Here is a scouting report on the Dodgers by Keith Law over at ESPN.
The Dodgers ambled into the playoffs out of the majors' weakest division, and four National League teams have equal or better records but won't play in October. I'm not sure what the opposite of \\"battle-tested\\" is, but you can apply it to the Dodgers.
The Dodgers' bullpen is one of the best in baseball, full of power arms who throw strikes. Its top three arms are dominant. Takashi Saito, one of the most underrated closers in the game, sets up hitters with a 92-93 mph fastball with good life and gets swings and misses with a power curveball that has a hard downward break. Hong-Chih Kuo, a former starter who couldn't stay healthy in that role, throws 93-95 mph from the left side with a sharp slider in the low 80s and an average changeup. He's a lefty-killer who is just as effective against righties. Jonathan Broxton typically works as the eighth-inning guy but closed in Saito's absence and was extremely effective. He throws 95-97 mph with a slider in the high 80s that touches 90, and shuts down right-handed hitters. His control has improved significantly since 2006, the last time the Dodgers made the playoffs. (Five of his walks this year were intentional, as manager Joe Torre is wrapped in a new love affair with the free pass.) Still, his weakness against lefties makes him a minor liability against any team with left-handed options on the bench.
The Dodgers also have gotten good middle-inning work from command/control right-hander Cory Wade, who spots his average fastball to both sides of the plate, and from Chan Ho Park, of all people, who has reinvented himself as a sinker/slider righty-killer.
The Dodgers' top two starters could carry a series for them. Preseason No. 1 starter Brad Penny has been injured, but Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley are a strong one-two punch. Billingsley likely will start Game 2, but he's the better pitcher and better bet against superior October opponents. Lowe is a sinker/slider pitcher who generates lots of ground balls thanks to the sink on his fastball (a product of the way he grips the pitch). That sink makes it extremely difficult for opposing hitters to drive the ball in the air. Billingsley is a classic power pitcher who throws a 92-95 mph four-seamer, a very hard downward-breaking curveball and a fringe-average changeup that's a show-me pitch to left-handers to keep them from sitting on the fastball. His control still is not as good as a No. 1 starter's control should be, and he often takes some time to settle into a start.
Torre has an easy decision to make for his fourth starter, but he may not make the right one. There is no reason to think that Greg Maddux is a superior option to Clayton Kershaw. Maddux has given up 24 runs in 34 innings since coming over to the Dodgers after posting an ERA near 4.00 in Petco Park, the best pitchers' park in the game. He survives, barely, because he still has off-the-charts control and works at the knees, but his stuff is so far below average that he's become too hittable for the Dodgers to pitch him in a playoff rotation.
Kershaw is no sure thing himself, as his command and control are both works in progress. Still, he's shown steady improvement throughout the season. He racked up four walks in four of his first seven big league starts, then allowed four walks just once in 13 starts since. Kershaw's stuff is filthy: Both his fastball (93-97 mph) and hard-breaking, two-plane curve grade out at 60 or better on the 20-80 scale, and he flashes an average changeup that should get better with time. He can miss bats even as he still refines his command and feel for pitching. He has a much better chance of throwing a gem, even against a good lineup, than Maddux does.
Besides Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier, the Dodgers' lineup has many players who are handled easily by a pitcher who has good stuff or good command. Both of those hitters show excellent pitch recognition, pull power and the willingness to go the other way. Ramirez likes the ball out over the plate; Ethier, like many left-handed hitters, likes it down in the zone. But beyond those two, Dodgers hitters have flaws that are easily exploited. James Loney is an atypical left-handed hitter in that he doesn't like the ball down. He takes a short path to the ball that favors balls that are of medium height and are out over the plate. Russell Martin chases soft stuff away, especially breaking balls that move away from him, although he has great pitch recognition and won't chase those pitches earlier in the count. Jeff Kent has lost significant bat speed. Matt Kemp, one of the best athletes in the majors, can crush a pitcher's mistake and has great bat speed, but he doesn't have much of a hitting plan. He can be beaten by right-handers who go with fastballs up or up and in and breaking balls down and/or away. Left-handers who can effectively change speeds on him also can beat him. The Dodgers' lineup as a whole becomes much weaker against left-handed pitchers, as Loney, Ethier and Martin all struggle against southpaws.
Defensively, the Dodgers are a mixed bag at best, depending in large part on who's on the field. They could have Casey Blake at third base, a questionable Rafael Furcal (thanks to his back trouble) at shortstop and the immobile Kent at second, which creates about as bad a defensive infield as you'll see on a playoff team. The Dodgers' best defensive outfield probably would have Juan Pierre in center. (For all his speed, Kemp still doesn't read the ball well off the bat, although he has time to improve.) But Pierre's a disaster at the plate and shouldn't be more than a pinch bunter in October.
Ethier presents a solid arm in right, and Ramirez is indifferent in left. There's a best-case scenario in which Furcal is healthy and shows more lateral range and Torre benches the veteran (Kent) in favor of the kid (Blake DeWitt), but that's not likely. The one saving grace for the Dodgers: Their relievers led the NL in strikeouts, and Billingsley, Lowe and Kershaw miss plenty of bats as well.
As mentioned above, the back end of the Dodgers' rotation is not strong for a playoff team. Maddux is a poor choice for a playoff rotation thanks to his greatly diminished stuff. Hiroki Kuroda is adequate as a fourth starter in the playoffs. He works with three pitches but nothing plus, throws strikes and gets some sink on his fastball. He's better than what the Phillies will run out there in a potential Game 4, but he wouldn't crack the Cubs' playoff rotation.
How They'll Win
Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley have the potential to dominate opponents, although the Dodgers might have to win every game started by either of those two pitchers.
The Dodgers have the deepest pen of any NL playoff team, and the more the relievers come into play (through early knockouts, extra innings or back-to-back tight games), the more the pendulum shifts in their favor.
Their core young players have plenty of upside, which also means there's potential for an explosive performance, be it Clayton Kershaw's chance to dominate any left-leaning lineup or Matt Kemp's potential for a three-homer game against a pitcher who grabs too much of the plate.
How They'll Lose
Their No. 3 and No. 4 starters, especially if Kershaw isn't among them, will match up poorly against most other playoff teams' starters in those games. If either of Lowe or Billingsley misses a beat, the Dodgers will be flushed out of the series.
October brings better pitching, both in terms of stuff and command. That's bad news for most of the Dodgers' lineup, and the improved pitching will leave them struggling to score runs.
An opponent that puts the ball in play will make the Dodgers pay for their weak team defense, especially if manager Joe Torre chooses to be loyal to veterans such as Jeff Kent or Nomar Garciaparra.
Can Lowe and Billingsley shut down their opponents enough for the Dodgers to scratch out wins?
Will Torre change his longtime game plan and be willing to use younger players in key situations?
Can the Dodgers score against the better arms they'll see in the postseason?