SAN DIEGO — If the Dodgers are to go far in October, they’re going to have to start winning in September. At least that has been the trend recently, with three of the last five World Series winners posting the best record in the last full month of the regular season.
And the other two had the majors’ second-best September record.
“I think there is a correlation,” said Skip Schumaker, who won two World Series rings with the St. Louis Cardinals. “You have to feel good about where you’re at and not coast into the playoffs.”
Hitting coach Mark McGwire, a player or coach on four World Series teams, agrees.
“You have to have momentum,” he said. “You have to have that feeling. There’s no switch that you just go, ‘OK, the light’s on. Playoff time. I’ve got to start tuning it up.’
“It’s tuned up [in] games prior to those.”
In that case, the Dodgers are due for a tuneup. Because even after Sunday’s 1-0 victory over the San Diego Padres, their third victory in four games, the team is 10-11 this month. And in the last 11 years only one team with a losing record in September recovered in time to win a title.
“Building the habit of winning, that’s the key,” Schumaker said.
Manager Don Mattingly isn’t so sure. The only time he reached the postseason as a player, in 1995, the New York Yankees finished the season 22-6 and were bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
“You’ve won seven in a row going down the stretch and you go ‘wow, we’re playing really good.’ And you lose the first [playoff] game. Now what happened to that momentum?” he said. “For me the playoffs are about who plays better that day. It’s going to be how we’re able to go out and play.”
The Dodgers went out and played well Sunday, or at least pitched well with right-hander Zack Greinke holding the Padres to two singles through five innings. He also doubled in his only at-bat, raising his average to .339 and making him the only Dodger to get past first base through six innings against starter Andrew Cashner.
Even with Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp starting together for only the third time since mid-July, the Dodgers managed only four hits against Cashner and three relievers, scoring in the seventh inning when Will Venable bobbled Michael Young’s two-out double in the right-field corner, allowing Adrian Gonzalez to score from first base.
Part of the reason for the Dodgers’ September slide is injuries. Kemp, Ramirez, Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have been sidelined this month. Andre Ethier’s pinch-hit at-bat Sunday was his first in nine days.
But since clinching the National League West title Thursday, the Dodgers have taken their foot off the gas pedal a bit. Greinke came out of Sunday’s game after only 72 pitches, for example.
Schumaker would rather see the team fight to the finish.
“You have to play the game to win just as you were in June, July, August,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any different. You should play like you’re out there to beat somebody.”
Mattingly, however, is focused more on the process than the results.
“I want us to keep playing well. And we’re playing to win games,” said Mattingly, whose pitchers gave up only two runs in three games in San Diego, posting consecutive shutouts for the first time in a month. “But really what matters is how we play.
“The playoffs are so much different than the regular season. You play 162, the best team wins the division. You get in a five-game set, it’s a whole different thing. You win Game 1 in a five-game set, it’s like ‘boom, momentum.’ The playoffs are a whole different animal.”