If the Dodgers are going to win the World Series this season, we all know some of the big contributions they’ll need to get. Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Freddie Freeman, and Will Smith on the offensive side. Julio Urias and Clayton Kershaw on the mound. The big names need to act like the big names.
But what about some of the smaller names? Let’s look at three guys who might play outsized roles in the Dodgers’ October success.
Bullpen X-Factor: Tommy Kahnle
Kahnle has thrown just 12.2 innings for the Dodgers this year, but they’ve been really good innings, especially the 8.2 innings since his return from his latest injured list stint. Kahnle’s ERA since his September 14 return is 1.04, and opposing hitters have posted a .244 OPS against him.
With Craig Kimbrel not only out of the closer role but possibly off the postseason roster altogether, the Dodgers will be going with a closer-by-committee approach, and Kahnle figures to get some of those innings. He’s been lights out against both lefties and righties, and his demeanor is tailor-made for the ninth inning.
If you squint and look to the future, you can kind of see Kahnle hugging Will Smith in front of the mound on the cover of L.A.’s World Series DVD.
Rotation X-Factor: Andrew Heaney
Heaney might not start in the postseason, but his role will be starter-ish. Whether it’s a piggyback start with Dustin May or Tony Gonsolin, or a multi-inning relief appearance in a less-expected scenario, Heaney has the potential to take down some very big innings for Los Angeles this October.
The key, of course, is to limit the longball. Heaney’s splits are pretty close to even against righties and lefties — .726 OPS allowed to righties, .670 to lefties — but if you dig just a little deeper, you see he’s allowed a lower batting average and on-base percentage to righties. The difference is the slugging percentage, as 13 of the 14 homers Heaney has allowed this year have been to righties, along with 13 of his 16 doubles allowed. Add it all up, and righties are slugging .448, compared to .361 to lefties.
But Heaney also has the second-highest strikeout rate on the Dodgers, and his ability to miss bats is a potential game-changer. If he can harness the swing-and-miss and banish the swing-and-mash — perhaps knowing he’s only needed for three innings at a time will help — he could be one of the most important pitchers on the postseason roster.
Lineup X-Factor: Joey Gallo
Gallo hasn’t been good. After a hot start — he posted a 1.010 OPS in his first 14 games with the Dodgers — Gallo has posted a .535 OPS in 29 games since August 25, a number worse than the mark that got him run out of New York. And his 41.4% strikeout rate is easily the highest on the Dodgers and the highest he’s ever posted in this many plate appearances.
But as we saw on Tuesday night, he still has game-changing power, and Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said Gallo will be on the NLDS roster.
An x-factor doesn’t have to be good, overall. Cody Bellinger won the 2018 NLCS MVP in a series in which he hit .200 with a .591 OPS, because he had a walkoff single in Game 4 and a go-ahead homer in Game 7.
It’s easy to picture Gallo following that blueprint, being not-great overall but having one or two big hits that we’ll remember forever. If he can pull that off, we’d call that a pretty successful x-factor.
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