Yes, it was only the Pittsburgh Pirates, and no, the Los Angeles Dodgers aren't back to the form that carried them to the NLCS in 2009. But after dropping five in-a-row heading into last weekend, the Boys in Blue are beginning to see some much needed light.
The truth is that the Dodgers are still a young squad—very young. And as much as Joe Torre has been criticized through the first 25 games, he is beginning to develop chemistry. Yet, the road to the playoffs will be long and tedious; and LA needs to keep the pedal to the metal.
The weekend seemed to be a sense of relief for Dodger fans, coaches, players, and management. After returning home and dropping the first game to the Buccos, Los Angeles rebounded and convincingly won the final three games of the series. Aside from some much improved starting pitching, the bats seemed to catch fire once again. Most particular, the lumber of one, Andre Everett Ethier.
Ethier, the Dodgers' 28-year-old right fielder seemingly took control of the Los Angeles offense single handedly. He was 8 for 16 in the entire series vs. the Pirates, including 4 HRs, 2 doubles, 9 RBIs, and 6 runs scored. After the amazing weekend, Andre ranks first in the NL in batting average (.365), home-runs (9), RBIs (26), slugging % (.729) and OPS (1.161). There's no question he loves to play at home, where he has produced a .452 average, 7 home-runs and 18 RBIs.
But the sticks didn't stop with Ethier. James Loney had an excellent weekend at the plate with 4 extra-base hits, and Blake DeWitt recorded the first 4-hit game of his career on Sunday, which included 2 doubles and 3 RBIs. With several of the veterans on the bench nursing injuries, it's time for the youth to step-up once again—deja vu 2009.
There's no question that Manny Ramirez is an integral part of the squad. Just his presence alone elevates the play of everyone around him at the plate, and sometimes in the field as well (ask Matt Kemp). But considering the chances of Manny returning in 2011 are virtually nil, let's just assume that Xavier Paul emerges as the Dodgers' left fielder in the future. So Paul at 25, Matt Kemp at 25, and Ethier at 28 makes for a very, very young outfield. And there's no doubt that Kemp and Ethier are among the best in the NL. Average age of outfield with Xavier Paul is 26.
The infield is almost as young, excluding the left side with Casey Blake (36) and Rafael Furcal (32). Blake DeWitt is only 24; James Loney, a vacuum with the glove and still blossoming at the plate is 25; and Russell Martin, who seems to have been around forever, is 27. Average age of the infield = 28.8 years.
A starting pitching staff of Hiroki Kuroda (35), Chad Billingsley (25), Clayton Kershaw (22), Charlie Haeger (26), and Carlos Monasterios (24) calculates to an average of 26.4 years (not including Vicente Padilla who is still disabled indefinitely).
A bullpen consisting of Ramon Troncoso (27), Ronald Belisario (27), Hong-Chih Kuo (28) and Jonathan Broxton (25) figures to a 26.7-year-old average.
Hence, there's no question that there's plenty of growing up to do and more positive team chemistry to be created. And don't forget that most players on this roster have played in back-to-back NLCS's.
With veterans Ramirez, George Sherrill, Reed Johnson, Garret Anderson, Ronnie Belliard, Jeff Weaver and Jamey Carroll, there's plenty of leadership to guide the youth. Despite all of the negativity stemming from the front office, the Boys in Blue need to show up everyday and play hard.
Many fans in Dodgerland have been criticizing the laid-back managing style of Joe Torre, but Torre has been around the block a few times and it's still a bit early to panic. Torre knows how to manage. Only time will reveal the true success of the Dodgers in 2010. As long as Ned Colletti can keep his mouth shut, and Frank McCourt open his wallet to attain at least one quality starter (two would be better) before the July 30 deadline, the Dodgers should be just fine.