Despite having the best record in baseball until the middle of June, the Los Angeles Dodgers are now in a dogfight for a National League Wild Card berth. They don't have much chance of winning their division, as the San Francisco Giants' magic number for clinching the NL West stands at seven entering Wednesday's games.
The Dodgers were rained out on Tuesday, forcing them to play a doubleheader today against the Washington Nationals, whose record is the best in the National League. With the Dodgers battling injuries and having a difficult road trip until the last weekend of the season, playing a doubleheader doesn't enhance their chances of making the playoffs.
However, the Dodgers did receive some good news on Tuesday about Clayton Kershaw. He can resume throwing without risking further damage to his painful right hip.
Kershaw leads the league in strikeouts and has a 2.70 ERA. It was highly doubtful that the Dodgers could make the playoffs with their ace sidelined. The Dodgers haven't scheduled him in the starting rotation yet. He will pitch a bullpen session, and if he feels pain then, he likely will not pitch again this season.
The pitching staff has been battered and bruised over the season. The Dodgers lost two of their original starters to injuries, and this doesn't count Kershaw. If general manager Ned Colletti hadn't obtained both Joe Blanton and Josh Beckett, the Dodgers would have to use Stephen Fife and John Ely down the stretch. Though Fife did an excellent job Sunday against a potent St. Louis Cardinals offense, Ely has become the long man out of the bullpen, and it seems he allows runs every time he enters a game.
Even with the starting rotation needing help, the overused bullpen can't provide it. Javy Guerra is on the disabled list. Kenley Jansen was eligible to pitch competitively Tuesday, but he hasn't pitched in a game for over three weeks and will probably will be rusty. Scott Elbert wants to return this season despite needing elbow surgery.
The durability and exceptional work for the entire season from Jamey Wright has kept the Dodgers afloat. Wright, a 37-year-old journeyman, has bounced around baseball for the last several years, being a non-roster invitee to many consecutive Spring Trainings but always making the team.
With the Dodgers, Wright earned his way to pitch on the Major League roster as a long man. When the injuries were mounting, his status in the bullpen rose. Now pitching nearly every day, Wright has allowed only 65 hits in 62 innings this season. His determination to pitch on the Major League level has provided a great example of determination and dedication to a young bullpen.
The acquisitions of Brandon League and Randy Choate have helped the Dodgers to survive the injuries. Since they have joined the team, the bullpen has maintained its status of strength.
Injuries have weakened the pitching staff, but it has been holding the opposition to manageable scores. However, the offensive production has been anemic. If the Dodgers score more than two runs in in a game, their fans celebrate. This isn't the way to earn the right to go to the postseason.
Since the All-Star break, the Dodgers have been mediocre because their offense has struggled. Matt Kemp has returned from the disabled list and hit fine, just not at his torrid pace that the Dodgers have grown accustomed to.
Since Aug. 28, when he collided with the center field wall in Colorado, Kemp hasn't performed offensively. He has lost his bat speed with his shoulder injury that needs rest, but Kemp refused to leave the lineup.
Any other time during the season, Kemp would be on the disabled list, but the Dodgers clearly feel that they need him to win. However, manager Don Mattingly should move him out of the middle of the lineup. This might enable the team to score more. On Saturday, Kemp demonstrated that the shoulder injury -- or his previous collision with the fence -- hasn't deterred him from making fantastic defensive plays that allow his team to win games.
It's easy to look at the blockbuster trade with Boston and say those offensive players haven't performed. People say the team doesn't have chemistry anymore, and this is why they don't win. However, the Dodgers have gone into a team-wide offensive funk, and it has prevented them from winning. Everyone, except the pitching staff and rookie infielder Luis Cruz, who seems not to feel the pressure, looks like they aren't having any fun.
Baseball is a game. People play and watch it for entertainment. As the Dodgers battle for a playoff berth, they must remember that and have fun. If they can't do this, they will not earn the trip. After their fabulous beginning to the season and acquiring the players that were needed to shore up shortcomings, the Dodgers must answer many difficult questions if they don't make the playoffs.
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.