Wild Card playoff but doesn’t a 5 or 7 game series really suffer from the same ailment?

It’s not just baseball that faces this issue, either. Think about football. I’s all about who gets hot when. Do you really think the Ravens were the best team in the NFL last season? Or that the 18-0 Patriots were an inferior team to the Giants the year of the David Tyree and the helmet catch? Remember that year the sub-.500 Seahawks beat the Saints in the Divisional Round? All of these playoff games are subject the same random sets of circumstances as any other game and often times don’t do that much to reflect which team is actually superior. (The exception, as I noted, might be the NBA, whose absurd 2 month long playoffs might really determine who is the best team but does it at the expense of dragging on and on and on and on….)

I think if we had to do ‘sports’ over again, a regular season-then-playoff set up might not be the one that we, collectively and as a society, ought to chose. But, as it is, this is the one we’ve got and we have to make the best of it. This, finally, brings me to the Dodgers.

The Dodgers spent the spring as baseball’s biggest disappointment, the summer as it’s awe-inspiring story of redemption/rejuvenation, and the fall as a played-out afterthought. They are, at least as much as anyone this season, a superteam, fielding big name stars at almost every position. Once they hit their stride this season, they turned in one of the most impressive months+ of baseball ever and were almost unbeatable for a time. Despite this potential dominance, they find themselves down 2-0 to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS (it’s for another post but I am so sick of the Cardinals in October, this must be how the rest of the world feels about the Yankees).

The Dodgers aren’t dead yet, not by a long shot, but they lost with their best 2 pitchers and have to face the Cards’ best tonight.

To make matters worse, and to back up my point quite well, the Dodgers lost in game 2 to Michael Wacha, one of the those guys who every year makes his name in the playoffs and who, when he beat them on Saturday, had made 11 big league starts, INCLUDING PLAYOFFS! This is exactly what I mean. Wacha wasn’t what helped the Cards get to October. Not by a long shot. That was Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn and Edward Mujica (another guy who has been supplanted from his job only now that it’s crunch time). Yet that’s who the Dodgers drew–and he won.

Perhaps even more important than what is going on in the St. Louis dugout is what’s happening in LA’s own clubhouse. Matt Kemp, the Dodgers most talented outfielder who battled injuries all season, is out and won’t be back. Andre Ethier, who would be the starting center fielder, is out too with a microfracture in his leg and trying hard to return this series, and Hanley Ramirez, who really is their best hitter right now, was scratched from the game 2 lineup with a hairline rib fracture after being hit by a pitch in game 1.

Three, or at least two, major components of the Dodgers’ run up to the playoffs are now unavailable. The Dodgers that played game 2 against Wacha’s Cardinals are not the Dodgers who played Shelby Miller’s Cardinals this summer.

But them’s the breaks. Even as Adrian Gonzalez finds himself as the lone superstar in the middle of the lineup, the Dodgers will take the field for game 3 later today. This team needs to find a way to beat Adam Wainwright if they hope to hand the series back to the Cy Young winners at the top of their rotation. They have to hope that they can get healthy enough to take down St. Louis, or more likely, that their backups can pick up the slack.

Juan Uribe, Michael Young, and Skip Schumaker are not ideal starters for this Dodgers team. But, Allen Craig, the Cardinals’ best offensive weapon is out too. Every year for every playoff team, crazy stuff happens. Every team, or at least the ones good enough to be memorable, has some young gun step up or some big injury fell a key piece. Remember Trevor Rosenthal for St. Louis last season? Or David Price out of the bullpen for the Rays his rookie year? It’s why guys like Billy Hamilton make postseason rosters–because as fun and awesome and exciting as playoff baseball can be (case in point, last night’s epic ALCS game at Fenway), the playoffs are  rarely a well-fitting capstone on the regular season.

Maybe that incongruity is part of what makes them so great.

-Max Frankel

One Comment

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