With the official halfway point of the season having already passed on July 4, the Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves amidst another tight race in the always competitive NL West division.
At the 81-game mark, the Dodgers were sitting in second place, trailing the surprising San Diego Padres by 3.5 games; however, the journey thus far hasn't been easy.
The entire Los Angeles squad has been plagued by injuries during the first half of the season, and the pitching staff has been hit especially hard.
The Dodgers marched a total of 19 different pitchers to the mound before the halfway mark—an indicator of both adjustments made for injury and poor-quality pitching.
The total number of pitchers used already this season is just six players shy of a full 25-man Major League roster.
In this initial installment of evaluations, all of the pitchers who have appeared during the season thus far will be evaluated and graded. In the second and final installment, all of the position players will be put under the microscope.
The following frames highlight each of the 19 pitchers who have taken the hill so far this season and show a letter grade and commentary for each player.
The Dodgers signed Russ Ortiz to a minor league deal in the offseason, and in doing so extended him an invitation to spring training.
After a very impressive Cactus League showing, the 12-year veteran was added to the Los Angeles Major League roster in hopes of bolstering the middle of the bullpen.
However, after only six appearances through the first 12 games, the 36-year-old proved to be very ineffective and posted a whopping 10.29 ERA in just seven full innings of work.
He was designated for assignment on April 18 but chose not to accept a spot in the Dodgers' farm system. Ortiz announced his retirement from baseball shortly thereafter.
Ramon Ortiz was another offseason minor league signing for the Dodgers, and after a strong showing in spring training, he earned a spot on the Major League roster.
The 37-year-old was used as both a starter and a reliever this year, and in a relief performance on May 1, he picked up his first major league win since 2007.
However, after a very poor April and May, Los Angeles designated Ramon for assignment on May 27, which he respectfully declined.
Once he cleared waivers, Ortiz finally signed a minor league contract with the New York Mets on June 22.
While with the Dodgers this year, he appeared in 16 games and posted a 1-2 record with a 6.30 ERA in over 30 innings of work.
Scott Elbert, still only 25 years old, was the first round selection of Los Angeles in the 2004 amateur player draft and made his first appearance for the Dodgers in August of 2008.
He was selected as the Dodgers' "Minor League Pitcher of the Year" in 2009 and earned his first call-up in 2010 on May 28.
That recall only lasted two days, and in that time, he appeared in only one game, when he failed to complete a full inning, registering an ERA of 13.50.
After being demoted back to Albuquerque on May 30, Elbert was granted a leave of absence for "personal reasons"; however, as recently as last week, teammates, coaches, and even manager Joe Torre himself were unsuccessful multiple times in trying to get in touch with him.
Elbert's future with the club remains uncertain.
Charlie Haeger, 26, was named to the Pacific Coast League All-Star team in 2009 and showed many signs of promise when he was called up to the Dodgers in August of the same year.
He had a very impressive spring training this year and began the 2010 season as the Dodgers' fifth starter in the rotation.
The knuckleballer had problems almost from the beginning, as was evident by his struggle with plantar fasciitis, which kept him on the disabled list for over a month.
In six starts and nine total appearances in 2010, Haeger registered an 0-4 record with an 8.40 ERA.
The Dodgers designated him for assignment on June 25, and after clearing waivers, Haeger accepted a spot with Albuquerque with hopes of rediscovering his knuckleball.
John Link was acquired by the Dodgers in December of 2009 in a trade with the Chicago White Sox, which brought him and John Ely to Los Angeles in exchange for outfielder Juan Pierre.
Link, 26, worked two scoreless innings in his Major League debut against the Cincinnati Reds on April 20 and then was demoted back to Albuquerque immediately after the game.
He was called up in June when Chad Billingsley was forced to the disabled list with a groin injury.
Altogether this season, Link has appeared in four games for the Dodgers and in just over four innings of work has posted a 4.50 ERA.
The verdict is still out on Link, as he will probably have another chance to show his value during another call-up at some point again this season.
After being a key setup man for the Dodgers in 2009, Ramon Troncoso just can't seem to regain his proper mechanics in 2010.
Many critics have accused manager Joe Torre of overusing Troncoso this year, but it's evident that by giving him more opportunities, the Dodgers were hoping that he would regain his form of old.
Troncoso, 27, has appeared in a total of 39 games already during the first half of the season and posted a 1-2 record with a 5.15 ERA in just over 36 innings pitched.
Despite showing some signs of effectiveness, Troncoso has still failed to display the complete package, and on July 3 he was sent down to Triple-A Albuquerque with hopes that he could find the problems with his mechanics.
Carlos Monasterios was another acquisition made by the Dodgers in the offseason through the New York Mets via the Rule V draft. Prior to 2010, he never pitched at a higher level than AA minor league ball.
Monasterios, 24, was immediately added to the 25-player active roster and made his debut in relief on Opening Day against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Before a stint on the disabled list with a split fingernail and a blister on his finger, he appeared in 17 games, starting six, and registered a 3-2 record with a 3.88 ERA in just over 46 innings of work.
Monasterios was recalled from the DL on July 7 and is expected to play a role as a long reliever in the Dodger bullpen.
George Sherrill was absolutely brilliant as Jonathan Broxton's setup man after coming over from the Orioles in 2009; however, 2010 has been nothing but a nightmare for the 33-year-old lefty.
On May 25, Sherrill was sent to the 15-day disabled list with a back injury he suffered while crawling into his own bed.
Whether the injury was as severe as described, or if the move was made to give Sherrill more opportunities to rediscover his mechanics, it was unsuccessful nonetheless.
At the halfway mark in 2010, Sherrill has appeared in 33 games in just over 19 innings of work and posted an 0-1 record with a 6.86 earned run average.
Still, the Dodgers give him opportunities to improve his effectiveness, and recently he has been used strictly in lefty vs. lefty situations.
Questions loom as to whether or not Sherrill will maintain his roster spot for the remainder of the season.
Ronald Belisario's start to the 2010 campaign was nothing short of a bad dream.
Belisario, 27, arrived to training camp five weeks late as a result of visa problems in his native Venezuela and legal problems stemming from a DUI charge in Pasadena last spring.
Consequently, he began the season on the restricted list and was finally deemed fit to be activated on April 21.
After a rocky start in finding his form, Belisario once again discovered his groove, as he eventually became one of the few trusted relievers in the Dodgers' bullpen.
So far in 2010, Belisario has posted a 1-1 record with a 3.79 ERA in 35 games and over 35 innings of work.
However, on July 7, Belisario was placed on the restricted list for the second time this season for reasons described as "personal."
Until further details are revealed, Belisario's immediate future with the club remains uncertain.
Travis Schlichting, 25, made his Major League debut for the Dodgers against the Philadelphia Phillies in June of 2009.
In 2010, Schlichting was called up on May 31 and picked up his first career win by pitching four scoreless innings in the Dodgers' 1-0, 14-inning victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 2.
Despite his efforts, he was sent back down to the minors soon after.
He was called up again on July 3 when Ramon Troncoso was optioned to rediscover his mechanics.
In his appearances during the first half of this season, Schlichting is 1-0 with a 0.79 ERA in five games and over 11 innings pitched. He did run into problems vs. the Florida Marlins on July 6 but was bailed out by closer Jonathan Broxton.
Schlichting is expected to maintain his roster spot until his pitching falters, unless a spot needs to be freed up before.
Justin Miller was signed by the Dodgers in the offseason to a minor league deal and received his first call-up on May 29.
Miller, 32 years old and an eight-year veteran, is 0-0 with a 4.35 ERA in 15 games and over 20 innings of work at the halfway point in 2010.
Miller has shown both signs of brilliance and vulnerability and has surrendered several long balls at critical points in games.
He is expected to maintain his roster spot as long as possible, mainly because he has no options remaining on his contract and if he cleared waivers would most likely be claimed by another club.
Jeff Weaver remains the No. 1 man for the Dodgers when it comes to middle and long relief.
In the event that an emergency starter is needed, Weaver has the ability to fill in admirably, as the 33-year-old has posted 274 starts during his 10-year career.
At the halfway mark in 2010, Weaver is 5-1 with a 3.54 ERA in 29 games and 28 innings pitched for the Dodgers.
Expect Weaver to hold his position as the main long man unless a spell of ineffectiveness or a much unneeded injury occurs.
After John Ely's first career Major League start on April 28 of this year, Dodgers catcher Russell Martin knew the squad found somebody special.
Ely, only 24 years old, has been credited as the savior of the Los Angeles pitching staff amidst the troubling string of injuries.
He earned his first career win, allowing two runs, six hits, and no walks and striking out six in six innings, against the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 11.
At the halfway point of 2010, Ely is 4-6 with a 4.06 ERA in 13 games started and over 77 innings pitched.
Look for Ely to maintain his spot as the No. 5 starter in the rotation unless Los Angeles deals for a big market ace before the trade deadline.
Vicente Padilla began his 2010 campaign as the Dodgers' Opening Day starter. However, he missed the entire month of May and most of June with a wrist injury.
His numbers for the first half of 2010 reflect a 3-2 record, with a 4.72 ERA in eight starts and over 47 innings pitched, despite his time on the disabled list.
In his last start against the Florida Marlins, Padilla went 6.2 innings, while striking out nine and only surrendering two runs in earning the win.
His split-finger fastball is still feared by many throughout the Majors when working properly, and despite being 32 years old, he can still heat up the speed gun, as his fastball is still measured up to 96 mph.
If healthy, expect Padilla to maintain his spot as the No. 4 starter throughout the second half of the season.
Critics around the league still claim that Chad Billingsley isn't developing at the rate expected from a first round draft choice.
Billingsley is still only 25 years old, and despite a brief stint on the disabled list with a problem groin, he has been steady so far in 2010.
At the halfway point of the season, Billingsley is 6-4 with a 4.06 ERA in 15 starts and over 88 innings pitched.
Although he has improved in working himself out of trouble with runners on base, Billingsley still finds himself giving up the senseless bases on balls and still has tendencies to float fastballs down the middle of the strike zone.
Look for Billingsley to continue to improve and maintain his spot in the rotation.
So far in 2010, Hiroki Kuroda has been either red hot or way off.
At the halfway point of the season, Kuroda is 7-7 with a 3.87 earned run average in 17 starts and over 102 innings pitched.
The 35-year-old righty can still register speeds of 95 mph with his fastball and, like Padilla, is virtually unhittable when his splitter is working properly.
Kuroda is aiming for more consistency in the second half of the year and is looking to prove his high value to both the Dodgers and other teams, as his contract expires at the end of 2010.
At only 22 years old, Clayton Kershaw is without a doubt the Dodgers' ace in waiting.
Already in 2010, Kershaw has tied his career high for wins in a season with eight. In starting 17 games, Kershaw is 8-4 with a 3.02 ERA and 116 strikeouts in over 104 innings of work.
Outside of two starts where he has surrendered five-plus runs, Kershaw has been the most effective starter on the staff.
He still has the tendency to give up the senseless walks, but his control is improving as the season progresses.
Having already appeared in two NLCS, Kershaw looks forward to carrying the Dodgers into a playoff berth and beyond in 2010.
Outside of the debacle at the hands of the New York Yankees on June 26, Jonathan Broxton has been virtually unhittable during the first half of the season.
The 26-year-old righty has posted a 3-0 record with an ERA of 1.98 and 18 saves at the halfway point of the 2010 season. He's appeared in 37 games and has recorded 52 strikeouts in just over 32 innings of work.
Broxton is on pace to eclipse his career high in saves and remains one of the top three closers in the game. His potential to reach 100 mph with his fastball and nearly 90 mph with his slider creates fear in the minds of hitters throughout the league.
Although not normally recognized as one of the top left-handed relievers in the game, just ask any opposing left-handed hitter around the National League, and the first name they'll mention is Hong-Chih Kuo.
The 28-year-old lefty's fastball tops out in the upper 90s on the gun, even after three elbow surgeries.
At the halfway mark in 2010, Kuo is 3-1 with two saves and 12 holds. His ERA is 1.03, and his WHIP is 0.72; in addition, he has struck out 36 batters in just over 26 innings of work.
His most startling statistic is that left-handed batters are 0-for-30 when facing him.
It's difficult to comprehend why Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel didn't select him to the National League All-Star pitching staff.
With the uncertainty of Ronald Belisario's status, look for the Dodgers to use him more in setting up Broxton, although up until now Torre has been hesitant to overload Kuo due to his past injuries.
What a difference a year makes.
The consensus is that the Dodgers need pitching help badly, and it's difficult to pinpoint just one area of the pitching staff that requires an upgrade.
After falling short in the 2008 and 2009 NLCS, many believe that Los Angeles needs to be aggressive in the trade market and spend whatever amount of money necessary to score an ace who will lead them to the World Series.
2009 saw the Dodgers have one of the top bullpens in the National League, and at this point in 2010, outside of Hong-Chih Kuo and Jonathan Broxton, there's really not much of anything else in terms of reliability.
Depending on the circumstances of setup man Ronald Belisario, Los Angeles may find themselves seeking relief help before the July 31 trade deadline as well.
The Dodgers currently rank 10th in the National League in earned run average, which is by far atypical for traditional Dodger squads.
After reviewing each pitcher's performance who has appeared during the first half of the season, it becomes evident that the Dodgers need to be aggressive in the trade market and make every move possible to improve the pitching staff if they intend on making a statement in the playoffs.
Overall grade for the pitchers in the first half of 2010: C-