Now, the Dodgers must begin a remarkable winning streak to earn their third consecutive playoff berth. Though I don't expect the San Diego Padres to collapse as the 1951 Dodgers did, the young Padres haven't experienced the pressure of a playoff run. They don't know if their offense will disappear as the games gain more importance. Their young pitching staff hasn't pitched this much in its life, and the pitchers will probably struggle or develop sore arms.
The Dodgers have been through a playoff run and succeeded. If they begin playing up to their expectations, they should be a factor in both the NL West and the Wild Card races. If this team doesn't come out of this funk, the rest of the season will be forgettable for the Dodgers.
Obtaining Podsednik to play left field was brilliant on Colletti's part. Although most people expect to see Ramirez in left field when he returns to the disabled list, I'm not that sure. The Dodgers need power that Ramirez should be able to provide, but since he came back from his 50-game suspension last season, he hasn't had his power. This season, he has been on the disabled list three times with various leg injuries. The Dodgers need power off the bench that Ramirez could provide, and the Dodgers have defensive outfielders far superior to Ramirez.
With Furcal again on the disabled list with back problems, having Podsednik able to hit leadoff has helped the Dodgers. He has been getting on base frequently. His fantastic speed has helped to create runs. His defense has prevented many runs from scoring.
Theriot has stabilized second base and provided the Dodgers a good No. 2 hitter, which they lacked. Everyone misses the hard-nosed Blake DeWitt, but for the entire season with the Dodgers, he played out of position. Theriot's superior defense at second base has helped the stressed pitching staff. He has exhibited an ability to get on base regularly and willingness to advance the runner without worrying about his statistics. Having Matt Kemp, who leads the team in both striking out and hitting into double plays, hit second killed many possible rallies.
Lilly has done everything that the Dodgers could hope for when Colletti acquired him. He has won all four decisions since joining the Dodgers, and he has gone at least six innings in every start, putting less stress on a weary bullpen. On Thursday, for the first time in six years, Lilly pitched a complete-game shutout against the Colorado Rockies.
The Dodgers must get timely hitting to have a serious chance of going to the playoffs. Earlier this season, they didn't waste many scoring opportunities. Now, it's commonplace to see the Dodgers put at least two runners in scoring position with less than two outs and yet not score. This must change. The hitters need to stop trying to be heroes and do whatever they can. It might mean sacrificing an individual's batting average.
Early in the season, Joe Torre may have overused the bullpen, because the starting rotation had problems. Every reliever who plays for Torre should know that he has always used his bullpen more than other managers. Torre doesn't seem to trust most of his bullpen, and this leads to overworking some relievers and not giving enough work to others.
Hong-Chih Kuo is the most dominating reliever in the Dodgers bullpen, but after several arm surgeries, the Dodgers are hesitant to use him on consecutive days. After throwing over 50 pitches in one inning against the New York Yankees during June, Jonathan Broxton hasn't been right. However, during the series against the Colorado Rockies, I saw evidence of Broxton regaining his dominance and confidence. If Broxton gets a few more non-stressful pitching situations, I feel he should be able to reclaim his closer role.
The personal problems of Ronald Belisario and the mechanical problems of Ramon Tronsoco and George Sherrill have adversely affected the bullpen. Hopefully, Belisario can recapture the magic that he displayed last summer. Colletti can find another reliever on waivers before the month ends. The Dodgers must have an effective bullpen to salvage the season or possibly earn a playoff berth.
I am not giving up on this season for the Dodgers. It won't be an easy mountain to climb to have a memorable season, but these Dodgers can accomplish anything if they keep playing hard and working together.