Before the beginning of Sunday’s games, the Dodgers still had the best record in the majors at 32-14. They sat in front of NL West rival San Diego by a full three games, and their inclusion in the 2020 postseason playoff picture is imminent. However, there’s been a ton of discussions about potential home field advantage and what it might mean in the postseason.
Some folks believe there is no advantage, while others feel the opposite. There will be no byes for the top-seeded teams under the modified format. This year’s playoffs will open with Wild Card Series, which include all 16 playoff teams. The Wild Card Series will be a best-of-three, with the higher seed hosting all three games. The rest of the playoff system will remain unchanged. More importantly, there will be no fans, which is sometimes the driving force for most teams.
I’m in the camp of those who believe that while the home-field advantage isn’t as significant this year, there are still advantages of being the higher seed. And, from what we have seen in past seasons, momentum over the last few weeks of the regular season can be critical to success in the postseason. So, although some of these final regular season contests might not mean much in the standings—if the Padres do not press the Dodgers—they’ll still be meaningful in other areas.
Regardless, here are four things to watch heading into the stretch run of the regular season:
Over his last two appearances, Kenley Jansen has thrown 52 pitches while recording just four outs. During that same time frame, he has given up a whopping eight runs—six earned—on eight hits with just one punchout. After earning the NL Reliever of the Week at the end of August, he has seen his ERA elevate two full runs in the weeks following.
“As far as leash, he’s our closer,” said Roberts after Saturday’s loss to the Astros. “But obviously, performance matters, it does. And everyone in that clubhouse understands that.”
Let’s wait and see how long that leash is. Maybe these last two games are a blip on Kenley’s radar, or perhaps they’re a sign of what’s to come.
The Rest of the Bullpen
A lot of the speculation for the remainder of the relief corps is whether the team has somebody capable of filling Jansen’s shoes. Seemingly, the team does have a potential candidate in Blake Treinen, but the more important concept here might be how the bullpen holds up as a unit. Once leading the majors in team ERA, in recent weeks, the Dodgers have fallen in the rankings, now trailing Oakland by 0.72 of a run. Obviously, overuse could be the biggest factor in performance, as the team’s starters are not eating the ideal number of innings management would like. How the crew as a whole performs down the stretch run might give us a clue as to how they’ll look in the postseason.
Walker Buehler and Dustin May
Not long after the Dodgers placed Walker Buehler on the injured list because of a finger blister, Dustin May took a ground ball off his left foot and exited his start after just one inning against Arizona. For fans, instant panic set in. Nevertheless, all tests on May’s foot came back negative, and there doesn’t seem to be too much long-term concern.
With Buehler, the team is hoping the blister will heal during his time on the IL, while still having enough time to log a start or two during the regular season. Nobody is really concerned about his ability to pitch, but whether he’ll be able to regain his 2019 All-Star form is another story.
Either way, fans should have a better idea of where both pitchers stand over the next few weeks.
Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy
Sure, Mookie Betts is Mookie Betts, and Corey Seager has looked better than ever. But these two players—along with a somewhat productive supporting cast—won’t be able to go the distance alone. While both Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy were monumental in the team’s offensive production last year, both have been quite subpar this year. Bellinger’s MVP numbers across the board and Muncy’s 35 dingers were huge in 2019.They each have 10 homers so far this year, but both players have been looming at or below the Mendoza line for the entire season. There still have been a few, short productive spurts for both players this year, but neither one has been able to maintain anything lengthy. If one or both players are able to crank it up a notch during the final weeks of the regular season, it might be a sign of what’s to come in the playoffs.