It’s June 12, and both Los Angeles (expected) and Texas (shockingly) lead their divisions, the National League West and the American League West, respectively. This match-up of division leaders will have some interesting back story and presents a study in contrasts between the clubs involved.
First, some of the basics:
Los Angeles Dodgers, 40-21, .656 Texas Rangers, 34-25, .576
First place, NL West First place, AL West
6-4 over last 10 games 4-6 over last 10 games
State of the teams right now:
The Dodgers continue their stranglehold on the best record in baseball, and they have a cushion of three-and-a-half games over the next best mark (36-24, Boston Red Sox). L.A. was the best in baseball before Manny Ramirez was suspended, and has been even better since.
Texas has emerged as the surprise leader in the AL West, as the division has taken a huge step backwards from last year. The Angels have gotten old, the A’s have yet to make their move (the weather just started getting hot, give them about six more weeks), and the no-name Mariners are the only team currently trying to keep pace with the Rangers.
Key team statistics:
The Dodgers are one of the most balanced teams in the Majors, leading the NL in both team batting average (.280) and ERA (3.62), while ranking among Senior Circuit leaders in RBI, total bases, walks, and on-base percentage. Shockingly, the Bums have thrived despite 12 blown saves in only 30 chances.
Texas, meanwhile, relies heavily on the long ball to drive their offense and outscore the opposition. They have more than doubled the Dodgers in HR (89, second in the majors behind the Yankees), while also landing in the top 5 in AL total bases, extra base hits and slugging percentage.
Why the Dodgers are winning:
Los Angeles is winning with excellent pitching (despite severe woes in the bullpen), even better fielding (second in the NL in fielding percentage and fifth in total chances), and clutch hitting, stringing multiple hits together to score consistently to overcome a severe lack of long ball ability (just 44 home runs, six of those by ManRam).
Why the Rangers are winning:
Chicks dig the long ball, and so do major league managers. The Dodgers’ leader in home runs, Andre Ethier, has clocked a respectable 11 round trippers thus far. The Rangers have four men with more: Nelson Cruz (17), Ian Kinsler (15), and Hank Blalok and Chris Davis (12 each). Additionally, when Texas has a late lead, they seal the deal, with 19 saves versus only 3 blown opportunities.
Leading offensive stars:
Ethier has really begun to blossom for the Dodgers. He leads the team in homers and is second in RBI (38). James Loney has experienced a power outage this year (just two long flies) but still leads the club in ribbies with 42. Matt Kemp is breaking out with seven homers, 33 RBI and 13 steals while batting .309. Casey Blake is still raking: nine HR, 35 RBI and a .292 average.
Texas, which traded Mark Teixeira in 2007 and clearly missed his bat last season, is seeing increased production from Cruz (17 HR, 42 RBI, .288 average, .594 slugging percentage) offset some of the loss. Kinsler and Blalok support him well in the power department, and Michael Young has bounced back from a disappointing 2008 (for him, anyway) when he batted just .284. He’s back up to .318 so far this year.
Interesting back story:
Andruw Jones faces the Dodgers again for the first time since he was quietly released by the team.
Jones, you might recall, signed a two-year, $36.2 million free agent contract with the bums during the winter of 2007. He was brought in to fill the fawning hole in centerfield for Los Angeles, and provide much needed power to the middle of the lineup.
It didn’t work out that way.
Jones started slow, and went on the disabled list with knee problems. He later underwent an arthroscopic procedure, and endured three separate stints on the DL, limiting him to a mere 75 games, collecting just three homers and 14 RBI, while batting an abysmal .158.
The Dodgers negotiated a settlement on the balance of this contract this past winter, and Jones latched on with Texas for a mere $500,000, plus another $1 million in incentives.
Jones says that he bears no ill-will towards the Dodgers.
“I don’t have a problem with them,” Jones said. “I don’t have a problem with that team. I wasn’t in their plans.”
During his 12 years with the Atlanta Braves, Jones never had as difficult season as his lone year on the West Coast.
“It was tough,” he commented. “I was going through something I had never done before. Every year you struggle some. I’ve struggled at some point every year in my career. But I never struggled like that. Then I had to go on the disabled list. I had never been on the disabled list before. It was a year I wanted to get over with.”
In his role as primary right-handed DH for the Rangers, Andruw has bounced back to already eclipse his home run total from last year with five, to go along with 15 RBI and a .248 batting average.
He will likely participate in the second game of the series, facing Dodger lefty Randy Wolf.
The Dodgers will win if:
Hiroki Kuroda, Wolf, and Chad Billingsley pitch up to their abilities. The Ranger starters simply don’t match-up, especially Billingsley (8-3, 2.73 ERA) facing Derek Holland (1-3, 6.54 ERA).
The Dodgers have also been launching home runs at an increased rate lately, and in the bandbox that is the Ballpark in Arlington, that’s never a bad thing.
The Ranger starters this weekend, in fact, keep the ball in the park very well. Vicente Padilla, the Friday night starter, had surrendered five HR this year, three at home; Scott Feldman (eight overall, five at home) and Derek Holland (seven and three) have been decent, as well.
Kuroda has yielded zero homers in three starts, and Billingsley has been touched for only two. Wolf, though, has already yielded 11, in spite of his 3.62 ERA.
My predicted Dodger line-up moves to accommodate the designated hitter:
1) Juan Pierre, leftfield (bats both)
2) Rafael Furcal, shortstop (bats both)
3) Matt Kemp, centerfield (bats right)
4) Andre Ethier, rightfield (bats left)
5) Casey Blake, third base (bats right)
6) James Loney, first base (bats left)
7) Russell Martin, DH (bats right)
8) Orlando Hudson, second base (bats both)
9) Brad Ausmus, catcher (bats right)
Maybe a few nights away from the pounding he takes behind the plate will refresh Martin and his offense will bounce back.
Pitching match-ups at a glance:
Friday night: Hiroki Kuroda (1-1, 1.62 ERA) vs. Vicente Padilla (4-3, 5.22 ERA)
Saturday: Randy Wolf (3-2, 3.62 ERA) vs. Scott Feldman (5-1, 4.01 ERA)
Sunday: Chad Billingsley (8-3, 2.73 ERA) vs. Derek Holland (1-3, 6.54 ERA)
I’m looking for a Dodger sweep of the weekend interleague series!
All statistics and quotes, courtesy of mlb.com