Heading into a rematch of last year’s National League Championship Series, there are plenty of storylines and important players. But, the proverbial “X-Factor” for the Dodgers in this series is none other than Carl Crawford.
Crawford is coming off his best season (119, according to wRC+) since his final year in Tampa Bay (2010, 134 wRC+). He’s also coming off an incredibly torrid September in which he slashed .448/.473/.716. In fact, Crawford has been the best hitter in baseball over the last month, again according to wRC+. For a guy who slashed just .163/.245/.209 in July, that’s almost unbelievable. His hot play has relegated Andre Ethier to true part-time/pinch-hitter status.
And let’s not forget what Crawford did in his first postseason with the Dodgers last year. In the NLDS against the Braves, he hit .353/.421/.882 with three home runs (two in the clinching Game 5), and he added one more and seven hits in the LCS against the Cardinals. Overall, he hit .289/.355/.619 in 45 postseason plate appearances last year. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but Crawford has shown the ability to perform in October.
His hitting it the No. 6 spot is great, as the Dodgers have much better options atop the order. It also allows him to utilize his speed more, as he stole nine of his 23 bases out of the No. 6 spot. That split might be flawed, but he stole 16 of those 23 bases out of the Nos. 5 and 6 spot this season, as he was less afraid of getting caught ahead of the — as Vin would say — “butter and egg” men in Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez.
The fact the Cardinals won’t likely have a left-handed starter in the rotation (Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, John Lackey, Lance Lynn) means he’ll get a decent number of plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. The Cardinals could bring guys like former Dodger Randy Choate, Kevin Siegrist or maybe Sam Freeman out of the bullpen, which would automatically mean Scott Van Slyke was coming into the game, but maybe not this year. Crawford posted a reverse platoon split this season, as he hit better against lefties (.321/.381/.500) than righties (.296/.330/.415), but he also faced right-handers about five times more than lefties. While Van Slyke is a destroyer of lefties, Don Mattingly might give pause to removing Crawford from the game, especially if he’s playing well.
It’s nice for the Dodgers to have these options. Not many teams are afforded this luxury. Crawford came up big for the team last year and down the stretch this season. He just might help decide this series (you know, after the pitching, the bullpen and the superstars on both sides).