They have had the best record in Major League Baseball all season long. They have the lowest team ERA in the league. They have a top-notch closer with 18 saves.
Despite all of the above-mentioned success, the Los Angeles Dodgers have something in common with Rodney Dangerfield: They get no respect.
When you hear “experts” on television or read them on the Internet, many want to talk about how the Dodgers have been winning with smoke and mirrors. They want to talk about how the Dodgers are 27th in the league in team home-runs.
Naysayers like to talk about all of the low-scoring games that the Dodgers have won. But guess what? To win a low-scoring game, your team has to pitch well. It has often been said that pitching and defense win championships.
If that holds true, then the Dodgers are in pretty good shape. In addition to having the best team ERA in all of baseball, the Dodgers have the most saves (23), are third in hits, third in stolen bases, and third in on-base percentage.
What kind of story do these stats tell about the Dodgers in 2009? They reveal that when you play the Dodgers, you are going to face solid pitching, you are going to have a tough time keeping them off the bases, and they aren’t going to beat themselves by making errors.
And the most amazing thing about the Dodgers’ 47-26 record is the fact that they’ve done it for the most part without their biggest offensive weapon, Manny Ramirez. When Ramirez comes back from his 50-game suspension the first week of July, it should do nothing but help the Dodgers’ offense for the second half of the season.
One concern for the Dodgers after Ramirez comes back, though, is how to get Juan Pierre playing time. Ramirez will most certainly send Pierre to the bench when he returns.
Pierre will never be mistaken for Ramirez at the plate, but he does lead the Dodgers in average (.327), has 17 stolen bases, and a .384 on-base percentage.
Here are the keys in order for the Dodgers to ride the wave of their first-half success to a postseason berth in October:
A healthy Chad Billingsley—Billingsley has been the savior of the starting staff, leading the team with nine wins and a 2.83 ERA. However, he also leads the team in innings pitched (98.2), so it remains to be seen whether Billingsley will be able to stay healthy once he reaches the inevitable 200 inning plateau.
A cohesive clubhouse once Ramirez returns—When Ramirez was suspended, no one knew how the Dodgers would react. Losing your most feared hitter is never good for a baseball team. The Dodgers have kept things rolling without Ramirez, though. Pierre has done everything the Dodgers have asked of him, and he has done so with a smile on his face. If anyone can keep the team chemistry at a good mix, it’s veteran manager Joe Torre.
Offensive production from Russell Martin and Rafael Furcal—The Dodgers have been winning, but they’ve been doing it without two important bats: Russell Martin and Rafael Furcal. Martin and Furcal have been in the lineup, but they have seemingly forgotten to bring their wood to the plate. Martin is hitting .249 and Furcal .243. Martin has only one homer and Furcal has only stolen four bases. The two players have also combined to strike out 87 times. Martin is a career .280 hitter and hit a total of 32 homers over the past two seasons.