Why the Dodgers aren't pushing harder for home field

SAN FRANCISCO -- Adrian Gonzalez told Don Mattingly he wanted to play the final five games of the regular season. Mattingly politely declined.

The Los Angeles Dodgers manager wanted to give his two catchers a day off from the rigors of being behind the plate, but he also wanted Yasmani Grandal to get some at-bats, so he inserted Grandal at first base, used rookie Austin Barnes at catcher and left his No. 1 run producer out of the lineup. Gonzalez has been dealing with off-and-on pain from a pinched nerve in his back.

"I was fine with that explanation," Gonzalez said. "I'll play the next four."

In the coming few days, the Dodgers figure to use closer Kenley Jansen in scheduled outings rather than reserving him for the pressure-packed parts of games. They will scale back the starts of pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Brett Anderson. Players like Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick and Justin Turner, who have been nursing ailing body parts, will have their playing time closely monitored. None of those players were in Wednesday's starting lineup.

Does this sound like a team pressing hard to gain home-field advantage in the playoffs? Mattingly said it mattered to him, but not enough to risk jeopardizing the health of any of his recuperating players.

"We're going to play. I don't really plan on backing off as far as throwing any old lineup out there and just letting it go," Mattingly said.

The Dodgers' approach seems to stand in contrast to the Dodgers' first-round opponent, the New York Mets, who have made their intention of trying to lock up home field clear.

"We're going to play to win as many games as we can and to try to get home-field advantage in the first round," Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters. "I think it's very, very important to have that. I think it's something to shoot for. I think when you're still playing for something, it prepares you better."

The Dodgers, as in previous seasons, are choosing better health over the possibility of more home games. Is that a wise decision? Perhaps not, based on past performances. The Dodgers are 1-6 on the road the previous two postseasons and 5-2 at home. At 36-44 after Wednesday night's 5-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park, they are the only National League team headed for the postseason that has a losing record away from home.

The issue, however, isn't how much home-field is worth, but whether it's attainable at a reasonable cost. Gonzalez has been dealing with an occasionally painful pinched nerve in his back, though he denied a TV report that he could require surgery, saying it has never come up. Kendrick has still felt tightness in the left hamstring that caused him to miss 34 games recently. Turner's knee was inflamed enough on the last homestand that he had to get in an MRI tube.

Plus, despite the Mets' loss to the Philadelphia Phillies Wednesday, they still hold a bigger-than-it-looks edge in the fight for home-field. The Mets are a game ahead of the Dodgers with the tiebreaker -- head-to-head record -- in hand. The Dodgers would have to make up two games in the next four days in order to play Game 1 -- and, more importantly, a potential Game 5 -- at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers have one game left against the Giants and three left at home against the San Diego Padres. The Mets have one left against the Phillies and three left at home against the Washington Nationals.

If anything, the Dodgers blew their quest for home field while going 2-8 in the games before they finally clinched the NL West on the strength of Clayton Kershaw's one-hitter Tuesday night. Mattingly said he doesn't regret the lineups he wrote out over that time, in which he frequently rested some of his regulars.

"I just think it's human nature of what happens down the stretch. You have a little bit of a lead and you're playing teams you're supposed to beat. It's just the way it is. You see it all the time, every year," Mattingly said. "We were playing lineups trying to win."

The Dodgers are run by an analytical front office and they, no doubt, have run the numbers. Home teams have won about 54 percent of postseason baseball games in the divisional era. The edge is not as large in baseball as it is in either basketball or football. The players seem to feel it is of only marginal advantage.

"I don't buy into any of that stuff. You play the games and you win some, you lose some. You can't say, ‘Oh, we won because of this.' " Gonzalez said.

Asked if hostile crowds affect the team's play or home crowds can carry them to greater heights, Gonzalez replied, "Heck no."

"We don't pay attention to the crowds. Come on now. We like it when our crowds cheer for us at home, but it isn't going to affect us one way or another," Gonzalez said.

Dodgers infielder Chase Utley played on a 2009 Philadelphia Phillies team that had to open the World Series in New York. They lost. He played on a 2008 Phillies team that had to open the World Series in Tampa Bay. They won. He said the allegiances of the crowd, getting to bat last or being able to sleep in your own bed ought not to be determining factors in a high-stakes baseball series.

"They shouldn't be. At the end of the day, it's still the same game we played the entire season," Utley said. "Obviously, it's more magnified and the fans are a bit more vocal, but you've got to try to do your best to try to stay within yourself."