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Believe in the Dodgers ... or don't
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Reasons to believe
1. Serious reliefManager Joe Torre's bullpen is better than the Phillies', better than the Cardinals', better than any National League team's. The Dodgers lead the NL in bullpen ERA by nearly a half-run per game, and also are first in opponents' OPS by a healthy margin. The return of left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo on July 27, combined with the trade for lefty George Sherrill on July 30, enabled the Dodgers to move their two overworked righties, Ramon Troncoso and Ron Belisario, into less-prominent roles. The Dodgers' starters rarely pitch deep into games, but with this bullpen, five or six innings is usually enough. Consider:
Jim Thome, in a pinch?Jim Thome, 1-for-9 as a pinch-hitter since joining the Dodgers, has no regrets. "If I had watched these guys celebrate in October, that would have eaten at me," Thome says. "Nobody knows what's going to happen. But you've got to give yourself that chance." Thome did just that on Aug. 31, waiving his no-trade clause to leave the White Sox and assume a pinch-hitting role with the Dodgers. Spending another month as the White Sox's designated hitter would have put Thome in better position to chip away at the 36 home runs he needs for 600. Thome, however, has never won a World Series. He has appeared in two, losing with the Indians in both 1995 and '97. "That thing on the finger . . ." Thome says, referring to a World Series championship ring. " . . . I've been close, as close as you can get, two outs away (in '97). It was a tough thing to swallow. And it's very addicting to come back." So addicting, Thome was willing to assume a largely foreign role just to get another chance. Before joining the Dodgers, he had batted only 65 times as a pinch-hitter in his 21-year career. Jason Giambi, another veteran who had spent his entire career in the AL, has thrived in a similar capacity with the Rockies, going 6-for-15 with two home runs and 11 RBIs. Thome has yet to find a similar groove. "I have a new sense of respect for guys that have done this," he says. "You've got to be ready to go. It's a challenge. But that said, it's also exciting. In the situation you're in, you can do things to change the game." That still can happen, maybe in the National League playoffs, maybe if the Dodgers reach the World Series and Thome gets additional opportunities as a DH. He still remembers '97, the blown save by Indians closer Jose Mesa in the ninth inning of Game 7, the game-winning hit by the Marlins' Edgar Renteria in the 11th. "That seems like yesterday," Thome says, snapping his fingers. "Now as I'm older, I understand. "My window is shrinking. I'll be 40 years old next year. That shouldn't be a factor if you stay in shape, keep yourself strong. But you don't play forever. You don't play forever."
Ken Rosenthal, FOXSports.com