Los Angeles Dodgers: 5 Ways to Overcome Horrendous Week
The Los Angeles Dodgers have just completed one of their worst weeks in franchise history. Last week, the Dodgers only scored 10 runs and lost the division lead to the San Francisco Giants by going 1-6.
After starting off much of the season with the best record in baseball, injurers and an inconsistent offense is starting to plague this team, who could not even muster one run in a three-game series sweep against the Giants. This most recent stretch now places the Dodgers one game out of first place in the NL West, making this juncture not necessarily a time to panic but a time in which improvement needs to happen.
What needs to change in Dodger-land? Here are five factors that must change for the Dodgers as they approach the All-Star break and begin the official second half of the season.
No. 5 Chad Billingsley Must Pitch Better
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Chad Billingsley has been the most inconsistent pitcher in the Dodgers rotation, that has pitched relatively well this season.
In his last start on June 27th, Billingsley went six innings while allowing three runs on nine hits, in a loss to the Giants. On June 22nd against the Los Angeles Angels, Billingsley went five innings and allowed six runs on 10 hits. On June 16th against the Chicago White Sox, Billingsley allowed four runs in six innings. Finally on June 10th against the Seattle Mariners, Billingsley pitched brilliantly only allowing one run and two hits in seven innings.
We could go on and on but the point remains that Billingsley must find a way to put together two great starts in a row. Billingsley has been excused for his mediocre pitching this season due to the rise of Chris Capuano, but now he must ascend his game to the next level by getting more strikeouts and pitching deeper into ball games.
Billingsley has recorded 87 strikeouts in 92 and two thirds innings of work this season and must work to build upon those numbers to have the stamina to go deep into games in order to record consecutive quality starts. The Dodgers need Billingsley to step up as the second half of the season roles around to support the work of Capuano and Clayton Kershaw.
No. 4 A.J. Ellis Must Return to Form at the Dish
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In the first two months of the season no catcher was hitting for average and getting on base as consistently as A.J. Ellis.
Ellis was hitting .316 and was one of main cogs behind the Dodgers success without slugger Matt Kemp. Recently however, the lack of protection from Kemp, Mark Ellis and, for the last few games, Andre Ethier has plagued Ellis' production at the plate.
Since June 17th, Ellis' batting average and on-base percentage have plummeted 15 points, with his batting average now resting at a mere .287. The Dodgers offense, especially with the lack of depth in the lineup, depends upon Ellis getting on base to set the stage for the rest of the order making his recent struggles all the more worrisome.
If the Dodgers want to score more runs and begin winning series again, A.J. Ellis must return to the from at the plate, that had him considered by some, an All-Star quality catcher this season.
No. 3 Guys Must Step Up to Fill Shoes of Kemp and Ethier
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The last time both Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier have played together was May 30th against the Milwaukee Brewers. Kemp is expected to return the first game after the All-Star break on July 13th, while Ethier is still day-to-day with an oblique injury.
Replacing a perennial Triple Crown threat in Kemp and replacing the leading RBI producer in the National League, for most of the season, in Ethier is no easy task, but Bobby Abreu and Tony Gwynn Jr. are just the guys to carry the load for this lineup.
In the beginning, both these men were huge in the Dodgers success without their big name sluggers, but recently have come up short in clutch situations. In the last 10 games, Abreu has recorded two hits and only gotten on-base five times. The Dodgers must have Abreu hitting at a .300 average, while also driving in runs to compensate for the lack of power in the order.
Tony Gwynn Jr. has been hitting great this season with runners in scoring position and will be counted on even more as the season moves forward. Once Kemp and Ethier return expect Gwynn to still receive many pitch hit at-bats that must be capitalized upon. The Dodgers are looking for the .291 hitter in May that carried the offense, not the .229 Gwynn whose production has fallen in June.
The Dodgers have been struggling to score runs lately and the duo of Gwynn Jr. and Abreu present the best chance to correct last week's abysmal offensive performance.
No. 2 Get the Best out of Dee Gordon
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On Sunday, Dee Gordon best documented his strengths and weaknesses on the baseball field. After committing two throwing errors at short, Gordon went 2-for-4 at the plate while stealing two bases.
Gordon leads the league in two categories, he shows the flash with 27 steals on the base path, while unfortunately commuting the most errors at shortstop, 17. At only 24 years of age, Gordon has much to learn defensively but has shown how he can affect the game with his legs.
The key to Gordon's success long-term will be to hit for a high average while putting the ball in play in order to use his speed effectively. If Gordon can improve upon his poor .225 batting average, he can get on base at a higher rate giving himself even more chances to not only get into scoring position but give opposing pitchers nightmares on the basepath.
The Dodgers need Gordon to be a spark plug at the top of the order and if he can affect the game with his speed and base stealing ability, things will become a lot easier for this offense. Gordon's performance and potential were one of the reasons for Rafael Furcal's departure last season, making now the time for the 24-year-old star to play up to all that potential to bolster the Dodgers offense in 2012.
No. 1 Get Back to Playing Dodger Baseball
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If the Los Angeles Dodgers want to regain first-place in the NL West, they must get back to playing scrappy, team-oriented baseball.
The Dodgers own the league's second best record in one run games at 18-14 largely in part due to great pitching and timely hitting. The Dodgers most recent losing stretch has diluted their record in close games but, for a majority of the season, this team has found ways to pull out one-run nail bitters.
The method for winning is simple in Los Angeles, quality starting pitching, situational hitting and the occasional big hit from any one of the starting nine. The Dodgers pitching staff boasts the second best ERA in the National League at 3.36 runs per game while recording the fourth most quality starts in the NL with 49.
The onus for the Dodgers for the second half of the season, rests heavily on the offense. Plain and simple the Dodgers must score to win and need their offense to carry its end of the bargain by delivering consistent four-plus run per game averages, scoring that awarded this team the best record in baseball through May 27th.
If the Dodgers can get back to this style of baseball they will be primed to overcome one of the worst weeks in franchise history.