Major League Baseball took another blow to its credibility when San Francisco Giants slugger Melky Cabrera recently tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and was given a 50-game suspension.
While the MLB continues to reassess the enforcement of its drug policy as players consistently test positive over the years, Cabrera’s resulting suspension has major implications for the National League West standings.
The Giants and Dodgers are now going back and forth for the No. 1 spot in the division, and with the race so tight, it’s crucial that both teams play their best baseball day in, day out.
As the two rivals enter their first of three remaining head-to-head series, let’s take a look at how the two teams stack up against one another, keeping in mind how Melky Cabrera’s absence affects the teams.
LAD: A.J. Ellis: .273 BA 10 HR 35 RBI .381 OBP
SF: Buster Posey: .333 BA 19 HR 77 RBI .409 OBP
One of the young stars of the MLB, Buster Posey has rebounded well after a nasty season-ending collision at the plate that caused him to undergo surgery.
At 25, Posey is one of the best hitting catchers in all of baseball, and already has the experience of winning a World Series in his rookie season under his belt.
A.J. Ellis’ story is a much different. After floating around in the minor leagues for nine years, Ellis received his first starting position this season at 31 years old—and he’s made his mark.
Ellis has the third-highest on-base percentage as well as home runs on the team (excluding trade acquisitions), and has been solid behind the dish. His high on-base percentage and ability to work counts even had him placed as the leadoff hitter for a few games.
Better player: Posey, SF
LAD: James Loney: .256 BA 4 HR 33 RBI .304 OBP
SF: Brandon Belt: .263 BA 4 HR 38 RBI .360 OBP
Brandon Belt seemed like the Giants’ next star young player last season when he displayed impressive power in the 63 games he played, but he has cooled off in his first full season in MLB.
James Loney can certainly relate to the feeling of cooling off, as the Dodgers’ first baseman has been a disappointment for quite some time now. Even his normally above-average fielding has declined.
Loney’s lackluster efforts could be a display of personal frustration, but they seem to show his lack of passion for the game. In any case, manager Don Mattingly has noticed and has occasionally started Juan Rivera at first base in lieu of Loney.
While Loney seems to still possess the ability to turn things around at any moment, his lack of enthusiasm is concerning and does nothing to help his slump.
Better player: Belt, SF
LAD: Mark Ellis: .259 BA 4 HR 19 RBI .354 OBP 5 SB
SF: Marco Scutaro: .333 BA 2 HR 18 RBI .366 OBP 1 SB (with Giants)
.280 BA 6 HR 47 RBI .331 OBP 8 SB (Total 2012)
Marco Scutaro has proved to be an excellent trade deadline pick-up for the Giants, as he is a drastic improvement from Ryan Theriot, who is a decent player but doesn’t provide any run production in the lineup.
Hitting No. 2, the 36-year-old veteran gives the Giants power but also the consistency that they need in order to have base runners for Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey to drive in.
Another former Rockies and A’s player, Mark Ellis has been mediocre in his first season in Dodger blue.
Injured for a portion of the season and missing a consistent leadoff hitter to get on base until the recently added Shane Victorino, Ellis hasn’t had much of a chance to drive in runs.
Ellis’ excellent fielding has been his highlight and he hasn’t done too much with the stick. Although the Dodgers would like to get more out of their No. 2 hitter to have more run-scoring opportunities for the meat of the lineup, Ellis is a hard worker and always sprints a hard 90 feet.
Better player: Scutaro, SF
LAD: Luis Cruz: .279 BA 3 HR 24 RBI .324 OBP 2 SB
SF: Pablo Sandoval: .300 BA 8 HR 36 RBI .353 0 SB
Mired by injury this season, Pablo Sandoval has only seen 67 games but has kept pace with previous seasons and put up solid numbers again in 2012.
The switch-hitting “Panda” is always a threat to come up with a big hit and has the security of Busty Posey (and now Hunter Pence) hitting behind him, so he will continue to see good pitching.
Luis Cruz has been a Cinderella story with the Dodgers this season. After posting a combined seven runs batted in with no home runs in 56 big league appearances, Cruz has been stellar with the Dodgers and has given a much needed jolt to their offense many times.
While Cruz’s time in the big leagues may be limited depending on how Don Mattingly chooses to deal with the hopeful return of injured shortstop Dee Gordon, he will continue to be a utility infielder for the Boys in Blue after his valued contributions to the club.
Better player: Sandoval, SF
LAD: Hanley Ramirez: .330 BA 4 HR 27 RBI .392 OBP 2 SB (with Dodgers)
.264 BA 18 HR 75 RBI .336 OBP 16 SB (Total 2012)
SF: Brandon Crawford: .246 BA 4 HR 38 RBI .301 OBP 1 SB
Brandon Crawford still has room to grow in his first full season with the Giants. He is a solid fielder, but his offensive stats are lagging, which has forced Bruce Bochy to let players like Joaquin Arias play shortstop every couple games.
The Dodgers boosted their roster immensely by adding slugger Hanley Ramirez, which ultimately proved to be the first of a few exciting trade-deadline moves the team made.
Not only has the addition of Ramirez greatly filled the offensive void at the Dodgers shortstop position, but it has also given the team a morale boost. He has fit in well with the other key players on the team and brought his wide smile to the clubhouse (and the “I See You” hands).
Settling into the No. 5 spot after Don Mattingly tried him in a few slots, Ramirez sees great run production opportunities with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier hitting before him, and has capitalized on those chances so far.
Better player: Ramirez, LAD
LAD: Shane Victorino: .261 BA 1 HR 7 RBI .324 OBP 3 SB (with Dodgers)
.261 BA 10 HR 47 RBI .322 OBP 27 SB (Total 2012)
SF: Gregor Blanco: .239 BA 5 HR 29 RBI .334 OBP 19 SB
SF: Melky Cabrera: .346 BA 11 HR 60 RBI .390 13 SB (suspended)
Although Buster Posey leads the Giants in power totals, Melky Cabrera was San Francisco’s best hitter. The team would have had an extremely strong meat of the lineup if he hadn’t been suspended.
On the other hand, Gregor Blanco may be a perceived downgrade from Cabrera but he adds speed to an already fast roster and has proven to be a decent power hitter at the bottom of the Giants’ lineup.
The Dodgers are on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to left field.
After platooning players like Tony Gwynn Jr., Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera in left field, the Dodgers killed two birds with one stone by picking up a solid left fielder (who is a true center fielder) and adding an established leadoff man in Shane Victorino.
Better player: Victorino, LAD
LAD: Matt Kemp: .338 BA 17 HR 51 RBI .407 OBP 7 SB
SF: Angel Pagan: .282 BA 7 HR 46 RBI .331 OBP 19 SB
In his first season with the Giants, Angel Pagan has proved an ample substitute for Carlos Beltran, who is having a stellar season with the St. Louis Cardinals himself.
Pagan is a great leadoff hitter that opposing teams do not want on base due to his impressive speed. His ability to hit for power and drive in runs makes him the complete package.
The Dodgers have a complete package for a center fielder as well—MVP-runner-up Matt Kemp. While the 27-year-old has seen the disabled list twice due to a hamstring injury, he has put up monster numbers in the 70 games in which he has played this season.
While Kemp’s hopes of recording 50 home runs and 50 stolen bases were squashed with his injury, he still remains the key factor in the Dodgers’ offense as the No. 3 hitter.
Better player: Kemp, LAD
LAD: Andre Ethier: .281 BA 12 HR 69 RBI .352 OBP 2 SB
SF: Hunter Pence: .217 BA 1 HR 14 RBI .263 OBP 1 SB (with Giants)
.263 BA 18 HR 73 RBI .326 OBP 5 SB (Total 2012)
Hunter Pence was one of the hottest hitters in the National League earlier this season with the Phillies, but he has been a different player after being traded to the Giants.
Pence has driven in some runs hitting in the No. 5 spot but hasn’t been quite what the Giants were hoping for. He still has the potential to help the Giants in the postseason—if they make it—but has struggled with the transition from Philadelphia to San Francisco.
Like Kemp, Ethier has seen time on the disabled list as well but has been a crucial part of the Dodgers’ offense when he is healthy.
Now with Hanley Ramirez hitting behind him, Ethier sees better pitching as the Dodgers’ clean-up hitter. In addition to his valuable bat, he is also a solid outfielder.
Better player: Ethier, LAD
LAD: Kershaw, Blanton, Capuano, Harang, Billingsley
41-32 3.38 ERA 559 SO 7.9 K/9
SF: Lincecum, Cain, Zito, Vogelsong, Bumgarner
65-40 3.65 ERA 647 SO 7.7 K/9
Looking at the statistics, there isn’t too much discrepancy between the two teams’ pitching rotations.
However, to the surprise of many, former Cy Young-winner Tim Lincecum has struggled this season and has been the Giants’ weakest pitcher.
On the other end of the spectrum, No. 2 starter Matt Cain has had an incredible season that has included an exciting perfect game. Veteran Ryan Vogelsong and youngster Madison Bumgarner have held their own as well.
The Dodgers’ rotation has been swapped around since the beginning of the season with the early-season injury of Ted Lilly, trade of Nathan Eovaldi, acquisition of Joe Blanton, and shifting of Chad Billingsley from No. 2 to No. 5.
However, with the mixing and matching, the rotation has performed well this season.
Offseason acquisitions Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano have exceeded expectations, defending Cy-Young-winner Clayton Kershaw has had another great year despite a nagging foot injury, and Chad Billingsley has been excellent since returning from the disabled list into the No. 5 spot.
Better rotation: LAD
LAD: Kenley Jansen: 1.96 ERA 25 SV 84 SO 0.84 WHIP 4.42 K/BB
SF: Santiago Casilla: 3.35 ERA 24 SV 44 SO 1.33 WHIP 2.59 K/BB
Sergio Romo: 1.95 ERA 5 SV 44 SO 0.92 WHIP 4.40 K/BB
The Giants took a huge blow when it was discovered that dominant closer Brian Wilson would undergo season-ending surgery that would leave the team without a closer.
Setup man Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla have filled the role but haven’t done so nearly as well as Wilson did the past few seasons for the Giants.
The Dodgers have had a scrambled closer situation as well. Javy Guerra began the season as the closer, but after struggling to close out tight games, he was replaced by setup man Kenley Jansen.
Jansen has been decent but he’s a one-trick pony. He has a shallow arsenal that features a cut fastball and a slider, but he rarely throws the slider and the opposition is beginning to pick up on his tendencies.
Both teams’ middle relief has been average but nothing special.
Better bullpen: Even
Overall, Cabrera’s absence eliminates any potential advantage that the Giants would have had on their NL-rival Dodgers.
His bat was huge in their lineup, and the team would have been a force to be reckoned with if he had remained in the lineup with new addition Hunter Pence and a healthy Pablo Sandoval.
As seen in the previous analysis, the two teams are essentially evenly matched. However, the Dodgers have been able to rely on various players throughout the lineup to come up in big situations, which gives them a slight advantage over the Giants.
The series currently stands in the Dodgers’ favor at 5-4, and will probably be 7-5 after the current series ends.
Series kicks off tonight with Kershaw hosting Bumgarner at 7 p.m. PT.