Supporting cast has Dodgers in good standing
All bets are off in playoffs, but depth of roster has led to cushion in NL West
LOS ANGELES -- Stars command the attention and headlines, but over the course of the long season, strength in numbers can be as important as the numbers of the big names.
While Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Adrian Gonzalez have led the way to a 7 1/2-game National League West lead that doesn't seem to offer much comfort to nervous Dodgers fans, depth and balance have been critical elements as well.
Manager Don Mattingly has quality options all over the field, and he doesn't mind using them to give veterans breathers and ample time to heal from injuries. Tuesday night's 16-inning setback against the Rockies notwithstanding, it's been a nice 16-5 run since Aug. 25 by Donnie Baseball's troupe.
We remember and treasure the October magic of Mantle, Berra, Koufax, Gibson, Jeter and Posey, but pennants and championships can't be won without a roster full of good players to complement the household names. This isn't the NBA.
Here in Dodgertown, Jimmy Rollins jams a knuckle in his throwing hand, and super rookie Corey Seager shows why he's hailed as a star of the future. Yasmani Grandal injures his left shoulder, and A.J. Ellis resumes his old station behind the plate to remind everyone why pitchers have such trust in his all-important game-calling abilities.
Howie Kendrick, remarkably consistent and durable, pulls a hamstring and makes the acquisition of proven winner Chase Utley look like a stroke of fortune. Justin Turner settles in at third base, slashing bullets, but he also is ready to use his versatility and play elsewhere in a heartbeat.
A crowded outfield is a shifting cast of characters, seemingly changing by the day with Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford down. Andre Ethier reaches back and delivers in a big way as Joc Pederson, after a dynamic start, struggles with contact. Justin Ruggiano shows up and immediately starts crushing lefties alongside Scott Van Slyke.
The hits -- and contributions -- keep coming.
The rotation behind Kershaw and Greinke isn't as stable as anyone would like, nor is the bullpen in front of Kenley Jansen. But enough outs are secured to go to the head of the class and stay there, so maybe everyone should just take a deep breath, exhale and enjoy the show a little.
Certainly there are no guarantees in this sport. With a rotation made for October, the Braves won 14 division titles in 15 years but only one World Series, while the Marlins, with a constantly changing roster, won two Fall Classics without claiming a single NL East crown. The Twins, with a total of two division titles, also captured two World Series in that era, including the 1991 Fall Classic at the Braves' expense.
Go figure. Hall of Famer Bobby Cox just shakes his head. The one World Series claimed by Atlanta, in 1995 against a 100-44 Cleveland club, came with the Braves' premier postseason pitcher -- Hall of Famer John Smoltz -- getting knocked out in the third inning of his lone start against the Indians.
Speaking of the Tribe, how could that team, with a lineup as loaded as you could imagine, not snatch a World Series in six postseason trips in seven years? That 1995 loss to the Braves was just the start of the October suffering.
Texas, with another lethal lineup, was denied in back-to-back Fall Classics (2010-11), coming within one strike of the celebration in Game 6 in St. Louis in 2011. Sorry for opening that wound, Rangers fans, but a point is being made here: This is a humbling, humbling game.
Watching Kershaw and Co. stumble against the Cardinals the past two Octobers has been painful for a fan base that hasn't cheered a World Series champion since 1988. But hardcore Dodgers fans should consult with their brothers and sisters in Atlanta, Cleveland and Texas if they want to know how cruelly unpredictable the month can really be.
The Dodgers have some issues to resolve in these remaining 18 games. They also have a 7 1/2-game lead, Greinke and Kershaw, a good clubhouse environment and a roster loaded with capable players.
Do you think Giants manager Bruce Bochy would happily swap positions with Mattingly right about now?