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Three keys for Dodgers in NL Division Series

Health, front and back end of pitching loom large for West champions

ATLANTA -- The most quoted Dodger after Sunday's regular-season finale was team surgeon Neal ElAttrache, which is no way to go into the playoffs.

But that's the kind of season it's been for the Dodgers, who held a pep rally with Matt Kemp on crutches, ruled out of the playoffs. Andre Ethier wasn't at the rally, also hobbled by a bad ankle and now limited to pinch-hitting.

The theme of this crazy season for the Dodgers has been "day to day." They'll only go as far in the postseason as their medical staff can take them.


The Dodgers couldn't get through the last week of the regular season without losing two of their four high-paid outfielders. And some people actually want them to trade an outfielder, as if they have too many.

Remember, they had 20 injuries requiring disabled-list trips prior to the magic turnaround date of June 22, and only five after.

When the Dodgers were relatively healthy this season, they mowed through the opposition at a record pace. But they struggled early when hurting, then struggled late with another wave of ailments, and there are other serious questions about their health as the rosters must be set.

Nobody is sure if Hanley Ramirez can stay in one piece, and he's the most important everyday player. He hasn't gone all-out in a month as he tries to avoid irritating a sciatic nerve condition in his lower back. Yasiel Puig has a bruised left shin. Utility men Jerry Hairston (back) and Nick Punto (toe) also missed games the last week.

On the bright side, the pitchers appear to be sturdy.

Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke

Barring the unpredictable, the Dodgers believe that their pair of Cy Young aces positions them to compete with any team, home or away, no matter how many other Dodgers are missing.

Greinke was signed for October. On most staffs, he'd be starting Game 1. But not this one. Kershaw was the ace the last time the Dodgers were in the playoffs in 2009, but he's made huge leaps since then to become a true elite pitcher.

Hyun-Jin Ryu gives the Dodgers three pitchers capable of dominance, but it's really up to Kershaw and Greinke.

Kenley Jansen

Jansen has been dominant since taking over the closer role from Brandon League, at one time retiring 27 consecutive batters for a reliever's perfect game.

The Braves, however, handed Jansen a pair of losses at Turner Field in May, so he'll need to erase that from his memory bank. And one more thing: He hasn't performed on the October stage, and the Dodgers remember the trouble Jonathan Broxton had with that final exam. Jansen hasn't given the club any reason for concern, improving as the season has progressed.

Jansen rebounded from last year's heart surgery and has stepped up his conditioning so he wouldn't wear down when it matters most. He's even mixing in more two-seamers and sliders to go with that Mariano Rivera cutter. And if things get dicey, Brian Wilson and his World Series rings are at the ready.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for

Los Angeles Dodgers, Zack Greinke, Kenley Jansen, Clayton Kershaw