By David Vassegh
1. Health. The Dodgers are without Matt Kemp for the remainder of the season. Andre Ethier doesn't look like he'll be more than a pinch hitter as of Tuesday. Hanley Ramirez is a few weeks removed from having an epidural shot in his lower back (L5 area to be exact). Carl Crawford has dealt with hamstring and lower back issues all season. The Dodgers can't afford any more injuries to key players.
2. Stars Must Shine: You can talk about the Punto's, Uribe's and Ellis' all you want, but if Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez don't hit the Dodgers won't win. Don't forget about Carl Crawford who also is a dynamic player when his legs are feeling good. Everyone was/is concerned about Ricky Nolasco's last 3 starts and whether or not he will be ready to go as the Dodgers 4th starter. If Kershaw and Greinke don't pitch well, Ricky Nolasco won't matter. By the way, Nolasco will be fine. He pitched great since coming over to the Dodgers when it counted. He just had 2 bad starts and the last one in SF could have been different if some plays were made behind him.
3. Puig Factor: Yasiel Puig could is the "X Factor" not only in this series, but the rest of the playoffs. Puig has cooled off considerably in September hitting in the neighborhood of .220. Puig also has to be precise in Right Field. Over throwing his cut off men and throwing to the wrong base at the wrong time could be costly especially when every run is precious and every play magnified. On their workout day in L.A. on Tuesday, the Dodgers did work on cut off drills from all 3 outfield spots.
4. Bullpen: When the Dodgers were swept in 3 games by the Braves in Atlanta in May, all 3 games came down to the bullpens. The Dodger bullpen lost those games, and the Braves bullpen won them. At that point Brandon League was still the Dodger closer, Chris Withrow and Brian Wilson were not part of the Dodger bullpen. Fast forward to this NLDS Series, Kenley Jansen has proven to be one of the best NL closers, Withrow has added another piece to the bridge to get to Jansen along with Paco Rodriguez, JP Howell, Ronald Bellisario and Wilson. The Dodgers want to be ahead late in these games because the chances of beating Craig Kimbrel in the 9th inning are not in their favor.
5. Mattingly vs Gonzalez: I'm a big believer that MLB managers DO make a difference. Even though they don't take an AB or make a pitch, Don Mattingly and Fredi Gonzalez will have an impact on who wins this NLDS. Pushing the right buttons at the right time, putting pressure on the opponent with aggresive base running, calling for things and players that the other dugout has to react to are difference makers in the regular season, they are series winners in the postseason. Like I mentioned above, if the Dodger players don't execute, whatever Mattingly does won't matter. A manager can only be judged on if he did enough to put his team in position to win the game and the series.