Betting on the Heisman Winner
by Trevor Whenham - 08/15/2006
The Dodgers. What to say (and think) about the Dodgers? Three weeks ago I was thinking pretty nasty thoughts about a last place team with no heart and no hope. But now they have forgotten how to lose and they are in first place and in control of their own destiny for a playoff berth in the sad National League West. They've won 16 of their last 17 games, and would be doing even better in the standings if they hadn't preceded this ridiculous winning streak with an equally ridiculous streak of 13 losses in 14 games. Nothing like a little consistency. How did this happen? And, more importantly, is it sustainable and are they worth some betting attention? Here's a look:
Home field heroes
The Dodgers are very good at home. Their 38 wins are better than any team in the National League, and their 24 losses are among the lowest, too. If they could play all of their games at home they would be unbeatable. Unfortunately, they have to go on the road and that's where it gets ugly. They have lost six more games than they have won away from home. Twenty five of their 44 remaining games are on the road, which doesn't help their chances of keeping their act together. You could be reassured by the fact that they have won their last six on the road, but you will feel worse when you hear that they lost 17 of 20 from the visiting clubhouse before that.
There is a whole lot to say about the arms on this team, and luckily some it of it is good. The biggest highlight right now is Greg Maddux. The team has won 12 of 13 since acquiring the first ballot Hall of Famer, and he has been amazing. He just has one win, but the team has won all three of his starts. Last time out he tossed eight scoreless innings and it only took him 68 pitches. That's unbelievable. His veteran presence, coupled with the fact that he has to be happy being out of the nightmare that is the Cubs, will certainly help down the stretch.
Losing Eric Gagne is obviously a major blow, but recently a surprising face has emerged to pick up the slack. 36-year-old Takashi Saito didn't start closing regularly until June, but he has done a fine job. He has 13 saves in 14 opportunities, including four saves and a win in August. It helps that he has some good support in front of him. Brett Tomko lost his last five starts before an injury took him out, but since coming back he has found a home in the bullpen and has really solidified the team in the later innings.
Those are all good stories, but the bad news comes when you look at the bottom of the rotation. Brad Penny is having a great year, Derek Lowe has taken enough time away from having affairs with reporters to put together a solid season and Maddux will certainly help. Beyond that, however, it gets sketchy. Chad Billingsley and Mark Hendrickson are getting the ball regularly now. Billingsley has been decent, but he doesn't go deep in games. Hendrickson is really tall, and that's the nicest thing I can say about him. Aaron Sele is in the wings, and has had some bright moments this year. There is definitely a dropoff, though, after the top three. That's not a problem in the playoffs, but it could hamper their efforts to get there.
Andre Ethier has been perhaps the most pleasant surprise in the league. The rookie is batting .350 and he saw a 16-game hitting streak end on Monday. The left fielder doesn't have a ton of power, but he gets on base a lot. Behind him, Nomar Garciaparra has found his game again after slumping for a few weeks. It has to be comforting that the team has gone on its recent tear even though Nomar, the best pure offensive threat on the team, hasn't been doing his part. There are plenty of bats behind those two - the ageless Kenny Lofton is at .311, the catchers are hitting, Jeff Kent is doing okay and obviously has the ability to be much better when needed, J.D. Drew was doing fine until a recent injury. In short, they have the power to keep it going.
Sports fans are way too liberal with the genius tag, so if he isn't careful GM Ned Colletti will soon be sporting that label. That means he will almost certainly be fired within a year. Colletti had the courage to rip the team apart at the trading deadline and the moves were very good. Maddux is a no-brainer, but other pick-ups have been just as good. He picked up Wilson Betemit from Atlanta and Julio Lugo from Tampa Bay. Both infielders didn't cost much, and they are versatile and effective players who can start at several positions each. You can never have too many infielders. Elmer Dessens is hurt, but he's a solid reliever who can be trusted. The best part of his acquisition, though, is that the team was able to get rid of Odalis Perez and his ridiculous attitude.
This is a much different team than it was at the start of the season. It's also a much better team. That's good news for the stretch drive.
The Padres are immediately behind the Dodgers, and the Diamondbacks are behind them. If either team was particularly good then the Dodgers wouldn't have been able to go from worst to first in 20 games. The Dodgers play 9 games against their division on the road to end the month. If they get through that they should be in good shape. The Dodgers unquestionably have their fate in their own hands. Earlier in the season that would have been a scary thought.