Did the Los Angeles Dodgers Peak Too Soon?For as hot as the Los Angeles Dodgers were in July and August, they have been equally as mediocre in September.
Although the Dodgers have a comfortable lead over second-place Arizona in the National League West and are well on their way to the playoffs for the first time in four years, it's not hard to see that the Boys in Blue are limping toward the finish line.
Halfway through September, the team has already lost nine games after dropping 12 total contests during the previous two months combined. Several important players are suddenly struggling to stay on the field and some of those who have been able to play regularly are slumping.
Andre Ethier is currently in a walking boot because of a severely sprained ankle. Carl Crawford, whose 32 hits and .302 average in August were second on the team behind Yasiel Puig, has missed four games in September with a back injury and is only batting .233 this month. The usually reliable A.J. Ellis has one run batted in this month and has seen his average drop to .234 for the season. Even Puig and Hanley Ramirez have missed time with nagging injuries.
As for the pitching staff, the recent situation doesn't look much better. Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers' ace and Cy Young Award frontrunner, has looked like anything but. The southpaw owns a 4.26 ERA this month, while fellow starter Ricky Nolasco gave up five earned runs in less than three innings last time out after giving up only two earned runs in his previous 29 innings before that. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Chris Capuano have each missed starts in September due to injury.
Fortunately, for the Dodgers, their incredible summer run vaulted them into a comfortable position where they no longer have to worry about a pennant race. It's all but certain that they will be playing in October. However, what Los Angeles should be worried about is how the team is entering the postseason. If recent history is any indication, it's the teams that are clicking on all cylinders in September that have the most success in the playoffs. The last two World Series champions, the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants, boasted September records of 18-8 and 19-8, respectively. Remember, the 2013 Dodgers already have nine September losses.
When Los Angeles clinches the division this week, manager Don Mattingly will be able to rest his star players and allow them to get healthy for the postseason. But while rest for the weary is typically a good thing, it may not be so beneficial for these Dodgers. Without regular playing time down the stretch, batters may lose their timing at the plate and pitchers may lose their edge on the mound. The 2011 Cardinals didn't punch their ticket to the postseason until the very last day of the regular season, which allowed that squad to ride its grind-it-out mentality straight through the playoffs.
For the Dodgers, using a best-of-five playoff series to rediscover the grittiness that made them the hottest team in baseball this summer is a risky proposition by any calculation. Los Angeles needed to reach unparalleled heights in July in August in order to climb out of that hole in June, but watching the Dodgers now it's not difficult to wonder if they peaked too soon.