MLB Coverage: The Dodgers Without Greinke

The Los Angeles Dodgers were hit with another significant injury, when starting pitcher Zack Greinke broke his collarbone in the highly publicized brawl with San Diego’s Carlos Quentin earlier this week. Greinke will be out until at least the end of May and into June. He joins 3B/SS Hanley Ramirez on the disabled list. The Dodgers have picked up a lot of big names since the All-Star break of 2012, and Greinke and Ramirez are most definitely among them. In an NL West that was expected to be competitive and has been living up to those predictions in the first couple weeks, can the Dodgers keep going without two of their big names?

I think there’s a tendency in MLB coverage and in sports media in general, that, when we talk about the impact of losing an injured player, we focus solely on how good that player is. It’s understandable and to a certain extent, logical. But if we’re going to get an accurate gauge on whether a team can still compete, wouldn’t it make even more sense to look at the quality of the talent that’s still there?

If you took such an approach last year when Mariano Rivera got hurt in New York, you saw that the Yankees were still loaded with talent and could hand the closer’s job to Rafael Soriano. It wasn’t detracting from Rivera’s greatness to point out that New York was putting a good team on the field anyway. So how good are the Dodgers sans Greinke and Ramirez?

The pitching rotation is still coming around to Clayton Kershaw every fifth day. The 2011 Cy Young winner has built off his amazing Opening Day—shutout baseball, plus a game-winning home run, and Kershaw has a 1.16 ERA in three starts. Hyun-Jin Ryu has a 2.89 ERA in his three outings. Chad Billingsley has only made one start, but it was promising, allowing one run in six innings. Josh Beckett is still struggling, with a 4.91 ERA in two starts, and he takes the mound later this afternoon against Arizona’s Trevor Cahill. Does Greinke—who has a 1.59 ERA—lift this rotation from being good, to potentially great? Absolutely. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s still good without him.

On the offensive side, the Dodgers have five key players. You start with the Big Three of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez, then add X-factors in catcher A.J. Ellis and left fielder Carl Crawford. The oft-injured Crawford is off to a good start, with a stat line of .465 on-base percentage and .615 slugging percentage. I felt when he was traded from Boston last year that this move would be good for him, and the early returns are bearing that out.

Crawford isn’t the only Dodger swinging a good bat right now. In fact, of the key players, only Kemp has been slow out of the gate and second baseman Mark Ellis has a .375 on-base percentage. If anything, Los Angeles has been hit by bad luck offensively—they’re second in the National League in on-base percentage and a tolerable ninth in slugging, but are stuck down at 12th in runs scored. The odds are that those stats will start to coincide, and most of the time the trend is for the runs to match other two numbers, not vice-versa.

Thus, we look at the Dodgers and see a team with five quality offensive players, an elite starting pitcher and a respectable rotation behind him. We further see a bullpen that has Brandon League, Kenley Jansen and Ronald Belisario all pitching well. Can a team like this hang in the race until the end of May when they get Greinke and Ramirez back? Yeah, I think so.


*The Dodgers are one of four NL West teams that were at least 7-4 coming into Sunday’s games. The only exception is San Diego, who’s already 5 ½ out. I don’t see a lot of reasons to expect the Padres to turn it around, but they do get good news in that third baseman Chase Headley is expected back this week.

*Milwaukee is staring disaster in the face in the NL Central. The Brewers are digging an early hole, and if there’s anything more unsafe than being a star athlete in Los Angeles (injuries to Greinke, Jered Weaver and Kobe Bryant) it’s being a corner infield in Milwaukee—Corey Hart was already on the shelf when the season started, Mat Gamel had already been lost for the year and now you can add brief trips to the DL for Aramis Ramirez and Taylor Green.

*Atlanta is the toast of baseball, off to a 10-1 start and opening up a lead in the NL East, thanks to a league-best 1.98 staff ERA coming into Sunday. The Mets are hanging in early thanks to their offense, as they lead in the league in runs scored. What kind of odds would there have been in Las Vegas that, at the two-week point in the season, the most prolific offenses in baseball would belong to the Mets and A’s?