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Are Dodgers understaffed on the mound?

Dodgers' pitching can't match St. Louis' on paper, but with effective lefties Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw plus a deep bullpen, they like their chances on the field in NL division series.

October 07, 2009|Dylan Hernandez

The St. Louis Cardinals have a couple of Cy Young Award candidates in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. The Philadelphia Phillies have Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, the New York Yankees have CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the Boston Red Sox have Jon Lester and Josh Beckett and the Angels have John Lackey and Jered Weaver.

The Dodgers?

None of their pitchers won 13 games. Their only 12-game winner, Chad Billingsley, earned his last victory seven weeks ago.

Starting for them tonight in the first game of their National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals is Randy Wolf, a crafty 33-year-old left-hander who has never pitched in the postseason and, by his own admission, doesn't have "ace stuff." In Game 2, the Dodgers will hand the ball to Clayton Kershaw, a 21-year-old kid with 13 career victories.

So what matters more? That the Dodgers might be the only team in the playoffs without a bona fide ace? Or that their pitching staff posted a 3.41 earned-run average that was the best in the majors?

Conventional baseball wisdom dictates that pitching -- and starting pitching in particular -- wins championships.

But consider this: Sabathia has a career postseason ERA of 7.92.

And this: The team down Interstate 5 won a World Series in 2002 without a so-called ace.

"It can happen," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Our bullpen really evolved, gave us ability to shorten the game, which we did. If guys got to a certain point of a game, all of a sudden depth of our bullpen came into play in the fifth or sixth inning, not the seventh and eighth innings. If your bullpen is strong enough and you have enough depth, you can still win without a dominant starter."

The strategy was simple: Have the starter go five or six innings and put the game in the hands of a bullpen that included Troy Percival, Francisco Rodriguez, Brendan Donnelly, Scot Shields, Ben Weber and Scott Schoeneweis.

Angels starters averaged barely over five innings per postseason game in their run to the World Series.

The Dodgers think they have the kind of bullpen that could let them shorten the game in a similar way.

"We've had the best bullpen in the league all year," Kershaw said. "It's going to be one of our keys to winning the series."

Especially if Kershaw runs up his pitch count as he has several times this season.

Game 3 starter Vicente Padilla has averaged 5 1/3 innings per start with the Dodgers. The last time Game 4 starter Billingsley pitched more than six innings in a game was on July 5.

But there's a reason why the Dodgers feel comfortable.

Jonathan Broxton was an All-Star in his first full season as the Dodgers' closer, and he saved 36 games and posted a 2.61 ERA.

Midseason addition George Sherrill, formerly the closer for the Baltimore Orioles, had an 0.65 ERA in 27 2/3 innings with the Dodgers.

Ramon Troncoso (2.72 ERA) tied Broxton for the team lead in appearances with 73. Previously unknown Ronald Belisario posted a 2.04 ERA.

Jeff Weaver, who will be used as a situational right-hander in this series, was 6-4 with a 3.65 ERA as a long reliever and spot starter. Left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo battled injury and control problems but finished the regular season with a 3.00 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 30 innings.

The Dodgers' bullpen ranked first in the majors in ERA (3.14) and third in innings pitched (553).

"He gets you ready for it in the regular season," Sherrill said of Manager Joe Torre.

Still, the regular-season workload could be a concern.

In the previous 12 seasons, only the 2007 Colorado Rockies went on to play in the World Series with a bullpen that ranked in the top 10 in the majors in innings pitched during the regular season.

Torre has won before with this kind of formula. His 1996 New York Yankees, who won the World Series, ranked sixth in bullpen innings pitched.

The Cardinals' bullpen probably won't be as involved. Carpenter averaged 6.88 innings per start and Wainwright 6.85.

The Cardinals won the four games Carpenter and Wainwright started against the Dodgers this season.

Carpenter was 2-0 against the Dodgers and held them to three earned runs and 15 innings. Wainwright was 1-0 with two earned runs given up in 15 innings.

Game 3 starter Joel Pineiro held the Dodgers to one run in eight innings on July 29.

But the Dodgers aren't conceding that they're at a disadvantage.

Told by a reporter that on paper, the pitching matchups looked heavily slanted in the Cardinals' favor, Kershaw interjected, "According to you."

"I probably can't think they're better pitchers than me," said Kershaw, whose participation in last season's playoffs was limited to two innings of relief. "They had great seasons. But Game 1 is Game 1. Their seasons don't matter after that. They lose one game, they lose one game."

General Manager Ned Colletti offered a similar sentiment.

"Have they never lost a game?" Colletti asked. "Everybody can be fallible."

Kershaw said he doesn't understand why the Dodgers are heading into this series as underdogs.

"We didn't win the most games in the National League for no reason," he said. "We're a pretty good team ourselves."

--

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

PITCHING COMPARISON

Rotation

Combined statistics of the Dodgers' four starters (Randy Wolf, Clayton Kershaw, Vicente Padilla, Chad Billingsley) compared with the Cardinals' (Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Joel Pineiro and Kyle Lohse or John Smoltz):

*--* W-L ERA HR STRIKEOUTS WALKS DODGERS 43-32 3.59 64 621 289 CARDINALS 60-42 3.40 62 611 185 *--*

Bullpen

Combined statistics of the Dodgers' relievers (Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Hong-Chih Kuo, Jeff Weaver, Ramon Troncoso, Ronald Belisario, Jon Garland) compared with the Cardinals' (Mitchell Boggs, Ryan Franklin, Blake Hawksworth, Kyle McClellan, Trever Miller, Jason Motte, Dennys Reyes):

*--* W-L ERA SAVES BLOWN DODGERS 36-27 3.08 63 20 CARDINALS 22-17 3.16 42 12 *--*

-- Ben Bolch

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