10 Reasons the Dodgers' Trade Spree Still Can't Get Them Past the Giants
Let me qualify something—I am a diehard Dodgers fan. Always have been, always will be. But, I'm realistic. And while I think the Dodgers have a great shot at snagging a playoff spot, I'm less optimistic about the NL West title.
As it stands now, the Giants are 4.5 games up with less than 30 to play, and their September schedule is drastically easier than that of the Dodgers.
Not to mention, San Francisco has been playing great ball lately, especially since the loss of outfielder Melky Cabrera to a 50-game suspension.
While I and fellow Dodger fans would like nothing more than to take the division crown (especially from our rivals!), in 2012, it's more realistic to believe they can take one of two National League Wild Card spots.
And while Stan Kasten, Magic Johnson and Ned Colletti spent every resource possible to put an All-Star team on the field, was it too little too late to catch the Giants?
Current Division Lead
Let's start this list where I left off the title slide: It may just be too little too late.
There is no doubt in my mind that this new-look Dodger team is a good one. If the lineup looked this way from day one, I truly believe that the division standings would be reversed at this point.
But alas, the offense was nothing to write home about until acquiring Hanley Ramirez right before the trade deadline. With his addition, plus Adrian Gonzalez in August, the Dodgers were given four legitimate power threats.
Entering today's games, the Dodgers were 4.5 games behind the Giants in the NL West. Unless the Dodgers nearly sweep the final six games of their head-to-head matchups, the Giants will have plenty of breathing room.
The Giants just seem like one of those teams in 2012 that pull miracles out of nowhere on the regular.
On their last road trip alone, the Giants came back in the ninth inning to beat the Astros twice and the Cubs once. Then to open the homestand yesterday, they came back to tie the Diamondbacks in the ninth, before walking off in the 10th.
Call it confidence, character, luck—whatever you want. The fact remains that the Giants are a very tough late-inning team, especially when trailing.
Even the most dedicated Dodgers fan like myself won't deny that players like Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and even Marco Scutaro have that "clutch gene" in San Francisco.
I love the revamped offense, despite its early struggles as a unit. But most of Dodger nation has been calling for an improvement in pitching for months now.
Yes, the stats say that the Dodgers have the second-best team ERA in the league this year. No, that doesn't mean that it's going to stay that way.
Chris Capuano was brilliant in the first half, but he is now nearing his sub-par career average after a terrible second half thus far. Aaron Harang is a fifth starter, Chad Billingsley had been inconsistent before getting injured and Joe Blanton was an absolute waste of an acquisition.
Outside of reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, there is no elite pitcher in the rotation. Josh Beckett may return to that form (it's too early to tell), but it's still a pretty weak overall pitching rotation.
On the other hand, the Giants are notorious for having fantastic starting pitching. Their team ERA trails the Dodgers' by small margins in most categories. But the actual talent across the board isn't even close.
Again, aside from Kershaw, the Giants have Los Angeles beat in most spots. They have three legitimate Cy Young candidates this year in Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong.
With former Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito returning to form recently, opposing teams haven't really gotten a break when facing that Giants rotation.
Down the stretch, the type of starters the Giants boast will trump what the Dodgers have by a large margin. Regardless of how much more productive the new offense in L.A. might turn out to be, pitching wins championships.
As I detailed in a recent B/R article, the Dodgers have an insanely difficult September schedule. Aside from six games against the Giants, the Dodgers will also have two in Arizona, three in Washington, three in Cincinnati and four at home against the Cardinals.
The latter three teams are all either leading their division or leading in the wild-card race. And Arizona has absolutely dominated the Dodgers this season, winning 10 of 16 games.
The Giants have all games against the NL West. So aside from what are sure to be tough battles against the Dodgers and some against the Diamondbacks, we're talking about a bunch of games against the Rockies or Padres.
Granted, Colorado and San Diego have both been playing well this month. But when it comes to crunch time, do you really think that the Giants will fold against last-place teams? Regardless, the Dodgers have a much tougher road in September.
Don't get me wrong, I think Don Mattingly has been superb in Los Angeles this year. Given the roster he had on opening day (before the trades all went down), the Dodgers should not be even close to the wild-card race, yet they sit just a game out with four weeks left to play.
But despite how good Mattingly has been, there is no substitute for experience. Bruce Bochy in San Francisco has been managing much longer and has a lot more success to show for it. He's been in this type of race before and won a ring with his ball club two years ago.
When it comes down to setting a lineup strategically or making the right bullpen moves in pressure situations, Bochy is going to out-manage Mattingly in most instances.
In a playoff race, that type of knowledge can be the difference in one or two games, which can be the difference between playing in October and hitting the links early.
Everyone expected the Giants to be contending this year. With that pitching staff and the healthy return of Buster Posey, it was a club to be feared. Some analysts even had picked them to take it all in the preseason.
Those analysts are looking pretty good right now. And while fans have put a certain type of pressure on the Giants to continue to play like a first-place team, the expectations for this Dodgers team are a whole different beast.
Once the Dodgers started playing well at the beginning of the season, expectations went from empty to full in a matter of days among the fanbase. When Ramirez and Gonzalez and Shane Victorino were acquired, that pressure mounted considerably.
Imagine the pressure that the Yankees are under every season with their star-laden rosters. It can be argued that the Dodgers made themselves the "Yankees of the West" with so many blockbuster trades at the deadline, therefore guaranteeing a certain expectation down the stretch that will be difficult to live up to.
I don't expect the Giants' lineup to out-produce the Dodgers, regardless of the results in the first week of Gonzalez' tenure in Los Angeles. But one way to assure that the Dodgers' lineup starts cracking a little more is to mix up the order.
Getting Victorino was a good move for Colletti, who needed a guy with speed who could get on base at the top of the lineup and fill a gaping hole in left field.
That being said, as he's aged, Victorino has lost a step. He was struggling in the leadoff spot, which forced Mattingly to swap him and two-hole hitter Mark Ellis in the lineup.
Since that move, the Dodgers got no spark at the top of the order in the first inning, setting a weak tone for the rest of the game. It's tough for the power hitters to drive in runs when there is nobody on base to bring in.
My ideal lineup would feature a somewhat radical Ramirez, Ethier, Kemp and Gonzalez as first four hitters. You still get speed at the top, a contact hitter in the two-hole and absolute fear for starting pitchers, knowing that they are guaranteed to face three of those big bats in the first inning of every game.
Again, the Giants have significantly less firepower overall in their lineup versus that of the Dodgers. That being said, they have a true leadoff hitter, a better No. 2 hitter and therefore a lot more opportunities to put runs on the board.
With that solid top two, the Giants are able to start rallies, string hits together and do the sorts of things that win close ball games.
The Dodgers can count four big bats with the potential for each to hit 25 or more home runs, but that means nothing if they are all solo homers. They need more production out of the other spots in the lineup, even if the big four are always on fire.
The Giants get that production out of the smaller guys, and that's how you make runs appear on the board. Also, I'm sure Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval will gladly take 15 to 20 home runs each when their regular base bring in runs.
This will sound strange, considering how the Dodgers have a lot of veterans on their team. But the overall playoff experience of the Giants roster trumps that of the Dodgers.
Posey, Cain, Bumgarner, Sandoval and of course Bochy all have that 2010 run to use to their advantage. They've been there; they've won a World Series and know what it takes to stay hungry during September and October.
Despite the big names on the Dodgers roster, Kemp and Ethier have had limited exposure to it—Gonzalez has hardly any, and Ramirez hasn't even been close. They can count on Victorino and Beckett to provide advice about this stretch of the season, but that's nothing compared to the Giants actually getting production out of their experienced players.
When it comes down to it, there are many reasons why the Dodgers might not be able to catch the Giants in the West. And one major one could end up being that most of them just simply haven't been here before.
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