Expanded Roster | #SparksNotes: The Yankees-Dodgers 2019 series…Fall Classic Preview?
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#SparksNotes: The Yankees-Dodgers 2019 series…Fall Classic Preview?

By: Kylie Sparks

In a rare interleague series, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers faced off during Players Weekend at Dodgers Stadium for the first time since 2016. With the Yankees winning the series two games to one, many are wondering if this was a World Series preview, and if the Dodgers can bounce back and finally win the ring that has eluded them since 1988, especially after losing two straight Fall Classics. Let’s break down the numbers.

The Yankees were in fine form the entire weekend, both offensively and defensively — from the blowout 10-2 win on Friday evening to the 5-1 win on Sunday afternoon. Even in their loss on Saturday, they held the Dodgers to only two runs. In a rare bad home outing for NL Cy Young Award front-runner Hyun-Jin Ryu Friday evening, his final line was a season low 4.1 innings pitched with nine hits, seven earned runs, one walk, seven strikeouts and three home runs, which raised his ERA to 2.00. That was still the best in the MLB, but not the Ryu the Dodgers have seen all season.

Speaking of Friday’s Yankees Home Run Derby, the Yankee bats were hot all series, and the name on everybody’s lips was Aaron Judge. With a homer in all three games, Judge was in top form — but so were DJ LeMahieu, Mike Ford, Didi Gregorius (who was hit by a pitch and removed from Sunday’s game with a shoulder contusion, but still had a solid series), and Brett “Bang Bang Bat” Gardner, who slid cleats up into second and put his hand on Max Muncy to push him off the bag in the ninth inning of Saturday’s game. If the Dodgers and Yankees meet again, expect a bit of fire between those two.

New York’s pitching staff held the Dodgers to five runs during the series. James Paxton only gave up two earned runs with 11 strikeouts for the win in 6.2 innings pitched, while the legendary CC Sabathia was handed a loss by the Dodgers with a final line of two earned runs and seven strikeouts in four innings pitched, followed by the bullpen’s solid showing to close out the game. Domingo Germán also had a stellar start for the Yankees on Sunday, picking up a win with a final line of six innings pitched, allowing five hits and one earned run, and also five strikeouts. The Yankees’ pitchers are heading toward October ready to claim a World Series trophy with final lines like those — unless the Houston Astros get in the way.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ weak spots were exposed in a big way. Julio Urías’s 20-game suspension for violating the MLB’s domestic violence policy after he was arrested for domestic violence on May 13 (the Los Angeles DA’s office did not file misdemeanor charges, but MLB’s investigation concluded Urias violated the policy) has left a hole in the pitching staff. Then, there is the issue of the key players on the injured list.

Alex Verdugo has been a bright star for the Dodgers — 98 mph heat from the outfield, anyone? — but after landing on the 10-day IL for an oblique strain, there is no timetable for his return other than “sometime in September.” David Freese has been slow-played while rehabbing a hamstring strain and is expected to be activated around early September, and new Dodgers acquisitions Tyler White and Kristopher Negrón appeared and disappeared almost instantly — White is out with a right trapezius strain, and Negrón, after a particularly nasty fall on his face while trying to make a catch two weeks ago, is dealing, understandably, with neck stiffness. Both will miss an undetermined amount of time.
Then, there’s the fact that half the pitching staff is on the IL. Consider this list:
Rich Hill has been rehabbing a forearm flexor strain since early this season and may be ready to step into a reliever role for post, but time will tell.
Ross Stripling is dealing with both neck and bicep issues.
Dylan Floro has an intercostal strain and is back on the IL again after dealing with neck issues earlier this season
New Dodgers acquiree Casey Sadler is day-to-day with a back issue.
And finally, just as he was getting hot again, Scott Alexander has been put on 60-day with nerve damage in his thumb and it’s unknown if he will need surgery.
That’s a lot of injuries. Dave Roberts is hopeful most of the players on the IL will be available for the postseason, but the Yankees series definitely highlighted just how many pieces are missing, especially Verdugo and Freese. It should also be mentioned that Russell Martin had to leave suddenly during the Yankees series due to his grandmother’s passing, so that was another unexpected issue the Dodgers dealt with. (We at Expanded Roster send our condolences to Martin and his family in this difficult time.)

However, all hope is not lost for the Dodgers as we head toward fall baseball. Tony Gonsolin’s tryout on Saturday proved that The Goose is Loose and ready to compete for a starting spot should the Dodgers decide to go with a six-man rotation. Gonsolin’s final line for his second win of the season was five innings pitched, two hits, one earned run, two walks and two strikeouts — for a rookie making his third start, you can’t ask for a better line against a juggernaut team like the Yankees.

Before Martin’s sudden departure, the versatile veteran ended up replacing Justin Turner at third base on Friday, showcasing Martin’s emergence as a utility player, joining the freshly-reinstated-from-IL standby utility guys Chris Taylor and Kiké Hernández. While there are many jokes about Martin being the team’s best reliever, it would not be a surprise if during blowout games Martin comes in for an inning to save arms the Dodgers need to keep fresh, such as Joe Kelly and Pedro Báez. After all, Martin’s line is still 0.00 ERA with a 0.50 WHIP, it wouldn’t be the worst move the Dodgers could make.

Clayton Kershaw, even in giving up three runs in Sunday’s game against the Yankees, also provided 12 strikeouts, so the ace is not tiring. If Kenley Jansen, who lately has been having a rough go with blown saves but ended up with a clutch save in Saturday’s game, can fine-tune his pitches and bring his velocity back up, the Dodgers will have their main closer, but can also look to Kelly, who has become an elite reliever and a solid closer, coming in for pitchers like Walker Buehler and Ryu in their near-complete games this season. Dustin May is also straddling between starting and the bullpen, and is showing extreme promise in both positions. He will most likely stay on for bullpen games in the postseason if Dodgers end up using a six-man rotation with the bullpen being the sixth man.

In terms of offense, the Yankees series provided lessons for the Dodgers. The biggest one was the return of the ghost of 2017 — leaving runners in scoring position came back to haunt the boys in blue again. In a rare occurrence of nerves for rookie star catcher Will Smith and rookie utility Matt Beaty, both had extremely weak at bats this series. Smith was also calling pitches that led to bombs leaving Chavez Ravine.

While Martin was on the bereavement list, Austin Barnes, who was sent down to Triple-A Oklahoma City in favor of Smith after the All-Star break, caught for Kershaw. While the Dodgers needed Barnes’ rapport with Kershaw defensively, his only offensive production was a double that was yet again left on the bags. Barnes will rejoin the Dodgers once the rosters expand, but with Roberts making it clear he prefers only having two catchers, Barnes may miss October baseball unless something changes in either his production or Roberts’ mindset.

While the Dodgers have been playing excellent small ball all season, their only small ball runs in the series were Friday night’s RBI double from Hernández and an RBI single from AJ Pollock. The only other runs were a two-run homer from Turner on Saturday and a solo HR from Joc Pederson on Sunday. If the Dodgers want to break the curse of losing the World Series, they have to give their pitchers better run support, especially as it looks more and more like they will either meet the Yankees again or their 2017 World Series rivals, the Houston Astros, and the pitching staff of both teams has proven to be Dodger kryptonite.

With all of that said, there is still a lot of baseball to be played until the playoffs come around. The September roster expansion will bring pipeline talent that may provide teams with a jolt of fresh energy before October. The Dodgers still have the best record in the NL and are all but guaranteed at least another division series, if not a pennant. The Yankees, while one of the best in the AL, are facing an uphill battle against the Astros for the pennant. The bottom line of the Yankees-Dodgers series is that lessons were learned by both teams, but for everyone watching, it was pure entertainment to see a historic rivalry play out once again, perhaps providing a preview of a World Series that would be an electric finale to a stellar season.