It’s been a troubled year for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have joined their local brethren in the Angels and Lakers as overpriced disappointments. But the weakness of the NL West means hope for the Dodgers, whose 37-43 record coming into Sunday has them only 4 ½ games off the pace. The second half of the season at least resembles the chance for a new beginning. Is the worst now behind the Dodgers, and can they take advantage of this second chance?
Yasiel Puig has electrified not just Los Angeles, but all of baseball, with the way he’s stormed onto the scene. Playing both left and right field, Puig’s numbers are impressive enough—a stat line of .451 on-base percentage/.677 slugging percentage. But numbers alone can’t tell the story. Puig has made some magnificent throws in the outfield. He’s rapidly become a celebrity like something we haven’t seen from the Dodgers since Fernando Valenzuela won his first eight starts in 1981 and started Fernando-Mania.
If nothing else, Puig’s arrival brought positive vibes into the Los Angeles clubhouse and the local baseball culture generally and that was something badly needed for a team whose established veterans have been letdowns.
INJURIES AND DISAPPOINTMENT
Any discussion of the so-far-disappointment in Los Angeles must begin with Matt Kemp and go quickly to Andre Ethier. We know Kemp is brittle and his time on the disabled list is not a surprise. What we do expect is that he’ll produce when he’s in the lineup, but with a .305/.322 stat line that has decidedly not been the case. Those who felt coming into the season that Ethier might be in decline have more evidence in their arsenal, with his .336/.378 non-performance.
Then throw in the fact that Adrian Gonzalez, while having a generally good year, has hit the skids in the past month, and you have the formula for a troubled offense. Los Angeles is still seventh in the National League in runs scored—not bad for a pitcher-friendly park—but their lack of power is a big problem and when you spend the kind of coin that Magic Johnson and the Dodger ownership have, you expect a little bit more.
The good news is that Hanley Ramirez has been tearing it up since he got healthy, and he’s back playing his natural position at shortstop. Ramirez has ripped off a sizzling .436/.732 stat line in his 71 at-bats and now Carl Crawford has also begun rehab. Is it unrealistic to think Crawford, Kemp and Ethier could all ramp up the production after the All-Star break? I think it is. They might not produce star numbers, but manager Don Mattingly can get a heckuva lot more than what he has been.
MORE INJURIES AND DISAPPOINTMENT
Injuries have defined the starting rotation as much, if not more than the everyday lineup. There was the time Zack Greinke missed after his brawl with Carlos Quentin of San Diego earlier in the year. Josh Beckett was ineffective, hit the disabled list and it was just announced this past week that he will miss the rest of the season. Chad Billingsley has been gone for the year from the get-go, and Ted Lilly is doing rehab work in Class A.
It’s added up to a rotation that’s sixth in the National League in starters’ ERA. That’s not bad, but now the park effects require us to take a little more jaded view of the results. And in either case, that whole “Magic and his boys paid for a lot more than this” logic still applies.
No one can fault Clayton Kershaw, with his 2.08 ERA in 17 starts, as he makes a run at a second Cy Young Award. Hyun-Jin Ru has been terrific, with a 2.83 ERA in 16 outings. The Dodgers have to be reasonably pleased with what they’ve gotten from Stephen Fife, who’s chipped in six starts so far and produced a 3.41 ERA. But they can’t be happy that even a healthy Greinke is worse than Fife, with a 3.54 ERA, nor with their reliance on Chris Capuano, who’s been consistently hit hard this season.
BIG BULLPEN PROBLEMS
Mattingly has a big problem in his bullpen and one that doesn’t appear to have a silver-bullet solution at hand. The relievers are 13th in the National League in bullpen ERA, and their 59% close rate on save chances is several points below the league norm.
There is little depth, with only Kenley Jansen, Paco Rodriguez and J.P. Howell having good ERAs, but with Jansen even that’s a mixed bag. His ERA might be 2.41, but he’s blown three saves in his on-again, off-again work as the closer. That includes two over the past month, marring an otherwise fine stretch of work. It’s great to have the low ERA, but if you close games, a lot gets wiped out with the blown chances.
At least Jansen does something though, which is more than can be said for Brandon League, who’s coughed up four save chances and has a bloated 4.80 ERA. Along with Ronald Belisario and Matt Guerrier, they combine to form the disappointment half of the pen and all of them need to do an about-face quickly.
I suppose the Dodgers could go for another big-name trade. Jonathan Papelbon might be available from Philadelphia, but you would have to think that eventually ownership will insist that the highly paid group they’ve already put together go win consistently before adding any new toys.
WILL THE FRESH START PAY OFF?
So can this Los Angeles team take advantage of their second chance? My view of the Dodgers hasn’t changed a lot from the start of the season. I didn’t care for them then and didn’t feel like they’d make the playoffs, but at the same time, didn’t see them as a bad team. I expect they’ll play well enough to get 84-85 wins and be in the wild-card race to the end. But I’m not picking them to play into October and that probably means goodbye to Mattingly, either during or after the season.
AROUND THE NL WEST
Arizona (42-39): The Diamondbacks might be in first place, but they’re really struggling of late. They have a decent core of relievers, but it’s not adding up to closed saves. Arizona’s 59 percent save rate is no better than Los Angeles’ and manager Kirk Gibson has got to fix it.
Colorado (41-41): It won’t be long now until the Rockies slip under .500 for good. Heck, it may happen by the time you read this article.
San Diego (40-42): The middle infield of Jedd Gyorko and Everth Cabrera comes off the disabled list in the next week or so. As discussed in last week’s MLB coverage, I don’t know how San Diego keeps doing it, nor do I believe they can keep it up, but more power to them.
San Francisco (38-42): With disappointments in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the Giants’ own lackluster season following the World Series run of last October has almost gone under the radar.