LOS ANGELES -- Analysts with sabermetric sensibilities tend to be perpetually at a loss for why the Los Angeles Dodgers continue to play aging ex-Philadelphia Phillies stars Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins night after night.
Rollins, after all, has a .279 on-base percentage, lower than all but three National League hitters with the qualifying at-bats. Utley has struggled to keep his batting average above .200 all season. Advanced metrics suggest both players' defensive games are nowhere near their previous Gold Glove calibers.
But critics of the Dodgers' lineup choices should probably keep in mind this team now is run by one of the most analytical front offices in baseball, and it was president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi who went out and got the two 36-year-olds from Philly.
Friedman and Zaidi have been trying to make the Dodgers' clubhouse and batter's box more professional environments for months now, and that's where Utley and Rollins fit in, even if their low batting averages stand out on the in-stadium lineup displays.
There are no guarantees Rollins, who recently returned from a finger injury, and Utley will remain mainstays while other infielders such as Justin Turner, Jose Peraza and Enrique Hernandez get healthier. It wouldn't be surprising to see one or both play from off the bench in the playoffs at times. But for now, the Dodgers think they are adding more to the mix than subtracting from it no matter what numerical analyses suggest.
They saved the Dodgers from a potentially awkward situation Wednesday with Rollins sparking a dead-in-the-water offense by drag-bunting his way to a base hit and then scoring the go-ahead run on Utley's double in the Dodgers' 4-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dodgers' eighth-inning rally, punctuated by Corey Seager's home run, reduced their magic number to five and snapped their longest home losing streak -- four games -- of the season.
Mattingly said Utley has set a different tone since he arrived on Aug. 19. In a room full of laidback players who like to have fun, Utley is all business. With the Dodgers running the bases as if they were sipping cocktails between innings before he got here, Utley has run them with the precision of a skilled NFL route runner. Since he and third-base coach Ron Roenicke arrived, the Dodgers have been creating offense on the bases without blundering into easy outs.
"Chase has made a big difference for us since he came -- his tone, the way he plays, his preparation," Mattingly said. "It's been an addition in attitude and the way you go about your business, for sure. Sometimes, you can't measure everything. You look at batting average or whatever with guys; some of it's coming from different areas that are important to your ball club."
The Dodgers have been playing tight ever since they built an 8 1/2-game lead, and it seemed only a matter of time before they clinched, barring a miracle. But they appeared to play tight as the magic number stayed stuck where it was for a few days in a row. It showed up while they were hitting mostly. Through seven innings, the Dodgers had managed just one hit off Chase Anderson and reliever Randall Delgado Wednesday.
But Rollins saw an opening between first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and second baseman Brandon Drury, and he hit it just hard enough to trickle it toward Drury, who raced over and had it go off his glove. Ronald Torreyes bunted again, sacrificing Rollins to second, before Utley and Seager finally produced some loud sounds.
Utley, who won a World Series with Rollins for the decade they played together in Philly, said he has seen him spark a rally "once or twice." He wouldn't say whether Rollins tends to do such things when an offense is struggling to create base runners.
"I don't want to give away his secrets," he joked.
The Dodgers, who needed five pitchers to do what Zack Greinke normally does -- dominate for eight innings -- were feeling a deep sense of relief Wednesday night. They now can wrap up this division without worrying about those four games in San Francisco starting Monday. After finishing with Arizona on Thursday, the Dodgers play three at Coors Field.
Mattingly has been urging a more aggressive attitude to his players during this mini-skid.
"I expect San Francisco to win besides when we play them," Mattingly said about an hour before the Giants lost 5-4 in San Diego. "We're going to have to take care of our own business. I hope our guys see it like that. We've just got to win our way through it."