The Los Angeles Dodgers have wrapped up their first half of the 2010 baseball season. The Dodgers are only two games back from the National League-leading San Diego Padres. They are also currently neck-and-neck with the surging Colorado Rockies, and the hated San Francisco Giants are not too far behind. The Dodgers find themselves this year trying to push their way to the top.
The Road to October is not defined in the first half of the season, but it does help to win games early to pad the lead against surging teams.
The Dodgers have a whopping four All-Stars (two that were voted in and two that were added to replace injured elected All-Stars): Andre Either, Jonathan Broxton, Rafael Furcal, and Hong Chih-Kuo. Without these guys, the Dodgers would be even further down in the standings.
What does it take for the Dodgers to make it to the playoffs in October?
Here's what I think needs to be done:
Russell Martin has to start hitting again. He is finally showing life in his bat, which sadly has not resembled anything from his 2007 Silver Slugger and All-Star season. Martin is a great defensive catcher and can handle the pitching staff well. However, if the catcher is not producing, something has to give. Putting on muscle this year hasn't helped Martin find a solution to the power outage he is experiencing. In fact, this added weight gave Martin a groin injury in the beginning of the season. If Martin hits, the Dodgers will continue to win games.
Matt Kemp needs to turn things around. The past two weeks, he has vastly improved from the beginning of the season, when Ned Colletti called out the Gold Glove center fielder. He has fixed a mechanical flaw in his base-running and this should yield better results in stolen bases. If Matt Kemp continues his recent tear against opposing pitchers, the Dodgers lineup will become even deadlier. He also needs to respect his coaches, as he was recently benched for an argument with Bob Schaefer. In order to develop team chemistry, he shouldn't put himself above the team.
George Sherill needs to either go down to the minors or be traded. Sherill, the workhorse and left-handed specialist for the Dodgers, has been on an absolute downward spiral. Manager Joe Torre has regulated Sherill to mop-up duties. After he gave up that home run to Carlos Ruiz in the NLCS last year, Sherill has not been as impressive. His curveball is hanging and batters are sitting on his fastball. Sherill can't be sent to the minors without his permission, but if the Dodgers want to be in the race in October, he has to start pitching like the closer he was before he came to Los Angeles.
Figure out who the fifth starter is. John Ely? The Ely magic is over. He was a great pick-me-up for the Dodgers, but his last two starts earned him a demotion to Triple-A.
Charlie Haegar? The knuckleballer, who was a surprise last year, has been shelled pretty badly this year. He hasn't even picked up a win. He also set a new Dodgers record for being the only starting pitcher unable to record an out in a game.
Some of the names that pop up for the fifth starter role include James McDonald, Carlos Monasterios, and Claudio Vargas. McDonald has excelled in his relief role, but as a starter, he has been a disaster. Monasterios has also been great as a reliever, but as a starter, he has yielded mixed results. Vargas was on the Dodgers before, but he was used as long reliever. I cringe hearing that the Dodgers were impressed that he pitched an effective three innings in Triple-A ball. The game is nine innings, not three.
Get everyone healthy. The baseball season is a long grind and injuries are bound to happen. They are part of the game. With Manny Ramirez nursing a hamstring problem (seems to always be a hamstring problem), the Dodgers are missing that offensive threat in the middle of the lineup. Even though Manny hasn't been hitting like he was before, opposing pitchers still have to face the tough part of the Dodgers lineup with Kemp, Andre Ethier, Ramirez, James Loney, and Casey Blake. Vicente Padilla just came back from his stint on the DL and he has been raking in wins with ease. Furcal has been showing huge upside and progress from before he was injured. He is fully healed and on a tear as of the past couple of weeks. If Kemp, Either, and Furcal keep up their progress, the Dodgers will win games with ease.
It would be nice to acquire a premier front-line starter, like Cliff Lee (who is now on the Rangers) or Roy Oswalt. Will this happen? With Frank McCourt waiting on his divorce hearing, the Dodgers simply do not have money to spend on Oswalt's huge salary commitment. If we make it past the NLCS, the Dodgers must have pitching to counter the American League pennant winner.
If the Dodgers have to halt construction on revamping the stadium, what makes you think they have money to spend on trade deadline players or free agents?
The Dodgers need a decent third or fourth starter from a trade and have this starter slide into the fifth starter role. If the Dodgers are able to improve themselves internally, they will save money and should be able to pitch their way into October. Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley have been pitching like aces. Padilla is providing the same magic as last year. Hiroki Kuroda has been both good and bad this year. The fifth starter role is a black hole in the Dodgers rotation that needs to be filled. Fans will see what happens after the All-Star break. The Dodgers could go on a major run to mow their way into the playoffs, or they can fall flat on their faces. I'm hoping for the first choice.
"It's Time For Dodgers Baseball."