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Bill Shaikin ON BASEBALL

Maddux is a classic but may not be a fit for fall

September 20, 2008|Bill Shaikin

The Dodgers got another day closer to the playoffs, on a pretty miserable day for them. They lost, but so did the Arizona Diamondbacks, and so the Dodgers' magic number could be down to zero as soon as Tuesday.

So let's fast forward to the playoffs, using Friday's 7-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants as a springboard. The Dodgers' starters include perhaps the greatest pitcher of his generation, and yet Greg Maddux could be the odd man out of the rotation come playoff time.

It is a curious, even ludicrous, proposition, at least at first glance. Maddux accepted a trade to the Dodgers for one more shot at October. He has the cool, the smarts, the experience.

What he does not have, at least not right now, are the cold, hard numbers to secure a spot in the postseason rotation.

Maddux was rocked by the Giants on Friday, giving up seven runs in five innings, and that in itself means nothing. In his previous start, after all, he threw seven shutout innings at Coors Field.

But Maddux has seven victories this season, all against teams in the National League West.

The playoffs do not admit teams under .500, and he has not beaten a team that currently has a winning record since April.

His record against those teams: 1-7 in 13 starts, with a 4.76 earned-run average. The team he beat? The Dodgers.

His overall ERA is 4.31, the highest among the Dodgers' starters.

Manager Joe Torre tread lightly on the topic, mindful of baseball etiquette. It is unseemly to go into great detail about the playoffs, lest you not get into them. So long as the magic number is greater than zero, presume zero.

This much we can tell: Derek Lowe would start Game 1. Lowe is scheduled to start Sunday and again Friday, which would set him up to start Game 1 on regular rest.

Chad Billingsley could start Game 2. He is scheduled to start Tuesday and again on the final day of the regular season. Assuming the Dodgers have clinched by then, he could pitch a few innings to stay sharp, then start Game 2 on three days' rest.

Should the Dodgers make the playoffs, Torre said he would plan to use four starters. He said he would not consider a three-man playoff rotation because the workload could be strenuous on Billingsley, who is finishing his first full season as a major league starter.

"Not at this point in time, with the innings he's pitched," Torre said. "That's not something you want to plan to do."

So that leaves two spots for three starters, among Maddux, Hiroki Kuroda and rookie Clayton Kershaw.

Kuroda is finishing strong, with a 2.50 ERA since Aug. 1. Kershaw is finishing strong too, but he's at 162 innings, in a season the Dodgers had targeted him for 170.

"We'll get to Oct. 1 and see where we are," Torre said. "Our first consideration is to win now. You can't really shut somebody down, when he's got the ability to help us in the bullpen."

That isn't to say Kershaw necessarily is bound for the bullpen. The Dodgers haven't clinched a playoff spot, let alone learned their opponent.

But, at this point, that opponent figures to be the New York Mets or the Philadelphia Phillies, and that could sway Torre and his coaching staff.

Kershaw is the Dodgers' lone left-handed starter, and the Mets and Phillies each have key players who hit much better against right-handers -- Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes for the Mets, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for the Phillies.

Should the Dodgers use Kershaw in the bullpen, Torre said, they would not use him as a situational left-hander. Kershaw would warm up normally and enter at the start of an inning, Torre said, not rush into a bases-loaded jam with one out in the eighth.

There is something to be said for experience. Maddux has started 30 playoff games, Lowe seven, the rest of the Dodgers starters zero.

There is something to be said for success. Maddux has 354 major league victories, plus 10 in the postseason. Kuroda has nine major league victories, Kershaw four.

And there is something to be said for a nice cushion, for the chance to hear questions about the playoffs instead of the winter. The Dodgers lead the National League West by 3 1/2 games, a big lead with eight to play.

"Is this a big lead?" Torre said. "I wish it was bigger."

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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