Thursday, October 10, 2013

Andre Ethier's impending return could be big boost for Dodgers in NLCS

The Dodgers showed some surprisingly good offensive output against the National League’s best pitching staff in the first round of the playoffs. The team could get even stronger with the return of Andre Ethier.

Ethier, who’s suffering from an ankle sprain, made three pinch-hit appearances in the National League Division Series. He went 0-for-3 with a walk (that came against Craig Kimbrel in Game 2).

Skip Schumaker filled in well enough defensively, but didn’t hit much in the NLDS -- as expected.

With Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Juan Uribe effectively carrying the offense, Ethier’s addition to that quintet almost seems unfair -- but the Dodgers are going to need him against a tough St. Louis Cardinals’ rotation.

All accounts say Ethier is progressing from the injury and could be in the starting lineup on Friday. The biggest concern is making sure he’s as close to 100 percent as possible, because Ethier hits well against the Cardinals for his career.

Ethier career vs. Cardinals
Home: 29 G, .351/.415/.559, 3 HR, 12 2B, 10 BB
Away: 27 G, .231/.320/.380, 1 HR, 9 2B, 14 BB
Total: 56 G, .292/.367/.470, 4 HR, 21 2B, 24 BB

Against current Cardinal pitchers, he’s hitting .250/.333/.563 with seven home runs.

To add his bat to the already hot offense the Dodgers boast could be the difference in the series. Ethier’s return to the starting lineup puts Schumaker on the bench and likely means the end of Dee Gordon’s playoff utility. The Dodgers will almost certainly add another pitcher for the National League Championship Series, and Gordon will be the roster casualty. It’s not clear who gets the nod, but my money is on Edinson Volquez.

With Hyun-Jin Ryu having a shaky outing in Game 3 of the NLDS and Ricky Nolasco having not thrown in a professional game since Sept. 29, the Dodgers might need another pitcher capable of throwing multiple innings. If not Volquez, it could be Carlos Marmol or Stephen Fife (both extremely unlikely).

But Ethier coming back is only a good thing for the Dodgers. The Cardinals have an all-righty rotation, so Ethier -- in close games -- will get at least two at-bats against per game against them. The Cards have old friend Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist to come out of the bullpen who have lots of career success against Ethier (combined: 1-for-12, 3 K).

At worst, I’d say Ethier is back in center field for Game 3 at Dodger Stadium. If so, then that will be a huge boost against Adam Wainwright, whom Ethier hits well (36 PA, .303/.361/.667, 3 HR, 3 2B, 3 BB). I'd either bat him second or fifth in the lineup, with Yasiel Puig occupying the other spot.

Everything is setting up quite well for the Dodgers. If Ethier comes back and is effective, it’s hard to see the Dodgers losing this series.

Photo credit: Dustin Nosler, Feelin’ Kinda Blue

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