October 23, 2014

Manny Ramirez and Momentum: The Keys to the Dodgers’ Success in the NLDS?

Manny Ramirez

Manny Ramirez

As the Dodgers prepare to face off against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, there are a number of intriguing questions facing the Dodgers, but none more interesting than what is going on with Manny Ramirez and the role momentum plays in the playoffs.

Will the Real Manny Ramirez Show Up?

 It’s becoming increasingly clear that for the Dodgers to win the series and advance to the next round, their bats must come alive against the powerful Cardinal pitching.  We all know about Ethier’s success at home vs. the road (thank God for home field advantage), but the punch Manny can provide can make this series for the Dodgers.  I don’t think he can break the series,  as the Dodgers don’t expect him to be the difference-making he once was.

Consider this: since September 1st, Manny is hitting just .218 with four HR (the last one coming way back on Sept. 18th) and 14 RBI.  He had only two multi-RBI games during this 25 game span.  Ouch.

However, in the playoffs last year, Manny batted .520 with four HR and 10 RBI, and he’s consistently proven to be a player that can deliver in the clutch during the playoffs.  Can he regain the form that opposing pitchers once feared?  Time will tell, but I seriously doubt it.  That role has shifted to Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp.  Opposing pitchers just don’t fear him the way they once did.

Does Momentum Really Matter?

I’ve always found the subject of momentum heading into the playoffs a fascinating topic.  Here’s where I net out on this: momentum from series to series means very little to professional athletes in the playoffs, as each game is broken down into much smaller increments.  In the playoffs, momentum is defined inning to inning, at bat to at bat and pitch to pitch (and sometimes game to game), with incredible individual athletic achievements causing emotional swings that sometimes simply cannot be overcome.

Remember the 1988 New York Mets?  They had beaten the Dodgers 10 out of 11 times during the regular season.  With the Mets up two games to one in the NLCS, game four was in Shea Stadium.  The Dodgers were losing 4-2 in the top of the ninth inning and on the brink of going down three games to one in the series, when they came back to score two runs to tie the game before Kirk Gibson hit a solo home run in the top of the 12th inning to give the team a precarious one run lead.  Orel Hershiser then came into the game in the bottom of the 12th with the bases loaded and two outs.  Remember that Hershiser started the previous day’s game, but he managed to get Kevin McReynolds to fly out to end the game, evening up the series and swinging momentum to the Dodgers from the heavily favored Mets.  The Dodgers rode the momentum generated from these gritty performances and went on to win two of the next three games to dispatch the Mets in a thrilling seven game series.

In game one of the 1988 World Series, Kirk Gibson’s home run over pitcher Dennis Eckersley  shattered the confidence of the much more powerful Oakland lineup, and made the fact that the A’s were a superior offensive team obsolete, beating them in five games.  From Wikipedia:

But anything can happen in a short series, as proven by these 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers,  who out-hit (41–28, .246–.177), out-muscled (5 HRs–2 HRs), and out-pitched (2.03–3.92) the seemingly unbeatable Oakland Athletics, incredibly winning the Series in five games, outscoring the A’s, 21–11.

Momentum can be a fragile and mysterious force with fantastic psychological effects that can hamper or help even the most skilled professional athlete.  All it takes is one swing of the bat or one critical pitch to turn a series on its ear.  While many pundits are picking the powerful Cardinals to place a beat down on the Dodgers, I for one believe that it will be the critical swings of momentum during the game that ultimately will define this series, and if the Dodger bats can respond the way they have in the past (remember Ethier’s incredible number of game-winning home runs?) then they are poised for success .  Let’s go Blue!

Photo Credit: Getty Images