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Dodgers Dugout: Some problems heading into the postseason

Dodgers Diamondbacks Baseball
Kenley Jansen
(Associated Press)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and I finally see the playoffs on the horizon.

Problems heading into the playoffs

It’s very odd to be a fan of a team that will finish with one of the best records in team history, yet has one glaring weakness that we’ve known about almost all season: the bullpen.

For two games, it looked like the old Kenley Jansen was back. And then he wasn’t. It’s a familiar pattern. He’s back! No, he’s not. He’s back for real this time! No, he’s not.

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It’s incredibly frustrating for fans, and incredibly frustrating for Jansen. We’ve been hearing all season how things will click into place for him, but it hasn’t happened.

So, what to do?

Time for a closer-by-committee. Pick the best matchups. Keep an eye on Jansen. Every fan I know can recognize pretty quickly if he has it that day or not. If he doesn’t, get him out of there quickly. In the playoffs, consider using Clayton Kershaw or Walker Buehler in a game on their throw days between starts. The Red Sox did that last year with Chris Sale and it worked pretty well.

Remember, the Astros (Ken Giles) in 2017 and the Red Sox (Craig Kimbrel) in 2018, both lost faith in their closers. But they didn’t sit there and keep running them out there. They were proactive in handling it and they both won the World Series. They relied heavily on their starting pitchers in the bullpen. The got inventive and creative. That’s what the Dodgers need to do.

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After Wednesday’s loss, Dave Roberts said this about Jansen: He “didn’t have the command he did the last few times out. When you don’t, you get exposed.” Well, if it’s NLDS Game 3, and you see Jansen doesn’t have his command, then get him out of there. Maybe I’m missing something, but that seems like pretty basic managing to me.

So, sorry for those who were hoping for a long rant. You can refer to several newsletters throughout this season if you want a rant. We’ve been talking about the bullpen for months. The time for talking and ranting is over. It’s time for the Dodgers to do something about it.

While we bite our nails over the bullpen, let’s take a look at Dodgers hitters who are hot or not heading into the final week of the season. Here are stats for the month of September.

Hot

David Freese, .400 avg/.438 OB%/.800 SLG%
Joc Pederson, .385/.415/.872 (five homers in 39 at-bats)
Russell Martin, .294/.368/.647 (two homers)
A.J. Pollock, .275/.339/.569 (four homers)

Doing OK

Cody Bellinger, .273/.385/.473 (three homers)
Gavin Lux, .267/.327/.467 (two homers)

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Corey Seager, .259/.295/.500 (four homers)
Chris Taylor, .244/.267/.465 (four doubles, two homers)

Cold

Matt Beaty, .194/.237/.417 (two homers)
Kiké Hernandez, .162/.205/.216 (six for 37)
Justin Turner, .158/.238/.316 (three for 19)
Max Muncy, .100/.217/.150 (two for 20)
Will Smith, .079/.143/.079 (three for 38)

The Will Smith slump is concerning. The league has figured him out, and he hasn’t adjusted. He has struck out 14 times in 38 at-bats this month and walked only three times with no extra-base hits.

Hernandez is always streaky. Turner and Muncy have been injured, so I’m not too concerned about them, though it would be nice to see Turner in the lineup before the playoffs start.

Now before you throw in the towel and just focus on the bullpen and the players who are slumping, keep one thing in mind: Every team has its flaws. It’s the team that can hide their flaws and accentuate their strengths that will go all the way. And, most championship teams have one or two unexpected players step up and shine. The Dodgers really haven’t had that the last two years. They need that this year. They need someone like Mickey Hatcher in 1988, a role player who stepped in for Kirk Gibson and could have easily been named World Series MVP.

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In 2017, I thought the Dodgers would win the World Series. The Game 7 loss (and the way it happened) was crushing. I didn’t think they would win last season, because Boston was obviously the best team in baseball. This season? If I had to put $1,000 on a team, I wouldn’t put it on the Dodgers. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think they have a chance. They do. It will take skillful managing and some players to step up and carry the team.

But we’ll talk more about that when the playoffs begin.

Postseason roster

With about a week to go in the season, let’s take another guess at the postseason roster. Names in bold are players that have moved onto or off the roster from last week’s prediction. Again, we will assume the team goes with 13 position players and 12 pitchers as it did last season in the NLDS:

Position players who are locks to make the team:

Cody Bellinger

David Freese

Kiké Hernandez

Gavin Lux

Russell Martin

Max Muncy

Joc Pederson

A.J. Pollock

Corey Seager

Will Smith

Chris Taylor

Justin Turner

Position players on roster if healthy:

Alex Verdugo: Unfortunately, Verdugo has already been ruled out of the NLDS because of his injured back. He could return for the NLCS, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

Last week, I didn’t have Lux as a lock because I wanted to make sure he didn’t have an extended slump. He has done pretty well and will make the team. I had Muncy on the “players on roster if healthy” list. Well, he’s healthy. And Freese probably should have been on the lock list last week.

So that’s 12 players on the roster. That leaves one spot among: Austin Barnes, Matt Beaty, Jedd Gyorko, Khristoper Negron, Edwin Rios.

I would like to make Beaty the 13th man, but he is slumping, and he goes 0 for the next week, he might not make it. But if the season ended today, he’d be on. I’m just not comfortable saying he’s a lock yet.

Now the pitchers

Pitchers who are locks to make the team

Pedro Baez

Walker Buehler

Kenley Jansen

Joe Kelly

Clayton Kershaw

Kenta Maeda

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Ross Stripling

Julio Urias

Roberts said Stripling was a “safe bet” to make the roster, so he joins the list.

Will make team if healthy

Rich Hill

Hill will be wearing a knee brace the next time he pitches for the Dodgers. If his body can withstand it, he will be on the roster.

Assuming Hill can pitch, that leaves two spots on the roster among:

Pitchers on the bubble

Caleb Ferguson

Dylan Floro

Yimi Garcia

Tony Gonsolin

Adam Kolarek

Dustin May

Casey Sadler

Matchups will determine if Kolarek or Ferguson make the team as the second left-hander behind Urias. In fact, the last two spots in the bullpen will probably be entirely decided by matchups. Is the opponent a fastball-hitting team? Have they had little success against Floro? Or against Sadler? If the team has a lot of left-handed hitters, then that could mean Kolarek and Ferguson make the team. And what will they do for a Game 4 starter? Send Hill out for a couple of innings? Go with May or Gonsolin?

There’s a lot to figure out and the Dodgers may not make a final decision until the day of Game 1.

Home-field advantage

Let’s look at the records first:

Houston Astros, 100-53, ---

New York Yankees, 100-54, 0.5 GB

Dodgers, 98-55, 2 GB

Minnesota, 94-59, 6 GB

Atlanta, 94-60, 6.5 GB

I think the Dodgers will hold off Atlanta for best record in the NL, but won’t have home-field advantage in the World Series if they play Houston or the Yankees. Remember, Houston and the Yankees hold the tie-breaker advantage over the Dodgers, so in effect, the Dodgers are three games behind the Astros and two and a half behind the Yankees.

Wild-card standings

And just who will the Dodgers play in the first round, if they maintain their advantage over Atlanta? Here are the wild-card standings through Thursday’s games:

Washington, 83-68

Milwaukee, 83-70

Chicago, 82-71, 1 GB

New York, 79-73, 3 GB

Philadelphia, 78-73, 3.5 GB

Arizona, 78-75, 4.5 GB

If two teams end the season tied for the second wild-card spot, they would play a game on Monday, Sept. Sept. 30 to determine the second wild-card spot. That winner would take on Washington the following day in the wild-card playoff game. The winner of that game then would take on the Dodgers in Game 1 of an NLDS series on Thursday, Oct. 3. If there’s a three-way tie for two wild-card spots, well, it gives me a headache to just think about it.

Here’s the NLDS schedule. Teams and times to be determined. Game 1, 2 and 5 (if necessary) would be at Dodger Stadium.

Thursday, Oct. 3, TBS
Friday, Oct. 4, TBS
Sunday, Oct. 6, TBS
Monday, Oct. 7*, TBS
Wednesday, Oct. 9*, TBS

*-if necessary.

NLCS schedule (Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at team with best record)

Friday, Oct. 11, TBS
Saturday, Oct. 12, TBS
Monday, Oct. 14, TBS
Tuesday, Oct. 15, TBS
Wednesday, Oct. 16*, TBS
Friday, Oct. 18*, TBS
Saturday, Oct. 19*, TBS

World Series (Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at team with best record)

Tuesday, Oct. 22, Fox
Wednesday, Oct. 23, Fox
Friday, Oct. 25, Fox
Saturday, Oct. 26, Fox
Sunday, Oct. 27*, Fox
Tuesday, Oct. 29*, Fox
Wednesday, Oct. 30*, Fox

*-if necessary.

Some stats

Corey Seager passed the 40-double mark for the second time in his career. A Dodger has hit 40 doubles in a season only 24 times. A look:

52, Johnny Frederick, 1929

49, Shawn Green, 2003

48, Babe Herman, 1930

47, Wes Parker, 1970

44, Shawn Green, 2000

44, Johnny Frederick, 1930

43, Steve Sax, 1986

43, Augie Galan, 1944

43, Babe Herman, 1931

42, Andre Ethier, 2009

42, Raul Mondesi, 1997

42, Dixie Walker, 1945

42, Babe Herman, 1929

42, Zack Wheat, 1925

41, Corey Seager, 2019

41, Adrian Gonzalez, 2014

41, James Loney, 2010

41, Billy Herman, 1943

41, Zack Wheat, 1924

41, Jimmy Johnston, 1921

40, Corey Seager, 2016

40, Eric Karros, 1999

40, Raul Mondesi, 1996

40, Red Smith, 1913

Also, Pedro Baez picked up his first career save a couple of weeks ago. He had pitched 328 games in his Dodgers career without recording a save. That was by far the most. Let’s take a look at the new leaderboard for most relief appearances as a Dodger without a save.

Adam Liberatore (2015-18), 118

Omar Daal (1993-95, 2002), 115

Luis Avilan (2015-17), 111

Cory Wade (2008-09), 82

Joe Blanton (2012-16), 75

Josh Lindblom (2011-12), 75

Dylan Floro (2018-now), 74

Scott Proctor (2007-08), 72

Ray Searage (1989-90), 70

Jeff Weaver (2009-10), 64

In case you were wondering (or even if you weren’t), the all-time record is 375 appearances for several teams by Ryan Webb from 2009 to 2016.

Ask Ross Porter

Ross Porter will once again answer reader questions this season. All you have to do is email me your question at houston.mitchell@latimes.com. I will forward the email to Ross, and he will answer some each week. Take it away, Ross.

Jeff Fellenzer of Los Angeles asks: Where does this Dodgers team rank in victories in franchise history?

Ross: Only eight have more wins in 136 seasons, and this 2019 club has nine games remaining to hike their 98 and move higher. Here are the only Dodger teams with more triumphs. 1953: 105; 1942 and 2017: 104; 1962 and 1974: 102; 1899: 101; 1941: 100; 1963: 99.

Kevin Armstrong of Dallas asks: Ross, do the Brooklyn Dodgers or Los Angeles Dodgers have the best all-time winning percentage?

Ross: The numbers are remarkably similar and almost eerie.

Brooklyn Dodgers: .544 (2,339 wins, 1,958 losses)

Los Angeles Dodgers: .541 (5,342 wins, 4,537 losses)

Editor’s note: This only counts games in Brooklyn played under the Dodgers name. They also played as the Robins, Bridegrooms, Superbas and a few others.

Judge Dave Stuart of Westlake Village asks: Are there any rules or restrictions on the dimensions that a team can set for its ballpark? We miss you, Ross.

Ross: Thanks, Judge. The centerfield fence must be at least 400 feet and a minimum of 320 to 350 feet in left and right fields.

Steve Polacheck of Rancho Mirage asks: During your time on the air with the Dodgers, which of their players had the highest batting average?

Ross: Mike Piazza had the eighth highest in team history when he batted .362 in 1997. That was the best by a Dodger in 61 years.

Ron Sanchez asks: How are playoff shares decided?

Ross: Postseason shares are based on a fixed percentage of the postseason gate receipts. Players decide who gets shares on their team and alsonon-players near the end of the season. The more shares, the less each is worth. Last year, the 10 playoff teams divided a record $88 million. A full share for the Dodgers was $262,000 which was $2,300 more than in 2017 when they also were National League champions. They gave out 67 full shares, over 13.290 partial shares and 24 cash awards.

Follow Ross on twitter at therossporter.

Scheduling note

There will be one more regular season newsletter next Friday, then we go almost daily during the playoffs. And let’s hope it stays daily through late October.

More KTLA games

Two more Dodgers games will be televised on KTLA Channel 5 this season:

Saturday, 6 p.m. vs. Colorado Rockies

Saturday, Sept. 28, 1 p.m. at San Francisco

Up next

All times Pacific

Tonight: Colorado (Peter Lambert) at Dodgers (TBA), 7 p.m.

Saturday: Colorado (Chi Chi Gonzalez) at Dodgers (TBA), 6 p.m., KTLA

Sunday: Colorado (Antonio Senzatela) at Dodgers (TBA), 1 p.m.

* left-handed

And finally

Wes Parker talks about his career in a discussion at Whittier College. Watch it here.

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me and follow me on Twitter: @latimeshouston. Subscribe to this newsletter by clicking here.


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