Penny's Back Leaves Dodgers Pitching Short

The Dodgers playoff hopes? It's gonna take some luck. The old Boston Braves had a saying "Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain." With the Dodgers it is "The Old Man, Lowe Pressure and Let's See."

Brad Penny came up with a stiff back at the world's worst time. Even if he does pitch, it'll be pitch by pitch and the pitching staff management has to work around that fact.

Chad Billingsley is a younger, rookie version of Penny. Health is an issue. Can you count on the youngster. Maybe is the best you're gonna get.

So here's where we are.

Derek Lowe, always sensational when the leaves start turning color, starts game one - because of his record and because he's had more rest than Greg Maddux. Greg Maddux starts game two because he is who he is and also because there is no other option.

Now the Dodgers pray for a travel day or rain.

Game three. Has to be the guy who won only a single game all season, H. C. Kuo.

There aint no other option right now. While Kuo has only won one, it was a ton, or the Dodgers would've been in the soup (got that fans, won-ton-soup).

Fact is Kuo has pitched more than pretty well in his starts since being called up from the minors in August to take a place in the pitching rotation. He has gone into the 5th or 6th in most of his starts with the lead, tied or close. He has held up well to pressure.

The Dodgers are likely to go with a three man staff and three days of rest between starts. Maddux' assortment of off speed stuff doesn't tax his arm much, Lowe pitches on adrenalin in the fall, and Kuo (a) hasn't had an innings-eating year having spent so much time in the bullpen, and (b) is young enough to handle the toil.

If the Dodgers had to have a 4th starter, they are in trouble. They'd probably be prone to taking a shot with Billingsley but with somebody warming up in the bullpen from pitch one. Ditto with Penny. Either case, you're rolling the dice.

The Dodgers ain't gonna start Aaron Sele. They wouldn't even think about Elmer Dessens. Mark Hendricksen is the ultimate last option scenario.

There's young left starter Eric Stults. Stults is 26. His arm is 22, injury time off included. Then there is August-September Goat Number 1 Brett Tomko.

Improbably, Tomko may be the Dodgers' best bet for a starter if one is needed. He is experienced, that he is. And who knows, with some months off from starting, from an injury, minor league rehab, and a sojourn at long relief, maybe there is a career game someplace in the mix.

Lowe, Maddux and Pray for Tomko is hardly as alluring as Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain.

In 1988, the Dodgers went with Orel Hershiser and not much else. In 2006, it's much the same. There you have it.

In the 1950s, the Dodgers went to the bullpen and started Clem Labine and Clem produced.

Should the current Dodgers look to the bullpen, the choices are Jonathan Broxton or lefty Joe Beimel. Broxton has had, if not a breakout year, a dandy year. He could get a start, although it is unlikely, as that probably has never crossed the mind of Grady Little or Rick Honeycutt.

Starting Broxton would decimate a bullpen called a bullpen in name only. And Little likes to go with seasoned veterans first, which means he would remain wed to his affection for Tomko.

The Dodgers last day tie breaker chance rests more on the arm of Arizona righty Brandon Webb pitching at home than it does with the prospect the Dodgers end the season on a seven game winning streak. The Giants have to be somewhat discombobulated with a lame duck manager, Felipe Alou, who has not been invited back.

The Dodgers didn't start Marlon Anderson or James Loney in the next to last game because they were facing a lefty. They used Mario Mendoza clone Julio Lugo instead, even hitting him in the three spot - and got away with it.

Outfielder J.D. Drew hit the 20 homer and 100 RBI mark in the winning effort. Maddux got his 15th win and Broxton and Takashi Saito finished with blanks.

But everybody has hit well for the Dodgers, which is more than one can say for either the Cards or Mets whom the Dodgers will face in the first round.

What the Dodgers will get from Nomar Garciaparra will be mostly from desire and heart rather than a healthy ballplayer. A lot could depend on how Grady Little manages his first base slot. Does he start Olmedo Saenz against lefties? Will he give James Loney a chance against righties? Will he move Jeff Kent and keep going with Julio Lugo? Nobody knows, not even Little.

While Loney is only spot-used, rookie catcher Russell Martin has become the marathon man. His tank gotta be running on fumes, but Martin being Martin and Little being Little, it's hard to see anybody but the Canadian behind the plate. Numbers being what they are, Martin will be playing for Rookie of the Year. His team has won, the Marlins gems finished close like in horseshoes.

Destiny will play a large part in the Dodgers quest to advance. The biggest advantage - they are absolutely finished, we hope, with the Padres, unless the two knock off both the Cards and Mets and meet for the National League title.

After the Dodgers clinched post season play on Saturday, the irrepressible one, 79 year old Tommy Lasorda, was the first one to bray "I told you so!" Would anyone have expected anything else?

Little, who lost his last managing job, with a post season decision, now gets a chance at redemption.