MILWAUKEE -- At the Aug. 31 deadline to acquire postseason-eligible players, the talent-rich Dodgers added a 38-year-old relief pitcher with a 5.28 ERA that nobody else wanted because he cleared waivers. What in the world were they thinking?They were thinking that Ryan Madson could help get them right back to
MILWAUKEE -- At the Aug. 31 deadline to acquire postseason-eligible players, the talent-rich Dodgers added a 38-year-old relief pitcher with a 5.28 ERA that nobody else wanted because he cleared waivers. What in the world were they thinking?
They were thinking that Ryan Madson could help get them right back to the World Series, which will happen if they beat the Brewers on Friday or Saturday in the final two games of the National League Championship Series.
The club's five second-half acquisitions were meant not only to help win a tougher-than-expected sixth consecutive NL West title, but to win out in the October obstacle course.
"It was definitely a factor," general manager Farhan Zaidi said. "We made deals in the midst of a tight race, and the priority is to just get into the postseason. But once you're there, there's a special pressure involved and you want players on your 25-man roster that can handle it. That's part of the equation."
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The 5-for-1 blockbuster that landed superstar shortstop Manny Machado from the Orioles at the All-Star break was the obvious focal point for an offense that missed injured shortstop Corey Seager. But roster tweaking also added right-handed hitters David Freese and James Dozier, as well as right-handed relievers Madson and John Axford. All were rentals eligible for free agency after this season, all previously played in the spotlight of the postseason.
Machado, in his third postseason, has homered in both postseason series and driven in a team-high nine total runs. Freese's postseason heroics are legendary, and they continued to mount against the Braves in the NL Division Series, although he's been more of a threat than a force against Milwaukee (0-for-5 in five games).
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Dozier hit a career-low .215 this year, but he homered in his only postseason game during his time with Minnesota, and he has already driven in two runs against the Brewers. Axford had a 1.42 ERA in 12 postseason games, but his right leg was broken by a line drive in his third outing, and he hasn't been a factor.
But Madson, who has the equivalent of an entire season in just postseason play (52 appearances -- fourth all time -- and 66 strikeouts), has rounded out a bullpen that spent the entire season trying to find answers for the departures of Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson and the shoulder injuries that ruined the seasons of free-agent signing Tom Koehler and Tony Cingrani.
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Barely used in September (8 1/3 innings), Madson has become manager Dave Roberts' first responder for emergencies in his seventh postseason series. Madson has pitched in four of the five NLCS games after appearing twice in the NLDS, and in all six he entered mid-inning, four times with runners on base.
"A guy that's been in as many postseasons as he has understands what it takes to get ready and not let the moment get too big," said Roberts. "He had the worst numbers of his career, but our guys saw the value of low-hanging fruit, and it's paid off huge for us."
Offensively, Freese has made a greater impact than Dozier, but both have provided Roberts with right-handed options that allow the Dodgers to essentially make in-game "line changes" depending on the throwing arm of the next opposing pitcher.
And that can prompt unconventional pre-emptive moves from opponents, the most unconventional being the fake starting pitcher Craig Counsell deployed in a losing cause in Game 5, which gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Madson trade is a case study in the contrarian approach of Dodgers management, with a twist. They ignored a lengthy medical history that included two Tommy John operations and two stints on the disabled list this year for chest and back problems. They clocked him in the mid-90s once off the DL and dealt a Minor Leaguer to get him.
But even when the trade was announced, Roberts talked about the value Madson's two World Series rings (2008 Phillies, '15 Royals) bring for the experience, compared to a relatively young Dodgers bullpen. And Zaidi agreed there's a human element that really comes into play when the games are the most important.
"Having been deep into the postseason, I've gained an appreciation for guys that are unaffected by the spotlight and who rise to the occasion and we try to identify them," Zaidi said. "It's A, experience; and B, success in the big moment, and we've seen that it creates positive momentum."
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.