Dodgers roster expansive all year
Racked by injury, club sees light September schedule
LOS ANGELES -- Clubs cushion the blow of Spring Training cuts by reassuring players that it takes more than 25 men to win a pennant. But the way the Dodgers have gone about it, this year is extreme.
Rookie pitcher James McDonald, called up Monday, is the 45th Dodger this season, which includes 11 starting pitchers and eight second basemen. There have been 21 disabling injuries, and that includes the ones that have kept Jason Schmidt and Tony Abreu (remember him?) sidelined all season. Those two don't even count in the 45.
Of the 25 active players that finished August with Sunday's spirited win in Arizona, only 15 were on the Opening Day roster. Since the season started, the club has made 77 roster moves, giving the 10 -- that's right, 10 -- assistants to the general manager something to work on.
And they're not done. As the club heads into the real stretch drive, it considers the Sept. 1 date for rosters to expand virtually irrelevant. The Dodgers plan to keep on expanding that roster, unknown as some actual dates might be. Like the one when they will welcome back Rafael Furcal. And the one when Brad Penny returns. They're even already contemplating the when and how of Jeff Kent's comeback, and he hasn't even had his Tuesday knee surgery.
Kent is always a focal point of sorts, even when he's gone. Manager Joe Torre said that the dugout mood was especially loose during Sunday's win (Kent had returned to Los Angeles before Saturday night's game) and, responding to a question, acknowledged that Kent's serious demeanor might intimidate his younger teammates.
"With me, when I was a young player, nothing meant more to me than my brother Frank's opinion," said Torre. "Now, maybe, the shadow of big brother is not around. Maybe that frees them up to do other things. That's what comes to mind for me. I still think there's an air of respect for that person, but sometimes you're a little hesitant to be outgoing if someone's there to correct you."
The Dodgers won the first two games Kent missed with his knee injury. They've survived an eight-game losing streak as if it never happened, thanks to the generosity of the staggering Diamondbacks. Now the Dodgers deploy a strategy of dismissing how poorly they and every team in the division has played to this point, and must simplify the task at hand -- making up 2 1/2 games in four weeks.
If Los Angeles misses out on the playoffs, it won't be able to blame the schedule maker. The only opponent with a winning record remaining for the Dodgers to play is Arizona, three games at home this upcoming weekend. Of the final 25 games, nine are against last-place San Diego, beginning with the current three-game series. The only games remaining outside the division are three on the road against last-place Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks' schedule is similarly within the division, but they must play St. Louis seven times.
The Dodgers might be a different team without Kent, but they already were a dramatically changed team with the addition of hit-machine Manny Ramirez and the steady Casey Blake. As well as those two have played, it hasn't translated into more wins. Once offensively challenged, now the Dodgers are worried about their pitching and middle infield.
The starting rotation includes 42-year-old Greg Maddux and 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw, who have looked their age at times, but the veteran has been capable lately. Maddux's clubhouse presence is just as valuable as his mound work: He has again raised Derek Lowe's game just by his presence. Chad Billingsley has been ace-like lately, and Hiroki Kuroda has been solid.
The bullpen continues to be a triage unit ever since the loss of Takashi Saito, whose return from a serious elbow injury remains in doubt. Jonathan Broxton has been erratic as the replacement closer, a role some believe would suit Penny, if the club could just get him back on the mound. His shoulder injury has lasted 2 1/2 months.
The middle infield has become the latest crisis with the loss of Kent. Granted, at 40 his defense has been limited, but his bat caught fire the first three weeks of August, only to have his knee to start acting up and his average start going down. If the surgery goes as planned, the hope is that he could return for the last two weeks of the regular season as a pinch-hitter.
The timetable for Furcal is about the same, although after missing four months with a back injury and surgery, there is guarded optimism that he will be able to become at least a part-time starter in the rotation with Nomar Garciaparra and Angel Berroa.
And while it might be as much fantasy baseball as anything, there's still the faint hope that the club can get some late return on its investment in the disappointing Andruw Jones, although you have to wonder if the club reached the postseason whether there'd be a roster spot for him.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.