Monday, May 06, 2013

Don't Panic

Fourth place, 5.5 games back, and it's only May 6. A sweep in San Francisco at the hands of the arch-rival Giants, in which all three games were decided by one scant run.

Yeah, things may appear pretty bleak for the Dodgers.

But wait a second here: things aren't always what they seem. Let's spin back the clock to last year, when the Dodgers, backed by an early season charge and invigorated by new ownership, made the cover of Sports Illustrated with nothing but smiles. Even though the Dodgers' hold on first place was relinquished by late June, when the Dodgers swept the Giants up at AT&T Park over a late July weekend, it seemed like order had been effectively restored. In fact, the LA Times indicated that the sweep up in San Francisco, which put the Dodgers back in first place, portended great things.

The Dodgers ended up losing first place by mid-August, and couldn't recover. Injuries piled up late, most notably to Matt Kemp, and that was it. The Dodgers had started out really strong--up as many as seven games at one point--but couldn't finish with the same momentum.

Now we're in 2013, looking up in the first week of May. But things are pretty different.

For one thing, Kemp started out extremely slow in April, but lately has started to heat up. From April 17 to May 5, Kemp has seen his batting average rise from .182 to .265 (peaking at .271 on April 27). He still lacks the pop we need from him--Kemp has only 1 HR this year and his slugging average, a career-low .342 (150 points lower than his career average), is driving his OPS downward (OPS+ is 87). Kemp will continue to pick up AND start stroking for power as the season goes on.

For another, the most important reason why things should improve is that everyone on the goddamn team is on the DL. Our starting rotation, with Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, and Chris Capuano all out (Capuano gets reinstated for tonight's start), has been the most decimated. But we've also been forced us to play infields that are terrifyingly horrible, at the very least offensively:

The Dodgers finished the game with an infield of Luis Cruz at first, Skip Schumaker at second, Dee Gordon at shortstop and Nick Punto at third.

Cruz never had played first base in the major leagues. In 1,223 games in the minors, he played the position three times.

Gordon is batting .429 (3-for-7) in his recent call-up, but it's early. Cruz and Schumaker on the other hand have had a lot of AB this season, without very much to show for it (Schumaker, at least, can spot an inning of relief in a pinch). And Juan Uribe is still very fat, and swings indiscriminately and almost comically violently. Punto has been a pleasant surprise, but he can't do it alone.

(And of course, as we've stated earlier, our inability to hit for power (not to mention with RISP) is killing us. If everyone weren't injured, we'd suggest some strength conditioning.)

Throw in unexpected, freak injuries to Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez (two of the guys who were actually producing from the plate, the latter of which had been producing all season long) over the last week, and one might think the baseball gods are just toying with us early.

But these guys are all coming back (save Billingsley). We'll be up at full strength shortly, both from the quantity of people as well as the quality of their output (with the exception of Beckett, who may be a lost cause; I can't tell yet).

We've had pockets of brilliance in Hyun-Jin Ryu, in Gonzalez and Punto and Carl Crawford (not to mention Ramirez there for a split-second). AJ Ellis continues to be an OBP machine (he's in the top 20 in the NL, along with Crawford and A-Gon). Clayton Kershaw is nails, as always.

There's a lot of reason for (a new) hope. Let's just take one series at a time.


Hideo Nomo said...

Don't forget Juan Base Percentage!

Paul said...

Thanks for the perspective. I needed that. I just hope they are turning things around by the time I see them in the Bronx. The Yankee smugness might suffocate me.

Steve Sax said...

Unfortunately, the YankMes and smugness go together like peas and carrots

MR.F said...

Yeah, still kinda sads.

BJ Killeen said...

I am thinking it's all part of the plan. You know, going Hollywood. Here's the movie pitch: Big-name team, throws lots of money at the players...more money than everyone else..then let's throw a bunch of injuries on the major players, including a big fight on the mound that really injures the hero. Stick 'em in last place for a few months, yada, yada, yada, then when it all seems hopeless, they suddenly pull themselves up by the bootstraps and go on to win the World Series in the bottom of the 9th with a game/series winning walk-off home run by the guy who was sucking big at the start...Whaddaya think, Leo? Who can we get to play Kemp?

MR.F said...

Well, new She & Him album tomorrow. #LessThanThreeZooey.