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3 Biggest Takeaways from the First Month of Dodgers Baseball

Nick Ostiller@@NickOstillerContributor IIMay 5, 2015

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 27:  Joc Pederson #31 of the Los Angeles Dodgers smiles as he rounds the bases on his solo home run in the sixth inning against the San Francisco Giants during the MLB game at Dodger Stadium on April 27, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Dodgers finished the first month of their 2015 campaign right where they left off last regular season—atop the National League West standings.

It’s been somewhat of an unexpected first few weeks for the Boys in Blue, who were projected to experience a drop-off in power when they traded Matt Kemp and let Hanley Ramirez walk in free agency.

Instead, Los Angeles leads the NL in home runs and has also received surprising production out of its new-look bullpen—a point of weakness last year.

Here are the three biggest takeaways from the first month of the Dodgers’ season.

Joc Pederson is the Real Deal

When the Dodgers traded Matt Kemp last winter, it became clear that the organization was fully committed to rookie Joc Pederson becoming a major contributor right away.

So far, that gamble has paid off.

Pederson has already smacked seven home runs through Monday—six more than Kemp—and appears to have solidified himself as the team’s center fielder of the present and future.

Rookie Joc Pederson is among the major league leaders in OPS this season and recently became the Dodgers leadoff batter.
Rookie Joc Pederson is among the major league leaders in OPS this season and recently became the Dodgers leadoff batter.Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Manager Don Mattingly recently moved the 23-year-old to the leadoff spot in the batting order, and the switch produced immediate results. Pederson became the first Dodgers rookie to hit a home run in four straight games (with an at-bat) since Bill Sudakis in 1969, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. One of the home runs was a grand slam, the first for the Dodgers in 286 games, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue LA.

His 1.043 OPS ranks seventh in the MLB—ahead of names like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton.

"Donnie told me from day one that it's about putting together quality at-bats," Pederson said, per Joe Resnick of the Associated Press (via ABC News). "They weren't worried about the results. They saw what I could do. I still need to continue to put together quality at-bats. We're only a month into the season. So it's not how you start, but how you finish."

Pederson isn’t just getting it done with that bat, either. He has looked comfortable patrolling center field all season, making seamless reads and several diving catches without an error to date.

Bullpen Has Been Better Than Expected

The Achilles' heel for the Dodgers from a season ago has quickly become one of their strongest assets so far in 2015.

That’s right. Entering Tuesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles relievers have combined for a 1.90 ERA—fourth-best in the majors.

The Dodgers bullpen recently saw its 26-inning scoreless streak snapped earlier this week. But a small blemish hasn’t taken away from the quality relief that this collection of unheralded pitchers has provided in the early going.

There are several new faces waiting for their name to be called this season, many with little MLB experience.

The Los Angeles bullpen ranks fourth in ERA, and Yimi Garcia is a big reason why. The rookie boasts a miniscule 0.66 ERA.
The Los Angeles bullpen ranks fourth in ERA, and Yimi Garcia is a big reason why. The rookie boasts a miniscule 0.66 ERA.Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Right-handers Yimi Garcia (0.66 ERA) and Pedro Baez (2.45 ERA) have emerged as trustworthy options despite having combined for just 25 games of major league experience prior to this season.

Paco Rodriguez, a second-round draft pick in 2012, and rookie Adam Liberatore, acquired from Tampa Bay in the offseason, are southpaws who have also turned in nearly spotless relief.

These low-cost success stories represent a refreshing change from the highly paid failures of last season—namely Brian Wilson and Chris Perez.

New President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has encouraged Mattingly to base pitching changes off matchups rather than innings, according to Mark Saxon of ESPN.com. Instead of naming a seventh-inning guy or an eighth-inning guy, the Dodgers simply react to the situations presented in the late innings.

“Everybody (in the bullpen) is ready to go from the fifth inning on,” said veteran reliever J.P. Howell, a lefty specialist with a 1.23 ERA, per J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles Daily News. “No superstar stuff. That’s how I like it.”

This fluid strategy may become slightly more rigid when closer Kenley Jansen returns from a foot injury and picks up sole ninth-inning responsibilities.


Alex Guerrero Needs to Play Every Day

The secret is officially out on Alex Guerrero, as the Dodgers’ bench extraordinaire earned National League Rookie of the Month honors for April.

He batted .423 with a 1.077 slugging percentage and five home runs. But the most notable number was his 26 at-bats. It’s a rather small amount of action for a player who has offered elite production.

Bill Shaikin @BillShaikin

#Dodgers Alex Guerrero named NL rookie of month. Pretty good for a part-time player.

The Dodgers signed the Cuban defector to a four-year, $28 million contract following the 2013 season. He spent most of last season in the minor leagues, limited to fewer than 350 total at-bats because of an infamous ear-biting incident. He finished the season batting .329 with 15 home runs at Triple-A.

Guerrero’s barrier to entry remains Juan Uribe, the Dodgers’ Opening Day third baseman. The veteran is in the final year of his contract with the Dodgers, and the team values his defense and leadership in the clubhouse. Uribe is currently slashing .279/.318/.361 with one home run.

Additionally, Los Angeles recently won the bidding war for fellow Cuban defector Hector Olivera, signing him to a six-year, $62.5 million contract, per Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. Olivera can play third base and second base—Howie Kendrick’s position for at least this season.

The Dodgers have struggled to find a place for the hot-hitting Alex Guerrero in the everyday lineup.
The Dodgers have struggled to find a place for the hot-hitting Alex Guerrero in the everyday lineup.Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers have gotten creative in order to insert Guerrero’s bat into the lineup, playing him in left field now that Carl Crawford will be sidelined for the foreseeable future with a tear in his oblique. But this solution isn’t suited for the long term, and Guerrero’s trade value is probably as high as it will be all season—he even admitted so.

“Now it changes for me,” Guerrero said through an interpreter, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. “Because pitchers are going to adjust the way they’ve been pitching me. They didn’t know me before.”

This has led some to believe that the Dodgers might try trading Guerrero, perhaps for starting rotation depth, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Brandon McCarthy will miss the rest of 2015 with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, and Hyun-Jin Ryu has yet to take the mound this season because of shoulder inflammation.

However, the hitch in a potential trade is a clause in Guerrero’s contract stipulating that he can become a free agent at the end of any season in which he is dealt. Guerrero is due $4 million this season and $5 million in each of the next two seasons.

All stats courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.

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