Through the first week of the season, one glaring deficiency is cutting down the Dodgers' success and their record.
Of the four losses the Dodgers have suffered this season—the Dodgers are 2-4—three belong to relief pitchers. George Sherrill currently sports a 22.50 ERA in just two innings pitched. He has accounted for five earned runs, four walks and a hit-by-pitch. He is the lone lefty in the Dodgers bullpen, and has not been reliable when called upon.
The struggles of Sherrill only emphasize the the need for Hong-Chih Kuo's return. Last seaon Kuo posted decent numbers in a season cut short by shoulder problems. He appeared in 35 games, finishing with a 3.00 ERA, allowing only 21 hits in 30 innings.
Kuo's absence is a clear-cut source for the Dodgers' struggles. His reliability has been sorely missed. The Dodgers have supplied plenty of offense for their pitching staff, and currently have the second highest batting average in the Major Leagues at .298 (Philadelphia Phillies—.307). The Dodgers have scored 36 runs in six games—six runs per game.
Cory Wade isn't expected to return until June, and while having a rough season last year, Wade is still a reliable innings-eater that is sorely missed. With Wade not an option in the 'pen, the Dodgers must lean on aging veterans Jeff Weaver, Russ Ortiz and Ramon Ortiz, whom thus far, have blown three leads and lost two games.
Obviously there's a huge difference between 2-4 and 4-2 in the record column. Look no further than the bullpen to see why. The team with the best record in baseball through seven games, the Philadelphia Phillies, has a team ERA of 2.90, that's third best in the National League, and fifth in the majors.
The old adage, "pitching wins ballgames" may be used so often, well, because it's true.
Kuo's return may be as early as this week, and look for the immediate impact he will make backing the Dodgers' bullpen.
With Wade out until June, Weaver, Ramon Ortiz, and George Sherrill will be feeling the pressure to fix flawed mechanics and missed locations.
Perhaps the most influential absence in the 'pen isn't due to injuries: Ronald Belisario is still not on the active roster, fighting complications of his Visa renewal stemming from an arrest of the reliever on suspicions of DUI in late June of last year.
Belisario was a constant fixture on the mound in relief last season. He showed why Dodgers' scouts have job security. He was lights out last season and is sorely missed. His estimated time of return is still unknown.
With vital relief pitchers out of action, the result is increased pressure on starters to extend in to the later innings. This means Vicente Padilla, currently sitting on an 11.42 ERA, will have to go later into ball games. Thus far, he leads the team in innings pitched (8.2) and runs allowed (11). 'Nuff said.
Position player injuries aren't helping the Dodgers either. Andre Ethier is still nursing a sore left ankle. Reed Johnson has filled in nicely for Ethier in right field. However, when Manny needs one of his frequent breaks, Johnson in left field means Garret Anderson in right field. Anderson has been hit-and-miss, literally, so far this season. His hitting has been just under average, and his range in right field has been significantly diminished.
Brad Ausmus is on the disabled list for the first time in his career. The result is a call-up of catcher A.J. Ellis. Ellis has not seen significant time in the bigs, and Russell Martin must remain healthy to maintain experience behind the plate.
The main injury in the infield, however, has benefited the Dodgers. With Casey Blake taking things slowly, Ronnie Belliard has stepped in nicely. His production at the plate has bolstered the Dodgers offense, and so far his small range has not been a factor.
One thing is certain: Without help in the bullpen, expect more of the same entering the second week and beyond.
Wade & Kuo: Get well soon, we miss you!