Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Playoffs Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

Eight notes and observations on each of the eight playoff teams ... as we assume the Dodgers won't be caught.

1. In which I advise that another team is mathematically alive

An eight-game winning streak--sorry, we don't get those in Toronto. I should explain. An eight-game winning streak is when a team wins eight games in a row. One win, then another, then six more. Does that make sense? Cool.--put the Dodgers in first on Sept. 7. Since then, they've held steady with a three-ish-game cushion over the Diamondbacks. Who haven't been eliminated just yet--as I write this, they're losing 4-2, but that's only one of the magic number of 3 the Dodgers currently have. Baseball Prospectus gives them a 98% chance of winning the division, so let's go with that.

Obviously, non-partisans would love the D-Backs to catch up, which would not only force a one-game playoff, but odds are, two young phenoms (Clayton Kershaw and Arizona's Max Scherzer) would get the start in the winner-take-all game.

2. Many reasons that Manny's raising the excitement...of many

One of those reasons? Manny Ramirez has hit nearly .400 since leaving the Red Sox. Clearly, it's the year of sluggers-being-traded-to-the-Los-Angeles-area-and-putting-up-monster-numbers.

3. Lowe billing, mail-in rebate

The Dodgers as a whole have a groundball-heavy staff but Derek Lowe's talents in this regard are entirely due to his ten-pound sinking fastball. Lowe also has sort of a reputation for tough losses: it seems he often pitches seven or eight shutout (or one-run) innings but is pegged with a loss when the Dodgers don't score. That's the downside to a pitcher's park, although Dodger Stadium has been more neutral lately.

As tough as Lowe is to hit, though, Chad Billingsley is the more valuable pitcher for the Dodgers this year. Born in Defiance, Ohio, which takes the "I live in the state of Denial" jokes to a new level, Billingsley is yet another youngster pushing this team into the postseason.

And the team's doing it without pushing him. It's usually a classic issue: you have a top prospect force his hand and get promoted during a pennant race, so do you ride the hot hand or protect the arm of a pitcher who's never pitched this late into the season? But this isn't Chad's first time at the rodeo: he pitched in the 2006 playoffs and his workload since turning pro (innings by year: 54, 134, 146, 161, 147, 198) has been increased steadily and reasonably. This sets the Dodgers up well for the playoffs, with two starters who can shut down the other team on any given day.

4. Russell Nathan Coltrane Jeanson Martin, Jr

Yep, another Martin Junior from Canada. This one's successful, though: he's a fabulous defensive catcher who's playable at third base to keep his bat in the lineup and a good offensive performer any way you look at it. Not as much power as last year, but how many other catchers hit leadoff and steal 20 bases a year? And inspire their signing scouts to include a dowry with their scouting report?

Also, Martin's lived in Toronto, Montreal, Paris, and now Los Angeles in his life. Would that we were all so worldly.

5. Sorry, Torre, no eight All-Stars in your lineup anymore

Interestingly, the Dodgers have gone to the extremes on both sides of the ball this year: they have an offence near the bottom and a defence near the top. Which basically means everyone who hit well last year doesn't anymore. Even Juan Pierre, who really didn't have much further down to go, has hit worse than he did in 2007. Aside from Manny, Andre Ethier and Martin, there aren't many hitters to worry about.

6. Our 1983-born players are better than your 1984-born players

Los Angeles' lineup tonight, by 2008 age: 23, 25, 36, 26, 34, 34, 22, 30, 20. They aren't the youngest team in the league, but the only younger team with any hope at the playoffs is the team chasing them. It's another reason why this race is actually quite interesting and maybe deserves more than a couple of bullet points in a post that has already assumed the race is over.

7. Can I get out of here without an Alyssa Milano reference?

Probably not. So here's her it's-called-a-blog. It could be worse. Andre Ethier has an iCab about food.

8. And what does Ballhype tell us this time?

Hank Steinbrenner out-crazies his father by passive-aggressively attacking Joe Torre and calling revenue-sharing un-American, Torre refuses to say "damn right I'm stoked over being in the playoffs while the Yankees crash and burn," and the first comment here is one that Rance Mulliniks would most certainly appreciate.

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