A day after finding out they have lost starter Brandon McCarthy for the season, the Dodgers have suffered another major injury. Carl Crawford hits the disabled list with a strained right oblique that Crawford himself termed “a bad tear.” What’s curious about this latest malady, however, is that it may actually make the Dodgers a better team in the short and long term.
The Dodgers’ outfield depth coming out of last season was such that even with Matt Kemp a Padre and Crawford and Yasiel Puig (minor left hamstring strain) on the disabled list, Los Angeles has three viable everyday outfielders on its 25-man roster in rookie centerfielder Joc Pederson, veteran Andre Ethier and overqualified platoon righty Scott Van Slyke. All three are off to fantastic starts this season; they entered Tuesday night’s game with OPS+ figures of 187 ,171 and 233 in 73, 51 and 26 plate appearances, respectively. Even so, Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly is sitting the lefty-hitting Pederson and Ethier against lefthanded Giants ace Madison Bumgarner Tuesday night, playing righty-swinging utility man Enrique Hernandez, who replaced Crawford on the roster on Tuesday, in center and Alex Guerrero in left.
Guerrero, signed as a middle infielder out of Cuba in October 2013, played 12 games in leftfield between Triple A and the majors last year, but this will be his first major league start in the outfield. It is motivated by the fact that, as good as Pederson, Ethier, Van Slyke and even Adrian Gonzalez have been, Guerrero is the Dodgers’ hottest hitter right now. Building off his .329/.364/.613 performance in 258 plate appearances for Triple A Albuquerque last year, Guerrero has forced his way into the Dodgers' lineup by going 11-for-22 with five home runs to start the 2015 season.
That’s not even the product of a particularly inflated batting average on balls in play. Guerrero has struck out just once in those 22 plate appearances, as well as walked just once, and hit a not-outlandish .353 on balls in play. That’s not to suggest that he’s going to hit .500 for the season, or even .400, but that between his strong showing in Triple A last year and the fact that eight of his 11 hits have gone for extra bases (he’s slugging 1.273), he’s proving he’s a legitimate major league hitter deserving of a spot in the Dodgers' lineup.
On top of all of that, sending Puig to the disabled list was purely a precautionary move. The Dodgers fully expect him to be back in the lineup when eligible on May 10, which is a week from Sunday. So it shouldn’t be long before the Dodgers have Puig back in right, Pederson still in center and the lefty Ethier and 28-year-old righties Van Slyke and Guerrero to choose among in left. Frankly, Crawford shouldn’t have been playing ahead of any of those five at this point in the season anyway.
The oldest of the bunch by eight months over Ethier, Crawford hits the disabled list having hit just .245/.260/.408 (87 OPS+) on the season. The Dodgers will be a better team without him. The best case scenario for Los Angeles here is actually a long Crawford disabled list stay that allows Mattingly and the front office to realize that truth and welcome Crawford back to the team, when able, as a bench player, not the starting leftfielder.
As for how long Crawford will be out, Mattingly unhelpfully told MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick it would be “two weeks or longer,” showing a keen awareness of the disabled list’s 15-day minimum. If Crawford’s oblique tear is indeed a severe one, he can expect him to miss at least a month, but that’s fine. The Dodgers won’t miss him.