Inside Look: LA Dodgers
In a matter of a few days, the Mets went from the NL East basement right into the thick of the race, simultaneously changing their outlook from bleak to bright. Their sudden “about face” was the result of several factors, not the least of which included strong pitching, a spark by Ike Davis, poor execution by their opponents, and a little bit of luck.
Can the Mets remain on a positive course? We shall soon see, but it appears as though their timing remains good — the Dodgers stumble into town playing below their potential, marred by multiple injuries to their pitching staff, and without the bat of Manny Ramirez.
To get a glimpse of what’s going on in Dodgerland, I’ve called on fellow ESPN SweetSpot Blogger Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts.
1. Prior to the season, the Dodgers – on paper – looked like the best in the NL West. However, they’ve struggled out of the gate and are sitting near the cellar with an 8-10 record. What’s going on? Have they been playing down to their competition?
Keeping in mind that there’s only a three-game difference between last and first in the NL West, it’s true that the Dodgers’ play has been problematic. They’ve had virtually unprecedented fielding troubles, and the starting pitching outside of Hiroki Kuroda has been inconsistent. I expect that the fielding and pitching will improve some, but the offense – which has been about the best in the league – will cool down, so it’s hard to predict how good they’ll be.
2. With the Padres at the top of the division, it’s obviously still early. Which teams do you see as the main competition for first place come August / September?
I still expect the Rockies to be the Dodgers’ team to beat, with the Giants in the thick of it if they can maintain any kind of hitting.
3. With hot starts by Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, and Casey Blake, it seems the Dodgers are less reliant on Manny Ramirez’s big bat for success. Would you agree? Will they miss Manny while he’s on the DL?
His bat is always good to have around – many pundits (gleefully) gave up on him at the end of last year, ignoring his hand injury – but in any case, the Dodgers showed last year they can produce without him.
4. Are Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley ready to take their game to the next level and lead the LA pitching staff, or are they still a year or so away?
I wouldn’t frame the question that way. Some days they’re already at the next level, other days they’re not. Billingsley was arguably one of the two or three best pitchers in the NL in the first half of last season. They just need to execute more consistently.
5. Russ and Ramon Ortiz? Really?
Two of the Dodgers’ top four relievers, Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo, started the year on the restricted and disabled lists, and Jeff Weaver went on the DL last week. So while I wouldn’t have chosen the Ortizs, I don’t think many major-league teams have No. 8 and No. 9 relievers that are much better. Russ is now gone, and Ramon is the last guy in the pen and poised for release if the Dodgers get completely healthy.
6. Does Joe Torre’s (ab)use of middle relievers like George Sherrill and Ramon Troncoso concern you?
Sherrill hasn’t been abused (he has never thrown more than 20 pitches on consecutive days, or more than 10 pitches on three consecutive days, as a Dodger), but to the larger point, it does and it doesn’t. There have been times when Torre has fallen in love with a particular reliever, but I also think it has been overblown. I kept track last year of reliever pitch counts and found that it was rare that Torre actually was working a pitcher above what anyone would think is acceptable. One of the few times it happened was with Belisario during one weeklong stretch last summer. Belisario went on the DL, but honestly, that was the exception. Torre has become as careful with Kuo, for example, as one can be.
Torre has had to go to the pen a lot this month, but given how poorly the Dodger pitching performed, there isn’t much any manager could have done differently. I don’t think Torre is a saint or that he’s outstanding with his bullpen use, but I think too much is made of this aspect of his managing in comparison with others. For every Scott Proctor or Belisario, there’s been a lot of good relief performance by the Dodger bullpen under Torre’s control, without injury consequences.
Frankly, I’m a little more concerned by Torre’s use of Billingsley in 2009. Billingsley had the most pitches thrown in the first half of the season of any NL pitcher.
7. Speaking of relievers, how is “former Met” Carlos Monasterios looking?
Monasterios looks like a keeper – not perfect by any means, but a valuable guy for the back of the pen for now. He pitched 2 2/3 innings to get the win in the Dodgers’ 13-inning game at Washington on Saturday.
8. What is the key to the Dodgers making it into the postseason in 2010?
They simply can’t be among the worst in the league in pitching and fielding. They certainly have the talent to make the playoffs, but if they can’t show it on the field, it ain’t gonna happen. They need to improve their performance in those areas just to make sure they stay in contention.
Thanks again to Jon Weisman for his excellent insight. To keep up with what’s going on in Los Angeles baseball, be sure to check out his blog Dodgers Thoughts.