LA Dodgers: Thoughts on the Dodgers One-Third Through the Season
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With one-third of the season done, what's the verdict on the Dodgers so far? Inconsistent and pessimistic for the next two-thirds of the way.
The bright spots are few and far between as off-the-field turmoil and on-the-field performance have turned Dodgers fans off and away in droves. Not since the early 1990s has a Dodger team been this terrible and disappointing.
I’ll do my best to point out the highs, but it’ll be too easy to resist speaking on the lows, especially when those require more attention and scorn. Here’s my take on the Dodgers season so far.
Matt Kemp's Rise
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The brightest star on the team is also one of the best stories of the season. Matt Kemp hasn’t just rebounded from a disappointing 2010, he’s among the best hitters in the majors this season.
Kemp is among the major league leaders in batting average, home runs, runs batted in, on-base percentage, stolen bases and slugging percentage. In the National League, he’s arguably been the best all-around hitter outside of Lance Berkman or Joey Votto.
To say he’s carried the Dodgers anemic offense is an understatement, and if he were on a better team, he’d be getting serious MVP consideration. Kemp has been the target of frustration with fans and the organization for not living up to his potential, but this year, he’s finally showing the promise that he hinted at two seasons ago.
Andre Ethier's Steady Bat
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Andre Ethier has been another bright spot, although his brightness has been limited to getting on base. His power numbers are down, but Ethier still leads the team in batting average and is fourth overall in the National League.
It's been tempting to say Ethier's regressing because he only has five home runs, but he does have 29 RBI, and when he's still one of the best hitters around, you'll ease up and look elsewhere for blame.
Rod Barajas has brought some unexpected pop with seven home runs, good for second on the team, while 37-year-old Jamey Carroll has surprisingly been the team’s best hitter not named Kemp or Ethier. Carroll's been an underrated Dodger free agent success in his two seasons.
There’s more to say about the Dodgers’ hitting, but for now, let’s focus on the good shall we?
Clayton Kershaw's Growth
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For years, I’ve nicknamed Clayton Kershaw the Young Prince due to his prodigious talent and hype. This year, he’s showing why he’s been the ace of the staff the last season-and-a-half.
Kershaw is 6-3 with a 3.05 earned run average and is among the major league leaders in strikeouts. Manager Don Mattingly hasn’t been afraid to let Kershaw pitch late into games and more often than not, his trust has been rewarded.
While Kershaw still racks up high pitch counts, he's growing as a pitcher with confidence, and it was evident in his best outing of the year, a two-hit shutout over Florida with 10 strikeouts.
This could be the year that Kershaw finally gets his respect as one of the game’s elite young pitchers. Now, if only the team could get him a few more wins….
Ownership Woes/Attendance Decline
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The Dodgers have been a hallmark of class and dignity. This year has seen that proud label trampled on by the worst owner since Rupert Murdoch bought the team in the late 1990s.
As if his ugly divorce from wife Jamie wasn’t embarrassing enough, Frank McCourt further damaged the Dodgers brand with the truth about his funds and his pitiful handling of the brutal attack on Giants fan Bryan Stow in the Dodgers' home opener. His mismanagement has forced Major League Baseball to take control of day-to-day operations of the team.
He’s done something bad teams or high concession prices could never do: drive diehard Dodger fans away from the stadium. Attendance is down 16.7 percent from last season and games have had fewer than 30,000 in attendance for the first time since 2004.
It’s been sad to see empty seats litter the stadium and with school letting for the summer, hopefully more fans will return. But it’s a clear message of disapproval for the McCourt era and one can hope that if he truly cared for the team, he’d let it go before he does further damage to one of the city's (and baseball's) treasures.
An Anemic Offense
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As bad as the McCourt factor is, the Dodgers' offense is the main reason for their struggles, and one look at the hitting stats will make you want to hurl a few Dodger dogs in anger.
Despite being 15th among teams in batting average, the team sits in the bottom half of the major league leaders in runs scored, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
They have the third worst differential between runs scored and allowed in the National League. I can’t recall a Dodger team with more horrible run production in the last 15 years, and it’s painful knowing it may not get better.
James Loney is having the worst season of his career. Tony Gwynn Jr. and Marcus Thames have brought zero pop to the lineup. Juan Uribe apparently left his bat in San Francisco after signing with the Dodgers last offseason.
Outside of Kemp, the lineup has lacked consistency and somehow, someway, they’re going to have find it quick.
Pitching: No Relief After Solid Starts
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Despite Clayton Kershaw’s brilliance and the starting rotation having the second most quality starts in the majors, the Dodgers’ pitching ranks near the bottom of the National League in ERA and saves.
This hasn’t been a sore spot as most expect. Jon Garland is really the only Dodger starter who’s been a disappointment as Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly have all pitched well despite little run support.
Unfortunately, the Dodgers relief corps has been shakier than expected. Jonathan Broxton went from All-Star form nearly a year ago to a husky shell of himself who gave Dodger fans the shakes when they heard his intro music.
Youngsters Kenley Jansen and Scott Elbert have shown their worth coming in relief, but the relief has been almost as inconsistent as the hitting. Until the Dodgers find someone who can reliable in middle relief, blaming Broxton as the fall guy might prove too narrow-minded.
Too Many Key Injuries
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The injury bug has bit the Dodgers hard this season. Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake and Vicente Padilla, key spark plugs the last few years, have missed 40-plus games. Broxton’s struggles saw him land on the DL and Hong-Chih Kuo, who’s been slumping worse than Broxton, hasn’t seen the field in over a month.
ESPN’s Jon Weisman has compiled a list of Dodgers who’ve missed time this season, and one can only hope that the injury bug doesn’t come on the players that have carried this season.
Hope for the Rest of the Way?
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Despite the lows, all isn’t lost for the Dodgers this year. They’re still not too far back in the division race, and the play of rookie Jerry Sands has given fans hope for the future. That hope will increase this month with the arrival of highly touted shortstop Dee Gordon (left) who Don Mattingly said he's brought up to play, not watch from the bench.
As long as Kemp continues to play at an All-Star level, there’s a reason to watch this team to see him make plays. Perhaps no game was more thrilling than the Dodgers’ eighth-inning comeback last weekend, the biggest such rally in 17 years.
That said, the first two months have been more bleak than optimistic. It doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season, but one can hope that things will turn around on and off the field. It can’t get any worse right? Or can it?