The knee-jerk reactionaries that make up baseball fan bases’ can sometimes be the end of me. With every win, “we are going all the way.” With every loss, “dump him, demote him, run him out-of-town.” Every fan base has these irrational members of their fan base. Hell, I have been that guy at times. It’s the nature of the game.The passions our teams’ stir.
Thank goodness these reactionaries are not in charge of my Dodgers. Baseball lends itself to the peanut gallery. The game moves at a slow pace. A simple game that “seems” easy to play. Of course those of us that have played, know there is nothing further from the truth.
Last week Dodger fans en masse were bemoaning consecutive losses to the San Francisco Giants. These out-of-touch fans were professing the beloved Bums were done, finished, kaput. The problem with this thinking is it’s not true and doesn’t take into account the marathon nature of the game. How quickly these fans forget the two-and-a-half month slump from the Dodgers in 2013. I don’t have to remind long-time supporters that the Dodgers were 9.5 games back of the Giants a week into June last year with a record of 23-32 and in last place. But, I find I constantly am in head-shaking mode when these alarmists pontificate on Dodger fortunes.
Here are some facts about the 2014 Dodgers.
First, they are supremely talented. A virtual All-Star team all around the diamond. Adrian Gonzalez will put up great numbers again at first base. Hanley Ramirez, despite his defensive deficiencies, is as electric from the short-stop position offensively as there is in the game. Yasiel Puig is injured now, but should bring his electrifying game back to forefront in the next couple of days. Matt Kemp is coming along, after two injury plagued years. With Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford off to solid starts, the Dodgers appear poised to be an offensive juggernaut in 2014.
When you throw in the clutch-hitting and defensive prowess of Juan Uribe and the pleasant surprise that is Dee Gordon at second base, this could be a very special offensive team.
The Dodgers pitching is the backbone of this club. Clayton Kershaw should be back soon and threw without pain on Tuesday. The two-time Cy-Young award winner is the best lefty in the game. Zack Greinke has had two solid outings and figures to be the best number two starter in all of baseball. Hyun Jin-Ryu has had two great starts and a bad one. His bad one against San Francisco was magnified by shoddy defense (we’ll get to that in a moment), and Ryu just couldn’t stop the bleeding. Ryu is a great complement to what the Dodgers already have. Early indications are that Dan Haren of old is back. Two top-notch starts out of the number four spot in the Dodgers rotation can not be under-stated.
The bullpen is a huge strength. Despite a couple of mis-steps from Kenley Jansen in the Tigers series this week, the Dodgers have the closer they want in that spot. With strong power arms Chris Withrow, Chris Perez, Jose Dominguez setting up set- up man Brian Wilson, the Dodger pen is deep with power arms and filth. Withrow has come into his own and is downright nasty. Perez is looking to re-capture the consistency of his days when he closed for Cleveland. His fastball was topping out at 90 in Cleveland last year, he is now throwing 94 with movement for the Dodgers. A nice fit. Jose Dominguez flirts with 100 miles-per-hour and must be more consistent with his secondary pitches to be trusted in late inning situations. Brian Wilson has been sidelined with some elbow soreness for the past week, but is re-habbing well and should be back with big club next week. The soreness is not thought to be serious.
With lefties J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez ready to match-up when called upon, the Dodgers have the balance that should serve them well deep into the dog days.
The biggest question mark in my mind regarding the Dodgers is their defense. This club has some issues fielding the ball. Bad defense should not be overlooked. It costs teams games and pitcher’s wear and tear on their arms. Ramirez stands out as a defensive liability at short. Over the last week we have seen Hanley short-arm throws to first, air mail throws and show limited range. Not gonna lie, this concerns me. His defensive play is vital to this team’s success. The Dodgers can flourish with average defense from Han-Ram, but if he continues to leak oil in the field this will extend innings, extend games, and cost the Dodger starters pitches when they should be in the dugout. The experience that is Dee Gordon at second base has worked out nicely. Gonzalez is solid at first, Uribe is fantastic at third with that cannon and accurate arm.
In the outfield, Crawford can run balls down but his surgically repaired elbow prevents him from being a threat to throw base-runners out. Kemp, for now, patrols center and it appears to me has lost a step. His long gazelle-like strides have given way to a bit of tentativeness which shouldn’t be surprising considering he missed most of the last two seasons. Ethier is a solid right fielder with a little bit more than an average arm. This brings us to Yasiel Puig, the greatest of anomalies. It’s a love-hate relationship with Puig’s defense. I love his aggressiveness. I love how he never gives up on a ball. I love how he thinks he can make every play. As a fan I love every ounce of energy and effort he shows when chasing balls down. Now to the hate. I hate that he still doesn’t seem to understand “baseball” situations. I hate that he sometimes seems more intent on showing off his arm, rather than hitting the cut-off man and keeping the double-play in order. I hate that he doesn’t learn from his mistakes and that he seems obstinate in doing things the “Puig way.” This must change or else his novelty will wear off and it will cost the Dodgers games. As I said, it’s a love-hate thing.
In conclusion, for fans to kick dirt on our 235 million dollar team shows that many of them have never played the game. One game out of 162 does not really matter. I would even say 25-to-30 game stretches don’t really matter. While we shouldn’t expect a 42-8 stretch like last year, we should expect this team to perform consistently well for the majority of this 2014 season. Are they the best team in the West ? Yes, I believe they are. The Giants are their most serious threat. But, I believe the Dodgers starting pitching and pen are better than their rivals. The Giants are showing they are going to score runs, but their porous back-end of the rotation will be their un-doing.
I will not panic if the Dodgers struggle on a Tuesday night in May. I know, when it’s all said and done, this division is theirs. I just have ignore the peanut gallery-alarmists who think Game 7 is being played on a Tuesday night in May.