The Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the National League West title last Thursday. Considering the fact that the Dodgers lingered in last place for the first two months of the regular season and looked like they couldn't do anything right, it was amazing that they were the first team to clinch their division.
By clinching early, the Dodgers have an opportunity to rest their regulars and align their starting rotation, but they have to keep their competitive edge heading into the playoffs. Again, they are dealing with injuries to two important players, and the Dodgers will need them in the playoffs to have much chance of advancing to the World Series.
Whenever Hanley Ramirez plays, the Dodgers usually win. For the past 10 days, Ramirez has been dealing with a nerve problem in his back, causing hamstring tightness. During the series with the D-backs, Ramirez played two games. He was vital in these victories, including hitting two homers in the game that the Dodgers clinched.
Arguably, Ramirez has been the team's MVP this year. Losing him for the playoffs would weaken the offense. Having a nerve problem in his back sounds serious, but the Dodgers don't think it is. If he doesn't play until the playoffs, he will lose his timing with his hitting. Ramirez provides protection for Adrian Gonzalez in the lineup, and although Gonzalez leads the team in home runs, Ramirez has shown more power than any other player.
If Ramirez plays, he can get hurt and miss the entire postseason. He hasn't played in the playoffs before. The Dodgers need Ramirez in the lineup to be productive. Without Ramirez, the opposition should walk Gonzalez with runners in scoring position, because he is the only proven run producer. Although Nick Punto can play an adequate shortstop, he doesn't have the range that Ramirez has. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has a major dilemma deciding whether to play Ramirez to have him in top form for the playoffs or to rest him until the playoffs in hopes of getting him healthy.
Andre Ethier was also important to the Dodgers' success. After a miserably slow beginning to the season, Ethier has been a major contributor to the offense. Even though he doesn't catch the media headlines, Ethier's dependability and unselfishness have set an example for the Dodgers. During the playoffs, the Dodgers will need Ethier, who is nursing an injured left ankle, even though many baseball pundits believe the Dodgers have plenty of outfielders.
The time between clinching and the playoffs gives the Dodgers time to evaluate players who might deserve to be on the playoff roster. Although Matt Kemp hasn't played most of this season, he is playing now. Especially if Ethier can't play in the first round of the playoffs, the Dodgers will need Kemp.
Although the decisions that possibly will be made by the Dodgers management will anger some Dodgers fans, the Dodgers need to put the best team on the field. Each round of the playoffs can have a different roster. The first round of the playoffs need fewer relievers than any other round of the playoffs because it's the best of five. Hence, an extra hitter might cause a deciding victory. Choosing a roster for the playoffs is difficult, but it can be the most important roster of the year. Dodgers fans don't know what is going on with a certain player. We shouldn't criticize the choices that Dodgers management makes.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.