09/26/09 10:17 PM ET
Dodgers clinch postseason berth
Torre faced with difficult rotation and bench decisions
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
Manager Joe Torre already had decided the champagne would wait until the club clinched a second consecutive National League West title, which could happen as soon as Sunday. The magic number on that milestone is now one (a combination of Dodgers wins and Rockies losses). The last time the Dodgers finished first in consecutive seasons was 1977-78.
Torre has earned a 14th consecutive postseason appearance as manager, tying Atlanta's Bobby Cox for the all-time record. Torre has a record 80 postseason wins as manager, which includes six American League titles and four World Series titles with the Yankees.
The Dodgers have qualified for postseason play three of the four years that Ned Colletti has been general manager. The last time they advanced three times in a four-year span was 1963-66.
The Dodgers have played in 18 World Series (winning six times), eight League Championship Series (winning five times) and this will be their seventh appearance in the Division Series (winning twice).
Last year without the home-field advantage they eliminated the Cubs in the NLDS with a three-game sweep. This year they are in position to have the advantage and open the first round of the playoffs at Dodger Stadium.
Before adding to those numbers, Torre has some decisions to make, starting with his starting rotation, and those decisions undoubtedly will be influenced by whether the Dodgers open against the Phillies and their left-handed lineup or the Cardinals and their right-handed lineup.
"We don't know who we're playing yet, and that could influence who pitches," he said.
Torre's club recently had a six-man rotation, bolstered by the late acquisitions of Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla, who came in handy with Chad Billingsley's monthlong slump and injuries to Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw.
But in a best-of-five series, the Dodgers will need four starters, not six. Last year for the Cubs series they never announced -- or needed -- a fourth, and were prepared to stick with three and bring back Game 1 starter Derek Lowe for Game 4.
Managers with the most consecutive postseason appearances
|Bobby Cox||ATL||14 (1991-2005)|
|Joe Torre||NYY, LAD||14 (1996-2009)|
|Mike Hargrove||CLE||5 (1995-1999)|
|Casey Stengel||NYY||5 (1949-1953)|
Wolf, who started Saturday night, has been the most consistent and durable of the six this year and Hiroki Kuroda has shown his mettle, not only with last October's stellar starts against the Cubs and Phillies, but also by bouncing back tough after taking a line drive off his head Aug. 15.
Kershaw can be the most dominating (his opponents batting average is lowest in the league) and in a two-inning relief stint Tuesday night appeared sound after a three-week recovery from a separated right (non-throwing) shoulder. He starts Sunday.
That still leaves Torre with three pitchers (Billingsley, Garland and Padilla) for one spot. Billingsley, at least, has pitched relief in his career and could join, or replace, Jeff Weaver as a long reliever. Torre reiterated Friday night that he had not given up on Billingsley, who will make at least one more start.
Managers with the most consecutive winning seasons (since 1900)
|Joe McCarthy||CHC, NYY||21 (1926-46)|
|Sparky Anderson||CIN, DET||17 (1972-88)|
|Earl Weaver||BAL||15 (1968-82)|
|Bobby Cox||ATL||15 (1991-2005)|
|Al Lopez||CLE, CWS||15 (1951-65)|
|Fred Clarke||PIT||14 (1900-13)|
|Joe Torre||NYY, LAD||14 (1996-2009)|
Padilla has been exclusively a starter since 2002. He's tailed off his past two starts after three solid outings. Garland has made one relief appearance since 2001. He's been more consistent than Padilla as a Dodger, including a tough-luck loss Friday night when he was charged with three unearned runs in six innings.
"A lot of it will be matchup stuff," said Torre. "Not only lefty-righty, but how a pitcher has pitched against each team."
Moving any of them into the bullpen will only make Torre's decision on which pitchers to keep active for a short series more difficult. The way Torre has used his bullpen, it's inconceivable for a Dodgers roster not to include Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Hong-Chih Kuo, Ronald Belisario or Ramon Troncoso. Torre also has shown confidence in rookie James McDonald, with mixed results. McDonald made last year's postseason roster with only two weeks of Major League service.
If Torre keeps Billingsley and Weaver for long relief, there won't be room for Padilla, McDonald, Guillermo Mota or Scott Elbert. If he keeps McDonald, there might not be room for Billingsley or Weaver. In last year's Division Series, Torre carried 11 pitchers.
One thing Torre isn't when it comes to the postseason is sentimental. He'll go with the hot hand almost every time. So even though Billingsley was an All-Star in July, there's no guarantee he'll even be active in October.
As for position players, Torre essentially platooned All-Star second baseman Orlando Hudson in September with hot-hitting newcomer Ronnie Belliard and that might continue. Third baseman Casey Blake's troublesome hamstring creates another issue, particularly if the Dodgers carry pinch-hitter Jim Thome, who can't run or play defense. Keeping Thome might also require keeping a pinch-runner like Jason Repko, who can also be a defensive replacement for Manny Ramirez.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.