Dodgers start playoffs testing how much experience counts

first_imgOutfielders Matt Kemp, 29, and Andre Ethier, 31, have appeared in 34 playoff games between them. But none of those games have come in the past three years and ankle problems will keep Kemp, and maybe Ethier, off the field.Starting pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Ricky Nolasco have only six playoff starts among them — three by Kershaw, three by Greinke. Closer Kenley Jansen’s next postseason appearance will be his first. The same goes for catcher A.J. Ellis.These players, along with unrefined rookie star Yasiel Puig, form the nucleus of a Dodgers club that plays the Atlanta Braves today in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. Even though postseason experience is not their forte, Young doesn’t think it will matter much.“You have to have a good balance,” he said. “If you have a talented young kid, you’re not going to yank him out of the lineup because he doesn’t have experience. If the question is if experience is important, of course it’s important.”How important, exactly? Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Michael Young had appeared in 1,508 major-league games before adding an important item to his resume, the thing that made him a diamond in the rough at the August waiver deadline: playoff experience.The 36-year-old infielder made his playoff debut in 2010, along with many of his mostly-younger Texas Rangers teammates. When the calendar turned to October, Young’s reputation as a leader in the clubhouse for 162 games didn’t suffer one bit.“I’d been in the league about 10 years at that point,” said Young. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do on the field. I knew what my approach was going to be. I had confidence that I could execute.”Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who have played four postseason games between them, could say the same thing. Look around the clubhouse, and the Dodgers have a long list of stars who are short on October experience.center_img Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was asked several times after the Dodgers clinched the National League West title Sept. 19. He was deliberately vague, probably because it’s a complicated question with important consequences.Mattingly himself appeared in 1,785 games — his entire playing career — before appearing in five playoff games with the New York Yankees in 1995. He has never managed in the playoffs at any level, though he did coach the Yankees into the playoffs six times. When talking about playoff experience, Mattingly has to be sensitive to his own knowledge and lack thereof.“You have to cut the stuff around it out. Manage a baseball game,” Mattingly said. “Do it to get the best out of your team. We’re trying to win.”He’s also trying to fill out a new 25-man roster, and there was a stark choice facing the manager for the final spots. Should he choose versatile veteran Jerry Hairston Jr. over prototypical pinch-runner Dee Gordon? A power hitter like rookie Scott Van Slyke?Besides each player’s past performance, recent performance and raw tools, there’s also the opponent to consider. Atlanta tends to hit right-handed pitchers (.731 OPS) better than left-handers (.701) — just one of many metrics that are considered when filling out a roster.“Some guys,” Mattingly said recently, “probably aren’t going to be happy.”It’s a line the manager has dispatched often in recent months, whether in reference to the Dodgers’ star-studded outfield, scarce playoff roster spots or crowded bullpen. When choosing between two equally qualified candidates, postseason experience looms as a powerful tiebreaker.Right-hander Brandon League, for example, has the largest contract at four years and $27.5 million, but also the least playoff experience (none) of anyone in the Dodgers’ bullpen. He began the season as the closer, was demoted, regained his form at midseason, then struggled again. Opponents had a .925 OPS against him after Aug. 1.Right-handed reliever Brian Wilson, meanwhile, is one of seven Dodgers with World Series experience. Left-handed reliever J.P. Howell, third baseman Juan Uribe, left fielder Carl Crawford and utility players Hairston, Schumaker and Nick Punto are the others. Between Wilson’s experience saving six playoff games in his career, and his 0.66 earned-run average after signing with the Dodgers in July, he’s become an invaluable presence on the mound and in the clubhouse.“People (who have been to the postseason before) can talk about the differences more than anything — if there is any difference (in) what to expect,” Kershaw said. “I just think it helps guys be a little more prepared. I think experience helps to a certain point.”Wilson’s value as a playoff-tested pitcher is rare among the Dodgers, whose pitchers tend to be young and whose hitters tend to be old.Over the past three seasons, only the New York Yankees have given fewer plate appearances to batters 25 and younger. In the same timeframe, only the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves have used pitchers 25 and younger more often than the Dodgers. General manager Ned Colletti said that is by chance, not design.“I think we’ve got a good blend on both sides of it,” Colletti said. “We have youth that has experience too. Look at Clayton. Clayton’s not that old (25) but has a lot of experience.“It comes down to experience, and what you do with it, and talent. Some people at 25 years old have the experience of somebody at 35 years old.”Players who do not make the postseason roster will still be in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, able to dress but not to play. Their voices will not go away, but their value as leaders will be diminished.That’s because, for Young at least, leadership in the postseason begins in the game itself.“It’s not necessarily a ‘rah-rah’ meeting in the clubhouse as much as it is communication on the field,” he said. “Knowing that you look at the guy next to you and he’s got a still heartbeat, going at his pace, you want to be able to be the kind of guy who dictates the action … whether it’s work a deeper count, make a play, make an aggressive turn around the bases, or find something in the dugout to win a ballgame. “The postseason comes down to one thing: execution. You have to know how to slow the game down.”last_img

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