With exactly six games remaining on their regular season schedule, the Dodgers begin their final road trip of the season on Tuesday with a 4-1/2 game lead over the Braves for home field advantage throughout the National League playoffs.
For those looking down the road to the World Series, Los Angeles trails the Astros by two full games and the Yankees by 1-1/2 in that particular capacity.
Over their last 10 games, the Dodgers have gone 6-4, as skipper Dave Roberts and his crew have frequently been experimenting with match-up based lineups. Specifically, some of the more creative batting orders recently have come against lefty starting pitching.
The final week of the regular season, however, is much more important than home field advantage in the postseason. There are still a few battles occurring as far as postseason roster spots go. Furthermore, there are a handful of players on the mend who will be using these final six games to work out their respective kinks before the playoffs roll around next month.
Here are four key players to watch in this week’s series against the Padres:
Rich Hill—Rich Hill takes the mound once again on Tuesday to prove if he’s worth adding to the postseason roster. He is likely to work just once through the San Diego lineup, but if all goes well, he may line himself up for another regular season start against the Giants this weekend in San Francisco. If his outings are indeed successful, he could conceivably function as an “opener” in a prospective Game 4 playoff contest. Should his performance go south, it could be the time for him to hang up his cleats completely for the rest of the year.
Justin Turner—After missing nine consecutive games due to an ankle injury, Justin Turner saw some limited action against the Rockies last weekend, indicating that his wheel should be healthy enough to perhaps go full throttle against San Diego this week, allowing him to tune-up his swing in preparation for the playoffs.
“Ankle felt good, it was good to be back out there. The plan was to get a couple AB, get out of there and kind of build on it. Everything felt good,” Turner said at the conclusion of the Colorado series.
Roberts likely won’t play Turner every day this week, but the skipper will surely give the veteran infielder enough time to smooth out his game.
Max Muncy—All-Star infielder Max Muncy injured his quad in last Friday’s win over the Rockies and subsequently missed the entirety of both contests on Saturday and Sunday. Roberts said that Muncy was “playable,” but with Gavin Lux available to patrol the keystone, there was no rush for Muncy to return to the lineup.
Muncy typically does not need much time to re-acclimate his timing at the plate, but he should be in the starting lineup on Tuesday after being afforded three straight days of rest. Muncy’s presence in the lineup is seemingly integral to the Dodgers’ postseason success.
Kenley Jansen—Perhaps the biggest concern of all for the Dodgers is closer Kenley Jansen. While the remainder of the bullpen has been light’s out in recent contests, Jansen has been inconsistent at best. With Joe Kelly‘s health questionable at the moment, there’s really no one else in line to assume the closing role during the stretch run of the regular season. In other words, the job is Jansen’s to lose, specifically until he fails miserably.
Of course, there have been a few outings when Jansen shined, but they have been equally outweighed by the poor performances. Many feel that the Dodgers’ playoff success hinges on how far Jansen takes them. Certainly, these final six games could be potential indicators of what to expect from Kenley moving forward.
Hill faces San Diego righty Ronald Bolanos in the opener on Tuesday. First pitch is set for 7:10 PM Los Angeles time.