Dodgers' Biggest Winners and Losers for the Month of April
The defeat capped off a very underwhelming homestand in which Los Angeles went 4-6 to drop their overall record to 14-12. Excluding the two wins against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Australia, the Dodgers broke even in April.
For a team with legitimate championship aspirations, it was definitely not the start everyone in the organization had in mind. Still, it could have been worse. As the Boys in Blue head out on a nine-game road trip to begin the month of May, they can garner encouragement from their 6-3 road record in April.
On paper, the Dodgers look like a team that should be leading the National League West. At the very least, they should not be looking up at the Rockies. Instead, the Dodgers find themselves in third place behind Colorado and San Francisco at the start of this week's interleague series against the Minnesota Twins.
Why have the star-studded Dodgers been unable to separate themselves from the pack? Well, while some players are living up to their name and contract, others are not. The following slides examine the Dodgers' biggest winners and losers from the first month of the season.
Winner: Dan Haren
With Clayton Kershaw missing all of April, the label of staff ace fell to Zack Greinke. Yet it wasn't Greinke who led Los Angeles starters in ERA and quality starts.
That honor belonged to free-agent addition Dan Haren.
The 33-year-old veteran went 3-0 in five starts for the Dodgers while compiling a pristine 2.03 ERA. His four walks were also the fewest among Los Angeles starters.
The Dodgers brought in Haren during the offseason to round out the back of their rotation after the right-hander rebounded nicely from a midseason injury in the second half of 2013.
So far, Haren has picked up right where he left off and will face the Minnesota Twins this week.
Loser: Paul Maholm
Paul Maholm was another guy the Dodgers signed over the winter to provide pitching depth.
The left-hander did not have a defined role in spring training, but he was quickly thrust into the rotation once Kershaw went down.
It was a golden opportunity for Maholm to earn a spot in the Dodgers rotation after maintaining a starting role last season with the Atlanta Braves.
Unfortunately for the southpaw, his performance in April probably did not inspire much confidence in manager Don Mattingly. In four starts and two relief appearances, Maholm coughed up a 4.74 ERA while surrendering 28 hits. He did, however, earn a win in his most recent outing against Colorado over the weekend.
With Kershaw's return looming, it looks like a case of "too little, too late" for Maholm. His days as a starter appear to be numbered.
Winner: Adrian Gonzalez
Adrian Gonzalez is mashing. What else is new?
The big first baseman has kicked off his second full season in Los Angeles with a bang. His eight home runs and 23 runs batted in lead the team by wide margins. No other Dodgers player has knocked in more than 14 runs or hit more than four dingers.
Gonzalez's gaudy April puts him on pace for 48 home runs and 138 runs batted in.
Baseball projections rarely play out like they are supposed to, but it's worth noting that the 10-year veteran has hit the 40-home run plateau before. Although his power numbers have dropped off since that monster year with San Diego in 2009, the average has always been there.
Midway through the month, Gonzalez was batting 20 points below is career average of .294. Now he's nearly 20 points above at .313.
A-Gon will soon take his talents to South Beach for a series next week against the Miami Marlins, the same team he roasted for a three-run home run in his first at-bat with the Dodgers back in 2012.
But before Gonzalez heads to Miami, the Minnesota Twins will hope that their cold weather can help slow down a man on fire this week at Target Field.
Loser: Matt Kemp
Baseball is a game of timing and anticipation. That's why players go through a month of spring training before the games start to count. For Matt Kemp, it appears April was his spring training—at least that's what Dodgers management is hoping after watching their franchise center fielder stumble out of the gates.
Kemp is second on the team in strikeouts and has just 11 extra-base hits all year. To put that in perspective, the team leader in strikeouts, Adrian Gonzalez, has been able to make up for it with twice as many hits as Kemp.
After the Dodgers essentially made Kemp their franchise player by giving him a lucrative eight-year deal after his MVP-caliber season in 2011, he appeared to be worth every penny by batting .417 with 12 home runs during the first month of 2012. That was just two years ago, but everything has gone wrong since then.
Kemp has missed 145 games over the past two seasons dealing with hamstring, shoulder and ankle injuries. He wasn't even healthy enough to play in spring training games during February and March.
A month into the 2014 campaign, Kemp insists he's healthy and maintains that he is "not a fourth outfielder," according to ESPNLosAngeles.com's Mark Saxon. But frustration is evident as he attempts to rediscover his timing at the plate and in the field.
"The thing about baseball, baseball is not an easy sport to play, healthy or not healthy," Kemp told the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez. "I have to do better. And it's getting better — better and better every day. I figure out something new every day."
The dilemma for Don Mattingly is how to manage Kemp's playing time. The only way he will come out of his slump is with regular at-bats. But with three other highly paid and highly capable outfielders on the roster, how much can Mattingly ride Kemp with the Dodgers already struggling to score runs of late?
Winner: Dee Gordon
Dee Gordon has a higher OPS than Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig and Juan Uribe.
No, that's not a typo.
He's also tied with Adrian Gonzalez for the team lead in hits.
That's right. The once-promising infielder who spent most of 2013 in the minors has revived his career to become one of the Dodgers' most potent offensive threats so far this season.
Much of his success has to do with his league-leading 13 stolen bases. While Gordon's speed is nothing new, his unexpected prowess at the plate is what's been turning heads around the league in the early going.
The knock on Gordon throughout his career had always been his hitting. As the saying goes, "You can't steal first base." After starting the season as the Opening Day shortstop in 2012, he quickly lost value when pitchers began to figure him out at the plate. The nail in the coffin came when Los Angeles acquired Hanley Ramirez to take over at shortstop later that year.
Heading into 2014, Gordon's only real shot of making the team was at second base. There was void at the position after the Dodgers let veteran Mark Ellis walk over the winter. Many thought that the heir apparent at second base was Alex Guerrero, a Cuban defector the Dodgers had signed last November.
But Guerrero's development was cut short when hamstring issues limited him to just 12 games in winter ball. The door was open for Dee Gordon, who spent the offseason bulking up and working on his hitting mechanics with Cincinnati Reds' Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, per MLB.com's Ken Gurnick.
Gordon won the job with an impressive spring and hasn't looked back. Although it has only been one month, Gordon's training in the offseason seems to be paying major dividends as he heads into this week's series against the Twins boasting a .353 batting average.
Loser: Brian Wilson
The Dodgers and their fans embraced Brian Wilson and his beard last season as he made a triumphant return to the majors following rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery.
Los Angeles liked him so much that they brought him back this season for $10 million to be their eighth-inning stopper.
Well, Wilson hasn't stopped many batters this season, and the struggles started right off the bat.
During the Dodgers' first domestic series of the season in San Diego, Don Mattingly summoned Wilson in the eighth inning to preserve a 1-0 lead. He promptly served up the game-tying home run to the first batter he faced before allowing two more runs and ultimately taking the loss.
Wilson then spent the next two weeks on the disabled list due to nerve irritation in his pitching elbow. Things haven't gotten much better since his return on April 17.
During his first two appearances off the DL, Wilson needed 51 pitches to record five outs.
Then, Mattingly inserted him in the ninth inning of a tie game last week against the Philadelphia Phillies. One walk, three hits and four runs later, the Phillies were on their way to a 7-3 win at Dodger Stadium. Wilson only recorded one out.
All told, his ERA stands at a whopping 14.40 and he has walked more batters than he has struck out.
The team doesn't think Wilson's issues are related to his surgically-repaired elbow because there has not been a noticeable drop in his velocity. At this point, the Dodgers have to hope that simply flipping the calendar will help their eccentric reliever find his groove.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.