Sunday, August 09, 2009

Time to Panic?

Is it time to panic? I mean, really panic? Now that we've dropped three of four to the Braves, wrapping up a 2-5 homestand? Now that we no longer own the best record in the majors? Now that the comeback wins and late-inning bullpen heroics both look to be a little unhinged?

17 games into our current 20-consecutive game spurt, the Dodgers have gone 6-11 and do not look at all like a championship team. The August games have been especially concerning: besides the 3-6 record, we can't string a two-game winning streak together, and need walk-off heroics from Andre Ethier (Thursday) or once-in-three-decades aberrant outbursts of 17 runs (Tuesday) as two of our three wins.

Our bullpen is clearly tired, or the pendulum of luck is swinging back at us after a fortuitous four months. Ramon Troncoso has lost his groove, and Guillermo Mota, awful in the beginning of the season, and then lights out from about June onward, has reverted to early-season form. Closer Jonathan Broxton looks shaky now, particularly at the two-out juncture when we our victim is listless and we should finish him a la Mortal Kombat. And with starters who are largely effective, but can't go deep into games, it's room for worry.

Meanwhile, the bats are all struggling. James Loney has gotten one hit in his last five games. Russell Martin's bat is showing signs of life, but coming off of a .239 batting average, he's got a lot of road to hoe. And Manny Ramirez has seen his OPS drop below 1.000 for the first time since early this season (remember, it was at a stratospheric 1.163 in May, right before his suspension, but has slowly inched its way down since).

The signs are a little concerning, but what makes it most difficult is that you can't point to anything in particular. To be fair, on the flipside, the signs of the Dodgers being the majors' best team were never really evident, either. It wasn't really clear how we were pulling off all these come-from-behind victories, with a group of unproven youngsters coming into their own, some veteran retreads looking to come back and/or prove themselves, and a manager who stayed calm and cool even when we were tearing ahead of the division.

Ramirez is suspended. We prevail. Martin becomes a huge liability from the plate. We prevail. Hiroki Kuroda goes down, forcing us to use the likes of Jeff Weaver and Mota. Randy Wolf unfortunately takes over the No Decision mantle from the departed Derek Lowe. Orlando Hudson gets hit on the wrist. And still, through all of this, we prevail.

Joe Torre, to his credit, has stayed calm and cool throughout this recent slide, sipping his Bigelow green tea at a measured pace. His seemingly nonsensical lineup changes are infuriating now, but no more infuriating than they have been all year long, to admitted success. And that's just it--it was so difficult to isolate the reason why we were winning so frequently our first four months of the season, that it makes it just as difficult to understand why it seems to be a little outside our grasp right now, this first week of August.

This could be just a phase, a bump on the road that shouldn't cause much alarm. When our postseason odds are still 98% and the highest in the majors, it's hard to start getting really worried. (Even better, the Giants are only at 25%, and that reflects an eight-point increase over the last week.) We're going to win the NL West. And I've got enough confidence in the aces we've got that Bill Plaschke doesn't acknowledge, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Kuroda, and Wolf, to think we can go deep using a four-man rotation when it counts. Most of our players were with the team last year and know what it takes to win a series.

Or, this sorry homestand performance can be the bellwether. We'll limp to the finish line, eke into the playoffs with the barest of margins, and then get blown away in the first round by the Phillies or Cardinals. Despair will be heightened by all the haters looking to see Ramirez, and Dodger fans, get their just desserts. The mainstream media, who never covered us when we were winning, will set their alarm clocks to stay up to write volumes about our crumbling down the stretch.

It could happen that way.

I still think it will turn out the first way.

But with Jonathan Sanchez, Joe Martinez, and Tim Lincecum on point for the next three games at the Big Phone? This series (our last before a welcome day off) will be telling. And then it's three at the BOB (now Chase Field), before coming home against the Cardinals, for a series which I will DEFINITELY attend.

Go get 'em, Blue. We're with you. I'm with you. I still have faith.


Mr. LA Sports Fan said...

Eric Stephen brought up a great point on True Blue LA, where he outlines the worst 17 game stretches of the last nine World Series winners.

Cabell said...

I think back to last August when the Dodgers had an 8 game losing streak. Everyone began to panic. They overcame that, and eventually won the division.

Maybe with a little tweaking of the line-up the offense will come around.
If Joe Torre can have a little faith in his starters to go deeper into games, and resist the urge to abuse his bullpen, things will be OK.

It's painful to watch the Dodgers play so poorly. But it's definitely not time to panic.

Nic j said...

Joe Morgan quote of the night.

"you can't pitch a perfect game, no one can."


Steve Sax said...

Yeah, Mark Buehrle might disagree with Morgan...

Mr. LA Sports Fan said...

I know 18 guys who might disagree.

Josh S. said...

"It's painful to watch the Dodgers play so poorly. But it's definitely not time to panic."

I second this. A sweep of the Giants would be a fantastic palate cleanser.

A couple things I'd like to see in the next week or so:

-Put the bullpen on some sort of rotation so they get more rest. Put together two mini teams of 7th-8th-9th guys so each set of three gets every other day off. Ease up on the "situational" stuff.

-Drop Loney to 8th until he heats up again (or the Loeny equivalent of heating up).

-This one's a biggie: Skip Chad's next start. There's no way he'll go for it, but why risk blowing his leg out before the pennant race and the playoffs? The rotation's already in disarray, so they can just use the off day to work out a new one.

Neeebs said...

Ok, I go to Hawaii and the Dodgers go 5-1. I go to Pittsburgh and the Dodgers go 1-4. Can someone figure that out.

Dusty Baker said...

Fine ideas, all, Josh. I would have added an admonition to pimp-slap Martin, but other than that I concur with your plan.

KempKershaw said...

Nic j- Ah, how I yearn for the return of FJM.

KempKershaw said...

Josh S.- Or they could call up Josh Lindblom.

Anonymous said...

Time to panic? No. I'm starting to worry a bit more, but not panic. Now if we get swept by the Giants....

On the flip side, as Josh said, a sweep of the Giants and all of this stuff is forgotten.

Also, I like this point, Sax:

"Most of our players were with the team last year and know what it takes to win a series."

I feel like this point isn't brought up enough. As young as our team is, they have as much playoff experince as any other team, aside from the Red Sox, Angels, and maybe Phillies. Also, I'm not really worried about best record in MLB, it's a nice title to have, but best in NL is all that matters and we still have that.

Hong Like a Chih Kuo said...

It starts tonight with Kuroda shutting the Giants down and our bats putting a hurt on Johnathan Sanchez. There's nothing like a cold swig of victory to wash away that bitter taste of suck that was the Dodgers performance against the Braves.

rbnlaw said...

OK folks. I was at a (great) bar here in SF watching the Gnats get beat by the Reds (I tried to not cheer so loudly, it didn't work). The Gnats looked pretty bad, and they had Matty Cain throwing.

We may be hitting a hiccup, but the boys in orange don't look too dominating either. I'm heading out to look around the Shaky City, then over to Berkeley for lunch.
Look for me at the game up in the view boxes.

Steve Dittmore said...

As a univ. professor, I always look at things in black and white. Here are facts:

If LA goes 25-25 rest of way, SF and COL must go 31-20 (.608) to TIE. COL and SF play each other 10 times. If they split those games, now both teams have to go 26-15 (.634) to TIE, assuming LA plays .500.

After Aug. 27, LA plays only 9 games against teams with winning records (6 v. SF, 3 v. COL), and 7 of those games in Sep/Oct are against PIT.

SF plays at PHI and MIL.

COL plays 29 games at Coors and has no difficult road trips (outside of LA and SF), unless you count FLA. This is mildly bothersome to me.

Of course, all of this becomes irrelevant if Jose Lima becomes the 5th starter.

rbnlaw said...

I don't know what you just said, but I agree wholeheartedly.