MLB Handicapping: How To Handle the Dodgers
by Trevor Whenham - 8/19/2009
A month ago the Dodgers were in the driver's seat. They had the best record in the majors, and a very secure nine-game lead in their division. Though things aren't totally disastrous now, the story is very different. L.A. has won just 10 of their last 25 games, their divisional lead has been cut in half, and both the Yankees and the Angels have a better record now. They still have the best record in the National League, and are still a leading playoff contender, but they aren't nearly the team they were in June or even July. Back then they were probably the team to beat, but now it is very hard to make the argument that they still are. Here's a look at what has caused the problems, and whether they can easily be overcome:
Pitching - You could really start and stop the analysis of this team's woes here. Coming into the season, it seemed as if the Dodgers had problems with their rotation - specifically with depth. For a while they proved that thought to be wrong, but a combination of inevitable developments and bad luck has left the rotation reeling. We can start by looking at the injury problems. Ace Chad Billingsley has missed time recently with different injuries to each of his hamstrings. Jason Schmidt is back in a familiar place - on the DL with shoulder soreness. Hiroki Kuroda is newly injured after taking a scary line drive to his head. Eric Stults is back now after having missed more than two months with a thumb injury.
It's not just injures that are causing a problem. The starters just aren't getting the job done. Kuroda won just twice in his last eight starts before his injury. Clayton Kershaw hasn't won since July 18 - five starts. Some of Kershaw's problems can be attributed to bad luck - he's pitched reasonably well recently but hasn't had any run support - but he's still not as sharp as he was, or as he needs to be to help this team compete. Randy Wolf has been the stalwart of the rotation lately - the healthiest and most consistent starter in the rotation right now.
The problems with the rotation are leading the team to take some desperate actions. The eternally disappointing Jeff Weaver has been moved from the bullpen back into the rotation. After being called up to join the bullpen, knuckleballer Charlie Haeger has also been asked to start. The team is also seriously considering bringing in Vicente Padilla, the pitcher who was so bad this year that the Rangers cut him and ate the rest of his $12 million salary for the season.
Teams that do well down the stretch and into the playoffs are the ones that have strong pitching. With a fragile ace, a fading youngster, and nothing but questions beyond the top three this team certainly doesn't inspire confidence on the mound. Barring a surprising reversal, it's not likely that that is going to change, either.
Batting - You can overcome pitching issues if your bats are on fire. The Dodgers certainly haven't enjoyed that luxury in August. Andre Ethier has been red hot, hitting .380 in August, but he's the lone shining light offensively - with the exception of Juan Pierre who has been strong in limited at-bats. Manny Ramirez is hitting .290, a comparatively low average for him, and his OPS and power stats are way down. Russell Martin has just three home runs in August. Casey Blake has hit .236 with one home run, and James Loney has the same average with one fewer round-tripper. Rafael Furcal has hit a dismal .232. with just four RBI. Outside of Ethier, the team has been in a collective slump throughout the month of August, and the results are showing on the scoreboard. Clayton Kershaw has been hurt more than once when his good outing hasn't been backed up by runs scored, and he's not alone. The team was so impressive early in the season because they scarcely had a weak spot in the rotation so opposing teams couldn't take a breath during a game. That's clearly not the case any more.
Schedule - If the Dodgers are legitimate contenders then they have a very good chance to right the ship over the next 20 games. Only three of those games come against serious contenders who are playing at the top of their game - Colorado. That series will be extremely important with the Rockies making a hard charge at the Dodgers lately. Beyond that, though, the Dodgers face some seriously weak opposition - the struggling Cubs at home, a trip to the stumbling Reds, and then games against also-rans Arizona and San Diego. A big portion of the team's early success was that they took care of business against outmatched opponents. If they can do that again then the struggles of the last 25 games can be nothing but a distant memory - a mid-season blip en route to another playoff berth.
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