Sarah's Take: Dodgers have to find a way sans Kemp
LA also likely without Ethier in NLDS, though he could pinch-hit
Most Dodgers fans were looking forward to the postseason this year because they felt that their team would have a great chance of ending their 25-year World Series drought. Despite having a poor September, Dodgers fans deserved to have high expectations heading into October with Clayton Kershaw, the best starter in baseball, plus Zack Greinke behind him.
However, on Sunday, the Dodgers learned they will not have Matt Kemp throughout the postseason. With Andre Ethier questionable for the NLDS, the biggest question needing to be answered by the Dodgers is who will play center field against the Braves in Thursday's series opener?
Although he didn't play during the Dodgers' historic hot streak, management hoped to have Kemp available during the playoffs, especially with Ethier likely limited to pinch-hitting roles during the Division Series. However, on Saturday, after a pregame workout, Kemp experienced pain in the troublesome ankle that kept him on the disabled list for over two months. Manager Don Mattingly scratched him fifteen minutes before game time as a precaution.
Everyone expected Kemp to play Sunday, but the ankle wasn't better Sunday morning, so the Dodgers scheduled an MRI. The test revealed immeasurable inflammation around the bones. This inflammation weakens the bones, so if Kemp even walks on the ankle for the next four weeks, he takes a considerable risk of breaking his ankle.
During the offseason, Kemp was going to have another surgery to clean out his shoulder. For the second consecutive offseason, Kemp will have to do rehabilitation in hopes of being ready for the next season.
Ethier hasn't played since Sept. 16 when he sprained his ankle. When the Dodgers were in San Francisco, he attempted to run the bases, but felt pain in the ankle. Even though he could play the outfield and hit without pain, the Dodgers sent him back to Los Angeles for an MRI that showed inflammation in the ankle.
Before Game 1 in Atlanta, the Dodgers will have Ethier go through a full workout to determine whether he can play. Mattingly isn't too hopeful that Ethier can roam center field any time soon.
The Dodgers are lucky that the playoffs won't be held in stadiums with large center fields. Although Turner Field is an adequate sized stadium, it doesn't have a cavernous center field like Coors Field or Marlins Park.
Many Dodger fans don't know the Dodgers actually have many options for center field. Skip Schumaker was a center fielder originally before the Cardinals made him a second baseman. On several occasions this season, Schumaker has played center. He has an adequate range and throwing arm. Though he gets plenty of hits, he doesn't have much power. The Dodgers' offense needs more power, especially when Hanley Ramirez has rested more than he has played since the Dodgers clinched the NL West on Sept. 19. Ramirez was resting an irritated nerve in his back that causes hamstring tightness. Hopefully, he hasn't lost his batting stroke.
Mattingly could also move Yasiel Puig from his customary right field to center. Even though the center fielder is the captain of the outfield, many baseball people think center field is the easiest outfield position because the center fielder doesn't lose sight of the flight of the ball. In both left and right fields, the outfielders temporarily lose sight of the fly ball because of the angle of where they play. Puig definitely has the biggest range of all Dodgers outfielders, and he hasn't seen a ball that he doesn't think he can catch. However, he tends to run into other players unless they watch out for him.
Playing in his first postseason series, Puig undoubtedly will want to do something special to impact the game. His overzealousness might cause him to make an error. Fewer balls are hit to right field, meaning that Puig will have fewer opportunities to make foolish rookie mistakes than if he were in center. Moving Puig's arm out of right isn't a good idea, because right is the farthest outfield position from third base. When a player can throw out a runner at third, it shifts the momentum of the game.
Scott Van Slyke, another rookie, can play right field. He doesn't have a great throwing arm and is slow of foot. However, he has massive power and did fantastically against the Braves during the regular season. Since the Braves have a good pitching staff and the Dodgers have struggled offensively in September, Mattingly might choose to play Van Slyke in hopes of generating more offense, but playing with two players out of their regular positions often spells trouble.
Losing Kemp for the postseason is a crushing blow for the Dodgers, especially if Ethier can't play in the NLDS. Great teams can overcome adversity. If the Dodgers are to win a world championship in 2013, they must find a way to win without Kemp.