Wednesday, October 2, 2013

With Dodgers' offense hurting, Carl Crawford could be key in playoffs

With Matt Kemp out for the season and Andre Ethier’s bum ankle likely limiting him to pinch-hitting duties in the National League Division Series, the Dodgers are going to need someone to pick up the offensive slack in the playoffs.

It’s easy to call on Hanley Ramirez, who’s been the best he’s ever been this season. But even greatness has its limit.

Adrian Gonzalez was once elite, but those days are behind him. It’d be nice for him to get that hot for a few weeks, but it’s also something that can’t be counted on.

Yasiel Puig is great, but he struggled in September to the tune of a .214 batting average. However, as Chad Moriyama rightly points out, it might not be such a bad thing. And as Mike Petriello pointed out, Puig is prone to bounce back from slumps.

Those are the Dodgers’ three best hitters in October (not named Zack Greinke, I suppose), but the key for the Dodgers is Carl Crawford.

Crawford was once a dynamic player, posting a 7.4-win season while in Tampa Bay. He’s not that good anymore, but the ability is there.

Crawford got off to a blazing start in Blue, hitting .308/.388/.516 in 25 games in the season’s first month. He followed it up with a not-so-great May (.278/313/.389), and then he got (predictably) hurt. He returned in July and was miserable (.225/.257/.268), but picked it up in August (.302/.353/.387) before falling back a little in September (.267/.286/.413).

But there’s a little hope, as Crawford had eight of his 39 extra-base hits in September. He had nine in August (all doubles) and eight in August. Perhaps Crawford is finally healthy again and ready to be the player he’s capable of being.

There’s nothing wrong with Crawford’s legs. If you watched any games in September, you’ll see a rejuvenated Crawford running around the bases. It would behoove Don Mattingly and the Dodgers to take advantage of that in the postseason.

Crawford once stole 60 bases in a season. He stole 15-of-18 this season, and that could be a huge weapon in the playoffs, especially for a team lacking great speed.

Sure, Puig is fast, but he’s not a smart baserunner. Ramirez doesn’t run a whole lot anymore, and frankly, I don’t want him running in October. Dee Gordon, the fastest Dodger, probably won’t make the playoff roster. So, it comes down to Crawford. He’ll need to get on base to utilize his best tool. If he’s getting on base (hitting first or second), then I expect big things for the Dodger offense.

Believe it or not, Carl Crawford’s 21 postseason games are the third-most of any Dodger regular. Juan Uribe (30 games, .208/.264/.347, 3 HR) and Skip Schumaker (22 games, .278/.316/.361) are the only players with more. Schumaker wasn’t a regular this season, but he’ll be a regular until Ethier is ready to return -- a return which is still in doubt. Crawford has a .253/.287/.422 triple slash with eight stolen bases in the playoffs. Not great (especially the on-base percentage), but about the best the Dodgers have to offer. I’ll do a post about current Dodger postseason performances before first-pitch on Thursday.

Puig is an unknown. No one knows how he’ll handle the big stage of the playoffs. If his rookie season is any indicator, it could go either way. Ramirez is also making his postseason debut, but he seems more likely to thrive than any other Dodger.

Still, Crawford’s experience and skill set could prove to be big in the playoffs with a depleted lineup.

The Dodgers have been playing shorthanded since spring training; why should the postseason be any different?

If Crawford can be great for a few weeks, the Dodgers are going to be just fine. If not, someone else is going to have to step up. But I have a hunch it will be Crawford.

Photo credit: Dustin Nosler, Feelin' Kinda Blue

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