Dodgers Looking Great with 2/3 of the Season to Go
- Updated: June 13, 2009
Editor’s Note: Due to my being on vacation, Jim’s article that he wrote on June 5th below has been posted just now.
According to Chris at Dodgerfan.net, the Dodgers are the favorite in Las Vegas to win the World Series, with odds at Mandalay Bay at 7-2.
But now, with one-third of the season under the belt, it’s a good time to examine just where the Dodgers stand. As of the morning of June 5, LA leads the NL West by 8 games over the San Francisco Giants. Even though Manny Ramirez hasn’t stepped to the plate in weeks, the Dodgers still lead the NL in batting at .282. Juan Pierre has actually hit better (.367) than Manny (.348) since taking over left field. Orlando Hudson has arguably been the best free-agent signing of the year, sporting a sick .406 OBP and hitting .324. O-Dog is on pace to score 117 runs right now — and will have Manny back to knock him in starting in July. That would shatter his career high of 87 with the D-Backs in 2006. Scoring 120 runs is within reach, and if Hudson could do that, he’d be just the fourth Dodger to reach that milestone in the Los Angeles era, following Shawn Green (121 runs scored in 2001), Maury Wills (130 in 1962) and Tommy Davis (120 in 1962).
The only real disappointments offensively have been Rafael Furcal (.302 OBP, .239 BA) and Russell Martin (.263 BA). Furcal is bound to come around, and Martin’s low batting average is largely due to his painfully slow start (he hit just .205 in April). The durable catcher and team leader hit .330 in May. It’s a little troubling that Martin has yet to go deep this season. Martin has averaged 14 bombs a year, so he should start hitting for more power now that it seems he has his stroke and confidence back.
The Dodgers pitching staff, considered a big question mark entering the season, has been stellar. They are second in the NL with a 3.66 ERA behind great efforts from Chad Billingsley and Randy Wolf. Those guys have just been horses early on after the team took a big hit when Opening Day starter Hiroki Kuroda went down after just one trip to the mound. But Kuroda’s back now, and shows no signs that he’s lost his effectiveness due to injury. Frankly, it’s quite amazing that the starting rotation hasn’t simply fallen apart. Yet time and again, spot starters like Eric Stultz, Jeff Weaver and now Eric Milton have greatly exceeded expectations (the brief James McDonald experiment has been the exception). Clayton Kershaw looks to be getting a little bit exposed in his sophomore season with an ERA at 4.26. But the young lefty is still striking out a batter an inning. He’s just got to do a better job of making outs when players make contact and, most importantly, bring the walks down. You can’t give a free pass every other inning and succeed as a power pitcher at this level for very long. Crafty guys who allow a lot of baserunners tend to bear down when the going gets tough. Kershaw, eventually, should find that maturity
Great credit, of course, has to go to the Dodgers bullpen. Jonathan Broxton continues to exceed the lofty expectations put upon his broad and meaty shoulders entering the season. For a guy taking over full-time closing duties for the first time, and at the tender age of 25, Broxton has been lights out. With a microscopic .067 WHiP and a .188 OBP against, it’s no wonder Brox is 5-0 with 13 saves in 15 opportunities. In only one of his 24 appearances has he given up more than one hit, and he’s not allowed a baserunner in 13 of his trips to the mound. Broxton’s a lock for his first All-Star game. And, naturally, he’s doing it with pure power. His 4.10 BB/K ratio (42 Ks and just 10 BBs in 27 IP) would be a career high.
But Broxton hasn’t done it alone. The entire Dodgers bullpen was virtually untouchable the first few weeks of the season. Since then, mainstays Guillermo Mota, Will Ohman and Cory Wade have taken their lumps, but Ramon Troncoso (1.83 ERA) and surprise Opening Day invitee Ronald Belisario (2.18 ERA, 31 Ks in 33 IP) have been as good a pair of set-up men as any tandem in all of baseball.
It’s no wonder this team is the odds-on favorite in Vegas to win it all. Next month, they get Manny back. And, Manny being Manny, he’s more likely to stay aloof and let his bat do the talking — all the better to bring back the joys of Mannywood. He must know by now that with the black steroid cloud hanging above him, no other team will touch him. He’s a Dodger now, and a Dodger he will remain. Excepting Las Vegas, Los Angeles is America’s “Sin City.” And Los Angeles forgives the sins of its celebrities/sports stars quicker than any other city in America (see Bryant, Kobe).
For keeping this team focused, and winning, despite all the drama, Joe Torre has to be a leading candidate for Manager of the Year. At this same point last season, the Dodgers were 27-27 and in second place, 2.5 games behind the hated Diamondbacks. After beating the D-Backs again on June 3, notes Press-Enterprise Dodgers beat writer Michael Becker, it was the first time since the conclusion of the 1977 season that the Dodgers have been 10 games clear of their rivals (that was the end of the ’77 season when they finished 10 games ahead in the NL West over the Cincinnati Reds).
Last year, the Dodgers needed the injection of Manny Ramirez in the line up to surge to a division crown. It’s not a stretch to say they could win it without him this year.