The Los Angeles Dodgers are just about halfway through the 2009 campaign and continue to excel in almost every facet of the game. They have held the best record in the majors since May 4.
Here is a breakdown of some aspects of the game that the Dodgers have done well, and also a few things to watch out for as the season progresses:
*All stats are updated through Jun. 27*
The front-end of the Dodgers’ pitching staff can be downright unhittable at times. Chad Billingsley is 9-3 and has carried the starting rotation on his back thus far.
Hiroki Kuroda is finally beginning to find a rhythm on the mound, but needs to develop more consistency as the stretch run draws closer.
Young Clayton Kershaw has showed flashes of brilliance in his last three starts. Over 18 and two-thirds innings pitched in those starts, he has given up just two runs.
The young southpaw struggled early in the season because he was constantly working from behind in the count, which made his pitch count skyrocket and prohibited him from working into the late innings.
In his most recent start, Kershaw went six innings and threw just 96 pitches.
The bullpen has been the lynch pin for a Dodger club that has been dominant in close games. Rookies Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario have helped the bullpen to a 20-9 record and a 3.45 ERA as a unit. Jonathan Broxton is arguably the most feared closer in the game now and carries some stunning numbers as we near the All-Star break.
Dodger relievers have inherited 124 runners this season, but only 32 have come around to score.
The Dodgers' infield has also been spectacular. Through the first 70 games, the combination of James Loney, Orlando Hudson, Rafael Furcal, and Casey Blake had started 50 of the Dodgers 70 games as an infield unit.
Compare that to last season, when through 70 games, the most common unit was Loney, Jeff Kent, Chin-Lung Hu, and Blake DeWitt, who played together in just 17 of the 70 games.
The offense is just one of three teams (Toronto and Houston) to boast four hitters with a .300 average or better (entering Saturday): Matt Kemp, Juan Pierre, Casey Blake, and Orlando Hudson. All four players have been important contributors and need to keep up their strong starts in order for the Dodgers' offense to remain effective.
The same pitching staff that leads the Majors in ERA also suffers from troubles going deep into ballgames. Starting pitchers have thrown 417 and one-third innings through 75 games, good for just under five and two-thirds innings-per-outing.
In order for the bullpen to remain effective, the starters are going to have to shoulder some more innings and take some of the load off of a bullpen that is becoming dangerously close to being overworked.
The offense has seen a lack of power that could come back to haunt them late in the season. Although the Blue Crew has been great at mounting late-inning rallies, there always comes a point when a big home run is needed.
Andre Ethier has at times provided that big bat, as he proved on Friday night when he slugged three home runs against the Seattle Mariners.
Ethier is an incredibly streaky hitter, and Manny Ramirez will really have to step up and be a threat for extra bases to open up the game offensively for the Dodgers.
However, the 1988 World Champion Dodgers hit just 99 regular season home runs. So if the Dodgers can continue to create runs on the bases, there is no need for going deep to win games.
Dodgers’ fans need to hope that the bullpen doesn’t wear out when the stretch run comes around. If Billingsley, Kuroda and Kershaw can pitch deep into their starts it will be the key to taking pressure off of the young bullpen arms.
As for the offense, there may be some cause for alarm.
The Blue Crew needs to be more productive in the middle innings of games, as they tend to score runs in the first and take a few innings off. Many times, that results in needing late-inning rallies to grab a victory.
Sometimes those big hits never come and the Dodgers cannot rally to win. This is where Manny will help by providing gap power and extra base hits to break the station-to-station operations of the offense.
The main thing that will keep the Dodgers motivated and running strong as October approaches will be manager Joe Torre. Torre won four World Series championships with the New York Yankees and has instilled a hard-nosed work ethic in the 2009 Dodgers.
This will give the Dodgers a decided advantage over the surging San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies. Although both teams are playing very good baseball as of late, they also lack a seasoned leader who can lead them down the stretch.
Despite some shortcomings, look for Los Angeles to continue their march towards the postseason and make a deep run into October.