The Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves in a pretty good position as the first month of the season winds down. First place is never a bad place to be, and with May fast approaching the Boys in Blue are positioned for a good season and an exciting summer. In breaking down the first few weeks we need to critically analyze what is going right, and what is going wrong.
Since I have a sunny disposition (insert chuckle here) lets look at what is going well for the Dodgers. The Dodgers line-up has length. Gone are the big names of Kemp and Hanley, instead there are hitters that thrive on grinding out at-bats. This is a much better approach for long-term success. “See ball-hit ball” has its place, but if you are professional ball-player and you can’t hit with two strikes I don’t feel I can depend on you when the pressure mounts in August and September.
Despite his sub-Mendoza line batting average Jimmy Rollins grinds out at-bats. Like the consummate lead-off man he gives his mates a chance to get a look at the pitcher and can let them know what “that days” pitcher has working and what pitches aren’t. Howie Kendrick is a revelation to some, expected commodity to others. Howie was always the glue to that Angels line-up and he is showing that in the middle of the Dodgers line-up. He produces a tough at-bat almost every time up there and his addition is fun to watch.
Joc Pederson is as good as advertised. His defense is nearly flawless. He gets outstanding jumps on balls in the gaps and takes great angles to balls hit in the alleys. He is hitting .296 with an on base percentage well over .400. While he strikes out a little too much he can also take a walk. I love what he brings to the table and at 22 years-old he will only get better. A true anchor for years to come for the Dodgers.
Alex Guerrero told anyone who would listen during the spring that he wasn’t going back down to the minors. He wasn’t lying. He is raking. 5 home runs in 26 at bats. Two pinch-hit home runs. The only reason Guerrero isn’t playing every day is that he doesn’t have a position. While fans clamor for him to play every day, they fail to see that he still needs to work on his defense. His natural position is second base and he will not be supplanting Kendrick this year. We should enjoy his production and be happy that he is an option as a bat off the bench and a super utility player. But, until he isn’t such a liability defensively he can’t play every day.
Adrian Gonzalez has been the best hitter in the big leagues for the first month of the season. He went on a tear against his home-town Padres to start the year. He wasn’t going to keep hitting .500 but has been consistent and has had the penchant for getting the big hit. Gonzalez is vital for Dodgers success and the man can simply hit lasers. Despite the lefty-lefty match-up, I still have no idea why Dodger manager Don Mattingly sits him against San Francisco Giants starter Madison Bumgarner. Oh well, we will get to THAT in a moment.
The Dodgers starters have been solid. Clayton Kershaw only had 1 win last April and he will leave this April with only 1 win as well. I am not worried about the reigning Cy Young and MVP. He is a slow starter and will continue to anchor the staff. Zack Greinke is rolling. 3-0 with a sub 1.50 ERA. He has been superb. The Dodgers 1-2 punch in their rotation is what makes them the odds-on favorite to win the NL WEST.
It’s great to see Andre Ethier performing so well. With Yasiel Puig nursing a bum hamstring it figures Either will get more playing time. Ethier is hitting well over .300 with a couple of home runs in limited action. A guy that seemed to be on the outs has a chance to produce and show his value.
The emergence of Yimi Garcia in what has been a creaky bullpen is a pleasant surprise. The Dodgers can certainly use reliable arms in their pen and Garcia has proven his worth. I can see Garcia setting up closer Kenley Jansen when the big right-handed closer comes back from the disabled list. Left-hander Adam Liberatore looks real good as a lefty option. The hard-thrower pounds the zone and although his work has been limited, I expect him to get more work as the familiar names in the Box of Pain continue to flail.
There is a lot that is going right in the Dodgers Nation but there are some glaring weaknesses that I believe are holding this team back from becoming a championship contender. First, the injury bug is not necessarily anyone’s fault, but it is contributing factor to losses. Jansen is due back soon, and they need him back sooner rather than later. While I was not a fan of signing Brandon McCarthy to a 48 million dollar deal, now that he is one of us, I really wanted to see him succeed. McCarthy has the penchant for giving up the home run ball and also striking out a lot of hitters. I thought McCarthy was a decent, albeit overpaid option as a number four starter and his loss to the ulnar collateral ligament tear and Tommy John surgery is a tough loss.
The Dodgers are being cautious with Hyun Jin-Ryu and that is the wise decision. Ryu is vital to long-term Dodgers success. Los Angeles needs Ryu healthy and if keeping him on the shelf to rest that shoulder for a few months will help, then so be it. The Dodgers miss Ryu’s consistency in that third spot in the rotation, but they need to make sure he is 100 percent before trying to bring him back.
Puig hurt his hamstring in San Diego. We all know how delicate those hammies can be. A big part of Puig’s game is his legs. He needs those healthy to be the player that makes the Dodgers go. He should be held out as long as it takes. Carl Crawford tore his oblique on Monday. The oft-injured outfielder is hurt again. I don’t expect him back any time soon. To be honest, not a huge loss, that means more at-bats for Scott Van Slyke.
While the Dodgers defense is much improved, especially with Kendrick, Rollins and Joc up the middle, Yasmani Grandal leaves a lot to be desired behind the plate. We have heard so much about Grandal’s ability to frame pitches, and while that is fine and dandy his inability to block balls in the dirt are a major concern. He gets lazy behind the dish and doesn’t fully square up pitches in the dirt. His bad blocking habits cost the Dodgers extra bases and those bases turn into runs. So far not a huge fan but it’s early.
Brett Anderson is getting 10 million guaranteed to be a fifth starter and so far he has pitched like a fifth starter. Great stuff but lacking consistency and length. He is having a tough time getting through five innings. The Dodgers need him to pitch better.
The Dodgers bullpen in my opinion is still a major trouble spot. Not only do I not think the Dodgers front office adequately addressed the bullpen, but what bothers me the most is that the front office believes they addressed the pen. J.P. Howell does not throw hard, which is fine, but if you don’t throw hard you better locate. His location has not been good. Paco Rodriguez has been inconsistent and I don’t know if you can rely on him for big outs late in games. Right-handed flame throwers Pedro Baez and Chris Hatcher are pitching like former infielders, which they are. Baez throws 97 but doesn’t have a serviceable off-speed pitch and that hurts him. Hatcher has not been a consistent strike thrower, and when he does throw his 95 mile per hour fast ball its been getting hit…..hard. Joel Peralta is a nice addition, but I don’t think he is the late inning guy the Dodgers brass envisioned. There are way too many question marks in the bullpen for a team that has championship aspirations.
I begged and pleaded for the Dodgers to over-pay for Andrew Miller. They didn’t and now he is shining in New York. At 44 million dollars over four years the Yankees got a guy who can get lefties and righties out. He can pitch multiple innings and is down-right filthy. My teen-age like adoration of Miller will not waver until he either breaks down or starts serving them up on a platter. His presence would have given the bullpen the length that Kendrick’s presence has given the Dodgers offense.
At last but not least, Don Mattingly. I have supported our Dodgers manager when my head was telling me sometimes I shouldn’t. While he has improved in certain aspects of managing games, I still see him woefully deficient in handling the minutae of it all. Maybe it’s because we see the genius of Bruce Bochy on a daily basis leading an average Giants team to three World Series titles in five years. Mattingly is praised for his clubhouse abilities in handling big egos. Don’t get me wrong, I know there is a place for this but it is getting increasingly difficult to over-look his in-game foibles. They aren’t glaring until they actually are. When they start costing you games, or don’t give the team the best chance to win, it is necessary to question him. His propensity for the double-switch borders on obsessive. Donnie uses the double-switch like a toddler who gets a new toy. He plays with it over and over and over and over. He sometimes needlessly makes the switch and wastes players that could be helpful in later innings. He doesn’t rest players on intermittent days, instead Mattingly rests them all on the same day making it nearly impossible to win that specific game.
Over the last week he has rested Gonzalez, Pederson and Ethier on the same day that Madison Bumgarner has pitched TWICE. I understand its tough for lefties to hit lefties. But, by sitting three of your best hitters against one of the best pitchers in the game, it gave the Dodgers virtually no chance to win those games. They lost them both. Would Bochy rest Posey against a tough righty ? No, Posey gets rest or the day off if he is tired PERIOD. Mattingly tinkers too much. He over-manages and his team suffers for it. There are things I like about Donnie, there are things I can’t stand. The things I can’t stand are starting to out-weigh the things I like.
With all this said, the Dodgers are in first place with a record of 12-8. They are 9-2 at home and are a more complete offensive team than they were last year and can score runs in more varied ways. It doesn’t both me that the Dodgers have lost four of five to the Giants. Small sample size, early in the year. The 270 million dollar Dodgers have strengths. The Dodgers have weaknesses. The Dodger post-season possibilities depend on whether they can ride those strengths and rectify those weaknesses