Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Things Looking Up For The Dodgers?

A no-hitter by Josh Beckett, a perfect game through seven innings by Hyun-Jin Ryu, and yet another solid outing by Zack Greinke. It's enough to start getting people thinking that the Dodgers are about to turn a very important corner, as these three wins may point to something big finally happening.

ESPN's David Schoenfield called it right after Beckett's game:

Dodgers announcer Charley Steiner, perhaps caught up in the moment, called it the greatest game Beckett ever pitched. I'm not sure I'd agree with that. Beckett, after all, pitched a five-hit shutout against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium to clinch the 2003 World Series. Earlier, in the NLCS against the Cubs with the Marlins facing elimination, he pitched a two-hit, 11-strikeout shutout.

That was a different Beckett than the one we see now. That was a 23-year-old kid from Texas with the monster fastball and cocky attitude that had made him the second overall pick in the 1999 draft. Now he's crafty 34-year-old, working in the low 90s, mixing in more cutters and changeups then he did as a fireballing youngster. Back with the Marlins and during his early years with the Red Sox, Beckett would throw his fastball more than 60 percent of the time. That percentage has slowly declined, dropping to less than 40 percent his year. He doesn't blow you away any longer.

Actually, it makes you wonder: What if Beckett had learned to "pitch" earlier in his career? The promise of that 2003 postseason perhaps created unrealistic expectations for his career. He's been inconsistent -- posting a 5.01 ERA his first year with the Red Sox but winning 20 games and finishing second in the Cy Young voting his second season in Boston. That was 2007, when he further cemented himself as a big-game pitcher when he tossed his third career postseason shutout, won both his starts in the ALCS and then his lone start in the World Series as the Red Sox swept the Rockies. He wasn't as effective in the 2008 and 2009 postseason, and then had the chicken-and-beer issues with the Red Sox in 2011 and Boston happily shipped him out of town in that 2012 blockbuster trade with the Dodgers.

Will he get another chance in the postseason? The Dodgers are difficult team to peg right now. They're 27-24, below expectations, even though they've had strong performances from Beckett, Zack Greinke (7-1, 2.01 ERA), Yasiel Puig (hitting .349/.438/.623), Adrian Gonzalez (.277, 12 home runs) and Dee Gordon (.293, 30 stolen bases). The rotation, despite great work from Beckett and Greinke, has been mediocre overall as Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu have both missed time. The bullpen has struggled with a 4.15 ERA.

This could be the time the Dodgers make a nice run, however. The rotation is now intact. Puig is on fire. Sixteen of their next 23 games are at home (although the Dodgers are just 9-13 at home). Beckett's strong start is just another reason to still think the Dodgers are as good as everyone predicted back in March.

Mark Saxon jumped on the bandwagon, right after Ryu's outing:

What that really tells us is that the Dodgers have a very good starting rotation that is trending toward special. After all, this was 17 hitless innings from the Nos. 3 and 4 starters. The next two guys to pitch are both Cy Young winners -- Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.

If ever the Dodgers had a chance to get on a roll, it’s now, behind a rotation humming and purring its way through the schedule. And if ever they needed to fix their defensive shortcomings to appease those pitchers and go all-in on stopping the other team from scoring, it was now.

So, if it’s uncomfortable to see one of the team’s most talented players -- Matt Kemp -- stuck to the bench and, according to scouting reports, one of the organization’s weakest hitters -- Erisbel Arruebarrena -- playing every day, keep the prime directive in mind. The Dodgers are about pitching and defense ... always were, really.

They just lost some of their identity while they were jousting with the Washington Nationals for most errors in the league.

So, that’s why Andre Ethier and his two home runs are playing center field every day. That’s why Arruebarrena was tapped as Hanley Ramirez’s replacement. That’s why the Dodgers won’t think about moving Yasiel Puig out of right field, where they think he’s the best defender at his position in the league.

The organization has been in frantic, fix-the-fielding mode for a while now.

“It wasn’t about trying. We were trying, but it was just costing us too much,” Mattingly said. “I know it’s not sexy to play good defense and nobody talks about it too much. But when you watch games, it can cost your pitchers an extra 25 pitches and force you to use your bullpen in different ways.

“It tells you you’ve got to catch the baseball. This pitching is that good that we’ve got to be able to catch the ball for them.”

But look, there are still signs of worry. The Dodgers might have had three error-less games right there, but the Monday game saw the Dodgers' 4-0 lead evaporate into a scary one-run victory, and even yesterday's 6-1 lead got a lot closer before the Dodgers prevailed 6-3. We're not out of the woods just yet, guys.

Good luck tonight, Clayton!


Hideo Nomo said...

Plus Carl's case of upsidedownfootitis.