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A combination of residual problems in setting up a new computer, a bit of a stomach bug and inertia, and increased social activity has kept me away from the blog keyboard for a while.  I hope to correct that in the coming weeks.  But as we are in the midst of the All-Star break, the time lends itself to a review of the baseball season … which of course means how the Dodgers are doing.

English: Clayton Kershaw

Dodger Stadium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The good news is that the Dodgers are leading the NL West by 4½ games.  They have led for most of the season, and when challenged for the lead by the Giants a few weeks ago while the Dodgers cooled off, they always managed to cling to first place, even if by ½ game.

The Dodgers’ goals in the off-season included a more balanced lineup, a team that performed better in clutch late-inning situations, and a better team attitude from the clubhouse to the field.  Having put five players on the All-Star team for the first time since 1995, there is some indication that they achieved the first objective.  Their 4-3 record in extra innings is nothing to write home about.  But it’s a far cry above their 6-12 mark last year.  They have been much better when trailing in the late innings and in bases loaded situations.  And the clubhouse/on field attitude appears to be good enough that they could afford to trade veteran Juan Uribe, a respected presence who did much to hold the team together the previous two seasons.

Let’s look at how the Dodgers have compared to my preseason review.

Starting pitching – My concern about lack of depth has been justified.  Hyun-Jin Ryu will miss the whole season and newcomer Brandon McCarthy went down early and is also lost for the rest of the year.  Brett Anderson has pitched well for a number five starter, but now he has been pushed up to number three.  Mike Bolsinger, unwanted by Arizona after his rookie season has filled the number four spot surprisingly well.  Carlos Frias has been the number five starter most often.  Inconsistent, he is currently on the disabled list with lower back tightness and is early in his rehab phase.  Beyond them, the cupboard is bare.  The Dodgers number one need right now is another quality starter to join All-Stars Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.

Relief pitching – The field for roster spots in the bullpen was crowded in spring training.  With injuries and a revolving door between the big club and their minor league teams, the crowd pretty much remains.  Veteran Brandon League was released when the Dodgers were dissatisfied with his recovery from injury.  Kenley Jansen has pitched very well since returning from a foot injury.  J.P. Howell has been lights out, but the Dodgers don’t want to repeat last year’s mistake and burn him out by September.

Catching – After a slow April, Yasmani Grandal was the expected upgrade at this position, showing lots of home run power and a strong throwing arm thwarting base stealers.  He was named to the All-Star Team.  His offensive numbers have been far better so far than Matt Kemp, for whom he was traded.  A.J. Ellis, now in a backup role, is starting to show a little more offense recently, batting .325 in his last 15 games.

Infield – Adrian Gonzalez was named to the All-Star Team at first base.  He continues to drive in much needed runs and field his position well.  Howie Kendrick at second has been steady, as expected, but has been outplayed at the plate, on the bases and in the field by the player he replaced, Dee Gordon.  Kendrick is at the peak of his career and eligible for free agency.  Gordon is still a rising star, and was named the starting second baseman on the NL All-Star Team, an honor which he deserved.  With the loss of Gordon and his speed, the Dodgers put much less pressure on the opposing team’s defense.  In general, they do not seem to be running the bases as aggressively.  That could be an influence of the more statistical driven types in the front office, including Farhan Zaidi, the new General Manager and former assistant to Billy Beane in Oakland.

Jimmy Rollins has sparkled at shortstop and combines well with Kendrick.  But he has struggled at bat all season and he has clearly lost a step or two on the bases.  Justin Turner has been a consistent performer and a key run producer while manning third base.  He needs to be rested at least once a week, and most of that playing time has been given to Alberto Callaspo (received when Uribe was traded) over Alex Guerrero.

Outfield – Injuries struck down Carl Crawford once again after only 15 games and his rehab assignment has been slow as he basically needs to redo Spring Training.  Yasiel Puig has been able to play in less than half of the Dodger games this year after six weeks on the disabled list with hamstring problems and then blisters on his hand.  While he still uncorks powerful throws on a steady basis, he has been much less dynamic at the plate.  He is one of the keys to the Dodgers reviving the offense they showed early in the season, but it remains to be seen if he will bounce back from the injuries in the second half.  Progress has been slow.  With those two players sidelined, it gave a golden opportunity for Andre Ethier to show that he is still capable of being a quality major league starter.  The question remains as to what the Dodgers will do when Crawford returns.  When Ethier was on the bench more in the second half last year, his power diminished to the point where he didn’t homer after June 30.  Playing regularly this year, he already has ten homers compared to four all last year.

Rookie centerfielder Joc Pederson has already made some of the most spectacular catches I’ve ever seen and launched 20 homers, many of the tape measure variety. Those helped him get named to the All-Star Team.  But he has also struck out over 100 times in 90 games.  A while he has been adept at working out walks, his batting average has been dropping each month and now his home run output is falling.  And he hasn’t been able to carry over his stolen base prowess to the majors.  Defensively, he is not a flash in the pan.  It remains to be seen if he is just a brief meteor in the major league sky offensively.

Bench – Kike Hernandez can play any infield or outfield position, although his experience at first base is limited.  His versatility helped him stay in the majors over Darwin Barney who returned to the minors due to lack of roster room.  Both are able to contribute offensively.  Barring a deal with another team, Barney with a few years as a major league starter is probably higher on the depth chart at second base or shortstop if either Kendrick or Rollins gets hurt.

Scott Van Slyke continues to provide power off the bench.  He could probably start in the outfield or first base for a few teams in the majors.  Callaspo has benefitted offensively from a change of scenery after being acquired from Atlanta.  He has filled in nicely when Turner needs to rest his knees.  Guerrero has been relegated mostly to the outfield, but has lost playing time once Puig and Van Slyke returned from the disabled list.  He was named the NL Rookie of the month in April with 5 homers and 13 RBI’s in only 26 at bats.  After a game winning pinch grand slam homer in Colorado on June 3, he has gone into a power slump and his playing time has diminished.  Power hitters are notoriously streaky and Guerrero is no exception.  His problem is that the Dodgers are still convinced that he is a terrible defensive player and don’t give him the opportunity to play through a slump.  Since he intends to exercise an option in his contract to refuse an assignment to the minors, the Dodgers will have to make a decision on what to do with him when Crawford returns from rehab.

Bottom Line – After getting off to a good start, the Dodgers have coasted in recent weeks, benefitting from the fact that no one else in their division has been able to put together a consistent winning effort.  The Giants have been nipping at their heels, though and can’t be counted out.  As things stand right now, even if the Dodgers capture their division crown for the third straight year, they can’t be given much of a chance to advance to the World Series.  Even if they can get by Washington, their recent nemesis, St. Louis, looms on the horizon as the dominant team in the National League.  For the Dodgers to have a decent chance, they need that third quality starter and an offensive rebound from Puig, Pederson and Rollins.

My next post will also be a little about baseball, but from a more personal perspective.  And some gender topics will also be addressed.

So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; – 1st Samuel 17:50a

God bless,