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Dodgers Dugout: Taking a look at the lineup and rotation

Chris Taylor celebrates a two-run home run with Will Smith.
Chris Taylor celebrates a two-run home run with Will Smith.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and, amazingly, there are only 10 games left in the season and the Dodgers are the first team to clinch a playoff spot.

As the playoffs draw near, let’s look at two areas that seem to cause a lot of angst among some Dodger fans: Lineup construction and the rotation. Of course, some Dodger fans have a lot of anxiety whenever they lose a game. You should have seen some of the emails I got after they lost that first game to the Padres.

Let’s start off with the lineup. The biggest cause for concern seems to be: The Dodgers have a lot of hitters batting below .220, and those batters hit far too high in the lineup.

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Keep in mind the Dodgers (through Tuesday) were third in runs scored in the majors (just behind those pesky Padres), are 11th in batting average, eighth in on-base percentage and fourth in slugging. They have an OPS+ of 116, meaning their offense is 16% better than the league average, the fourth-best mark in the majors. The top team? The Padres, with a 123 OPS+.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Focusing only on batting average when assessing a player’s offense is a big mistake. You have to look at the total picture. That includes walks and power. Remember, OPS+ basically compares a player’s offensive contributions to the league average and converts that into a number. An OPS+ of 100 means you are at the league average. An OPS+ of 110 means you are 10% better than average. An OPS+ of 90 means you are 10% worse than average, etc.

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Here are the Dodgers position players, with their batting average and their OPS+ (the average hitter this season is batting .246):

Austin Barnes, .257 (89 OPS+)
Matt Beaty, .220 (72)
Cody Bellinger, .215 (89)
Mookie Betts, .304 (162)
Kiké Hernandez, .235 (86)
Gavin Lux, .163 (61)
Max Muncy, .198 (99)
AJ Pollock, .277 (123)
Joc Pederson, .174 (73)
Edwin Rios, .196 (104)
Corey Seager, .308 (152)
Will Smith, .300 (175)
Chris Taylor, .278 (124)
Justin Turner, .298 (123)

As you can see, Max Muncy is hitting only .199 (through Tuesday), yet he is about a league average hitter thanks to his walks (32) and power (10 homers). Austin Barnes is hitting 42 points higher than Cody Bellinger, but has the same OPS+.

And let’s say that you bench Bellinger or Muncy, as some want to do. Who do you replace them with? You could say Rios, but then you’d have to ignore what many are focusing on: batting average.

So, no, I don’t see the lineup as a huge problem right now. You can make a case that Smith should be batting higher, or Bellinger lower, but that’s just tinkering around the margins. The Dodgers have one of the best offenses in the game, don’t mess around too much with what is working.

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Now, the rotation

Last season, the following pitchers made starts for the Dodgers:

Walker Buehler, 30 starts
Hyun-jin Ryu, 29
Clayton Kershaw, 28
Kenta Maeda, 26
Ross Stripling, 15
Rich Hill, 13
Julio Urias, 8
Tony Gonsolin, 6
Dustin May, 4
Caleb Ferguson, 2
Casey Sadler, 1

They lost Hyun-jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Casey Sadler (who was really only used as an opener) in the off-season, meaning they had to make up a total of 69 starts, the equivalent of about 26 starts in a 60-game season.

This season, they have gotten starts from:

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Urias, 9
May, 9
Kershaw, 8
Stripling, 7
Buehler, 7
Gonsolin, 6
Brusdar Graterol, 2
Ferguson, 1
Alex Wood, 1

David Price was supposed to be part of this season’s rotation, but he opted out over coronavirus concerns, so in effect, the 69 starts they lost have been soaked up by Julio Urias, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin. If Walker Buehler comes back from his blister fine next week, the Dodgers’ playoff rotation could be:

Kershaw
Buehler
Gonsolin
May

That’s just speculation on my part. For me, Gonsolin is clearly worthy of a spot, but, the Dodgers will look at who best matches up against their first-round opponent.

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And Dodgers fans should be more than comfortable with those four pitchers starting in the postseason.

Let’s face it, the two best teams in the NL are the Dodgers and the Padres. That’s what made their three-game series this week so exciting. That’s why the Padres were barking and acting chippy during the games. They are the young upstarts trying to knock the big dog down. When the Dodgers lose a game to the Padres, don’t hang your head in shame and knock the team. There’s no shame in losing to another good team. Tip your cap and say “We’ll get you tomorrow.”

If the Dodgers get past their first-round matchup, and the Padres get past their matchup, they will probably be facing each other in a best-of-five NLDS. And that series, for me, will decide who wins the NL. And Clayton Kershaw, Buehler, Gonsolin and May against Mike Clevinger, Dinelson Lamet and Zach Davies will be a great matchup.

But that best-of-three first round is scary. Particularly if they play the Giants.

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Dodgers’ remaining schedule

The Dodgers have 10 games left:

Sept. 17-20: at Colorado
Sept. 22-24: vs. Oakland
Sept. 25-27: vs. Angels

And here’s the remaining schedule for the Padres:

Sept. 18-20: at Seattle
Sept. 22-23: vs. Angels
Sept. 25-27: at San Francisco

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After Wednesday’s win, the magic number to clinch the division is six.

Should Kenley Jansen be replaced as closer?

The results of the poll, after 10,027 votes:

Yes, 51.02%
No, 48.98%

Ask Ross Porter

Former Dodgers broadcaster Ross Porter is back for another season of “Ask Ross Porter.” We have a new email address this season for it. Ross will have access to this email address and will get your questions without me having to forward them. So, if you have a message (like thanking him for his years as a broadcaster) and not a question, feel free to let him know. Send your question or comment to rossporterdodgers@gmail.com.

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Douglas Moore asks: Pitcher Victor Gonzalez of the Dodgers is wearing a different hat. Is he out of uniform?

Ross: No. There’s nothing in the rules that requires a player to even wear a cap.

John Robbins asks: Ross, were the three blown saves by Jansen, Alexander, and Santana in a game against the Giants a few weeks ago a record?

Ross: It was a Dodger record, John, but not a major league one. The Astros had four against the Cubs in 1985. There is no such thing as a blown hold.

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Gary Bohamed of Santa Clarita and Jeff Wright of Woodland ask: Ross, what happens to all those baseballs that are discarded during a game?

Ross: The best balls are kept for batting practice, then infield practice, batting cage, sent to the triple-A team or sold in the stadium gift shop. A baseball is usable an average of six pitches.

Tyler Jackson of Burbank asks: Baseball is playing a 60-game season. Which team has had the hottest 60-game stretch in history?

Ross: The 1906 Cubs and 1912 Giants both won 52 of 60 games in their schedules and the 2017 Dodgers went 51-9 in June, July, and August.

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Edwin Jiminez asks: Hi, Ross, why do pitchers fall off the mound after releasing the ball?

Ross: Edwin, a pitching coach says it’s because they are driving too hard with their back leg which causes the arms to be behind the legs and forces the pitcher to be off balance and fall.

Dana Goodrich asks: Running a straight line is the shortest distance around the bases. Why do baserunners stand well back of the direct line between bases?

Ross: Researchers at Williams College have determined that a batter or runner is wise to take a curved path which is 20% faster than going on a straight line. On an inside-the-park home run, the difference is 16.7 seconds compared to 22.

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Dan Tuthill of Peconic, New York, a Dodger fan of over 60 years, asks: Ross, who was the first Latino player in the major leagues?

Ross: Colombia-born Luis Castro was the first, playing only in 1902 for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. Dan, it was the second season of Mack’s record 50 years as the team’s manager, and he was also a co-owner, finally stepping down at 87.

Up next

Thursday: Dodgers (Julio Urías) at Colorado (Kyle Freeland*), 5:30 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Friday: Dodgers (TBD) at Colorado (Ryan Castellani), 5 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570

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Saturday: Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw*) at Colorado (TBD), 5 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570

Sunday: Dodgers (Tony Gonsolin) at Colorado (Antonio Senzatela), noon, SportsNet LA, AM 570

*-Left-handed

And finally

In the movie “42", Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) reacts after getting spiked at first base. Watch it here.

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Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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