The Los Angeles Dodgers are one win (coupled with any Arizona Diamondbacks loss) away from clinching the National League West and, thus, a playoff spot. In the second half, the Dodgers have been one of the hottest teams in baseball. But down the stretch, the injury bug is rearing its ugly head again.
Matt Kemp's sprained ankle turned into a month-long ordeal, while Hyun-Jin Ryu missed a start with back stiffness and just got back on track on Monday. Hanley Ramirez tweaked a nerve in his back, Carl Crawford needs regular rest, Andre Ethier aggravated his ankle and Yasiel Puig is banged up all over.
That's why—despite the intense frustration among Dodgers fans over the last week of sloppy baseball—the lineup has been so unrecognizable.
Don Mattingly is resting the regulars to get them healthy in time for the first round of the playoffs, while also trying to get some September call-ups a few big league at-bats. It's nothing to be worried about. Come October, you'll more than likely see the following batting order in Los Angeles:
1. Yasiel Puig, RF
I prefer Puig in the leadoff spot, where he's batted a measly .422 with five homers and 14 RBI. He is more apt to make an early impact with his penchant for swinging early and often. Once on base, he can cause problems. Carl Crawford can too, but he's really only a "leadoff hitter" in some people's eyes because he is a speedy lefty.
2. Carl Crawford, LF
Ideally, Puig would lead off each playoff game with a single and Crawford would move him into scoring position, where the dynamic duo of Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez would bring him home. Every game. Ever. But really, Crawford is a pretty good contact guy who can lay down a bunt or beat out a double-play ball, so I like him in this spot.
3. Hanley Ramirez, SS
There is no question in my mind that Ramirez should be hitting in the three-hole. It's the opinion of this writer that your best hitter should hit third, allowing for a guaranteed at-bat in the first inning of every game. Ramirez is going to hit the ball hard, and probably drive in a run if a runner is in scoring position. Plus, he can give you a long ball any given day.
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Don't get my logic twisted here: Adrian Gonzalez is the Dodgers' offensive MVP of 2013. He has proven to be incredibly clutch and is having a powerfully consistent season in the heart of the order. Gonzalez can hit lefties and righties no problem, and possesses power to all fields. With runners on base in front of him, Gonzalez will bring them in.
5. Matt Kemp, CF (Andre Ethier vs. RHP)
The only sure thing in the Dodgers outfield in the playoffs should be Puig. Crawford and Ethier struggle against lefties, which is one reason having a plethora of starting outfielders won't affect this team as much as fans may think. Kemp will get a lot of playing time, including the nod in center in a toss-up situation (going 4-for-4 in your first full game back from the DL helps). Hopefully, both he and Ethier go into the postseason fully healthy.
6. Juan Uribe, 3B
Believe it or not, Juan Uribe has been one of the hottest hitters on this Dodgers team in September. He's hitting .310 with five homers (three in one game against his old team, the San Francisco Giants) and 11 RBI this month. Don't let Michael Young's presence scare you—Uribe is the starting third baseman, and will be in October.
7. Mark Ellis, 2B
One thing I've noticed about Ellis after years watching him in Oakland and now with the Dodgers, is that he is a truly professional two-strike hitter. Of Ellis' 44 RBI, 25 of them have come with a two-strike count. Even if he's an average hitter overall, that's a pretty nice weapon to have hitting seventh. Plus, his ability to hit in the two-hole and his Gold Glove-caliber defense make him indispensable.
8. A.J. Ellis, C
For the second year in a row, Ellis has started to noticeably fatigue down the stretch. That's pretty normal for a catcher, but it seems to be at a faster rate for Ellis. He's seen his batting average dip to a paltry .240, and only gets on base at a .322 clip, as compared to .373 in 2012. At this point, and when surrounded by these hitters, Ellis is purely a defensive weapon.
9. Clayton Kershaw/Zack Greinke/Hyun-Jin Ryu/Ricky Nolasco, SP
Don't take this group lightly with the bat. They lead the majors in pitcher's batting average, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see one or two of them come up with a clutch base hit in a playoff game. Greinke, especially, is an extremely smart hitter, and Kershaw has 10 RBI to his name. But obviously, the Dodgers and their fans would prefer all four guys focus on shutting down the other teams' batters first and foremost.
Who would you like to see in an ideal postseason lineup for the Dodgers? Comment below with your take!