Last night was the start of the second half for Major League Baseball. Here’s an assessment of how the Dodgers fared before the All-Star Break.
Rotation: The Dodgers started out this season still waiting for progress from their two young studs at the front of the rotation, Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. All through April, veteran Hiroki Kuroda was the team’s best pitcher. Then, gopher ball expert Vicente Padilla went on the DL and the rotation started to get into the swing of things. Padilla’s absence opened the door for rookie John Ely, who was stellar in his first few starts but has hit the wall as of late. Meanwhile, Kershaw has been lights out. Kershaw currently sits at 9-5 with 129 strikeouts(tied for fourth best in the majors) and a 3.16 ERA. Billingsley has been on and off. He struggled early on but hit his stride up until going on the DL last month with a groin injury. He’s 7-4 with 89 K’s and a 4.14 ERA. Ely, Kuroda and Padilla have been decent over the last couple of weeks. Padilla flirted with a no-no on the final day of the season’s first half, which shows he may be fully back after sitting most of the first half on the shelf. Still, three of the team’s starting five have ERAs above four and Kuroda is nearing that mark at 3.89. Both Kuroda and Ely have seven losses. The team ranks 16th in the majors in ERA(although they are 2nd in strikeouts). This isn’t the type of rotation you expect from a team led by Joe Torre, who had such great pitching when he was with the Yankees. Don’t think Torre and GM Ned Colletti don’t know that. With Cliff Lee off the market after his trade to Texas, the Dodgers have to switch their focus to Astros hurler Roy Oswalt(who has been on the block for weeks). Oswalt doesn’t make the Dodgers exponentially better, but he gives them a proven arm and allows them to either move Ely to the bullpen or send him down to the minors for more seasoning(assuming he isn’t involved in an Oswalt trade).
Lineup: The Dodgers, collectively, are hitting .267. They are 23rd in the majors in home runs with 70. This isn’t the type of production that should be expected from a lineup that has slugging outfielders Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Manny Ramirez in the middle of it and speedster Rafael Furcal at the top. Now, most of L.A.’s lack of production can be blamed on injuries. Furcal spent a few weeks on the D.L. with a hammy issue. Manny has been on the DL twice. Ethier broke his pinkie finger and hasn’t been right since he came off the DL. Catcher Russell Martin started the season on the shelf and has been a corpse since he came back. Then, there’s Matt Kemp. Kemp hasn’t spent any time on the DL, but at times, he looks like he’s spending time in La La Land. Kemp was an MVP dark horse in spring training, coming off his solid ’09 season(.297, 26 HR, 101 RBI, 94 R, 34 SB). Instead, Kemp is hitting .258 with a team-leading 16 HR and 51 RBI. He also had his heart openly questioned by Colletti back in May. For a guy looking for a new contract, Kemp sure isn’t playing like someone who is trying to get paid. The team’s unsung hero in the lineup has been first baseman James Loney. Loney’s hitting .306 with 6 homers and a team-leading 63 RBI. It seems unlikely the Dodgers will add another bat before the deadline since the source of their issues has been getting their guys either motivated or keeping them healthy. Still, a lineup with this much talent on paper should be putting bat to ball a lot more often than the numbers suggest.
Bullpen: Like the rest of his Dodger teammates, closer Jonathan Broxton had a shaky April. He finished the season’s opening month with just one save. Then, May came along and Broxton went into door-slamming mode, notching 12 saves and striking out 21 in 14.2 innings of work. June was a bit slow for Broxton, as he only shut the door three times(the same amount he currently has midway into July). Still, his 2.11 ERA, 19 saves and 51 K’s were good enough to get him to the All-Star Game. Joining him in St. Louis was last-minute injury replacement Hong-Chih Kuo. Kuo has a sick 0.99 ERA as the Dodgers’ chief set-up man, a WHIP of 0.77 and has struck out 36 hitters in 27.1 innings. The only real blemish in what has been a stellar bullpen has been former O’s closer George Sherrill. Sherrill is 0-1 with a 7.08 ERA so far and has spent some time, like many Dodgers, on the DL. Fellow relievers Charlie Haegar and Ramon Troncoso have been terrible as well. All in all, however, the bullpen has been solid.
Second Half Outlook: The Dodgers are 49-40 so far after last night’s drubbing at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. They sit in 3rd place in the NL West but are just 2.5 games back of the first place San Diego Padres. History has told us that young teams like the Pods hit the wall in the second half and that the Dodgers, who have been champions of the second half the last few years, will inevitably swoop in and take the division. In all starts with health, though. With Manny officially back, the lineup is finally at full strength. Ethier needs to go back to his April/May form when he was the NL’s top hitter. Kemp needs to shake off the doldrums and Manny needs to be more Manny on the field than off it. As for pitching, there’s no down side for the team going hard after Roy Oswalt. A 1-2-3 of Oswalt-Kershaw-Billingsley would be more than enough to take this division and Oswalt would give the Dodgers an innings eater who could go deep into games and give the stellar bullpen a rest. July thru September have always been the Dodgers time to shine. I expect this team to come out guns blazing and have the division in their possession by early August. If not, this team will end the season as the biggest disappointment in all of baseball.
About the Author
Written by Dave Leonardis
Born and raised in New Jersey, I've been writing since I was 10 and blogging since I was 18. I'm a huge sports nerd, following football, baseball and basketball in particular in close detail. My style is very upfront. I don't pull punches and I'm not shy about criticizing anything I feel deserves a proper tongue-lashing. If you're looking for someone who says what he wants, when he wants, then look no further than this guy right here.