The Tenth Inning – Week 12 – Los Angeles Dodgers Edition ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
By Mike Ivcic
I recently did a search for some articles written about this current baseball season, kind of like the one youâre reading right now. There were quite a few on the resurgence of the Angels, the emergence of the Yankees, and the surprising stories in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Washington. Even my beloved Mets have been getting some ink with their record 3 games over .500 on Fatherâs Day â definitely one of the more unexpected results from this early season. On the downside, the Phillies and Red Sox have gotten most of the bad press, though the Tigers have been getting some negative press for their inability to run away and hide in a relatively weak division. Amidst all of that, it took me until story number 37 to finally find one that talks about the best team in all of baseball.
The 42-25 Los Angeles Dodgers.
They are the most high-profile team west of the Mississippi (sorry, Cardinals and Giants fans). They play in the second-largest media market in the country. Their broadcaster is the biggest play-by-play icon ever, and should be recording every word he says so they can build a robot to replace him when he finally steps down. They have the defending NL Cy Young winner and the runner-up to the NL MVP voting last year (and the real winner if steroids are discounted). So guess what the story at number 37 on my search list was about?
It’s amazing to me that this team has gotten such little publicity as it has. Maybe it’s because everyone thinks this is a mirage and that it will ultimately fall apart. Well if that’s the case, why are we writing about Pittsburgh and Baltimore, two teams that have a history of building up hopes only to send them crashing down in July and August? Maybe it’s because manager Don Mattingly doesn’t have great quotes like Bobby Valentine of the Red Sox and doesn’t create an international crisis every other month like Ozzie Guillen of the Marlins. Or maybe it’s because Matt Kemp doesn’t do as many Subway commercials as Ryan Howard, so his injuries aren’t drawing the same national attention, or because the Dodgers don’t have two number one overall draft picks headlining their rotation or patrolling their outfield at 19 years old like the Nationals. But what they do have is really incredible.
First off, in addition to Kemp and his .355 average, 12 HR and 28 RBIs in just 36 games and 121 at bats, they have one of the game’s most underrated players in Andre Ethier. Having played in all but one game so far this year, he’s batting .291 with 10 homeruns and 55 RBIs, putting him on pace for a 24 homer, 133 RBI season. Those are tremendous numbers in today’s National League. He also carries a .355 on base percentage and an .857 OPS while playing a Gold Glove-caliber rightfield and batting behind Kemp to help provide protection in the Dodgers lineup. Add to him the emergence of A.J. Ellis as a legitimate top-tier catcher (.302, 6 HR, 26 RBIs) and the addition of Bobby Abreu, who couldn’t even crack the Angles outfield rotation and is now batting .320 with a .433 OBP for the crosstown Dodgers, and it’s suddenly not a surprise that L.A. has been grinding out wins with tremendous offensive efficiency.
On the pitching side, Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw has been very good, going 5-3 with a 2.86 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP, and 88 strikeouts this season, but he’s been outpitched by fellow lefthander Chris Capuano. After not pitching in the big leagues at all in 2008 or 2009, Capuano had a solid season with the Mets last year before joining the Dodgers in the offseason and completing his renaissance. The 33-year-old that has never sported an ERA lower than 3.95 in his career is suddenly pitching to a 2.71 mark and boasting an 8-2 record, which still leaves him one more win away from being a .500 career pitcher. He’s also nearly matching Kershaw in strikeouts, with an 8.34 K/9 ratio that’s only slightly lower than Kershaw’s 8.40 K/9. And Capuano’s not the only veteran surprise â Ted Lilly was 5-1 with a 3.14 ERA in 8 starts before hitting the DL, and Aaron Harang is 5-3 with a 3.59 ERA in 13 starts from the back of the rotation. Even Lilly’s injury hasn’t hurt the Dodgers, as his replacement Nate Eovaldi has a 1.82 ERA in his 4 starts despite failing to earn a victory. Add to all of that a stellar bullpen led by closer Kenley Jansen’s 11 saves and 51 strikeouts in 32.1 innings and Ronald Bellisario’s 3-0 record and 1.25 ERA, and the Dodgers can cover up on the mound for any lack of offense.
And it’s not just individual performances â this is a group that’s performing well as a team. Despite ranking just 13th in baseball in runs scored, they’re second in on base percentage at .339. That means that even when they’re not scoring runs, they’re at least making the opposing pitchers work and giving themselves a chance to score runs.
Do that every inning over the course of a three game series, and ultimately it will wind up paying off. For L.A., it’s not about winning big or looking pretty doing it, it’s just about finishing nine innings of baseball with at least one more run than the other team, and doing whatever it takes to make that happen. That’s why they lead baseball with 18 one-run victories (their last 5 losses and 7 of their last 10 have also all been by a run), and have just one losing streak all season longer than 2 games â and if they could avoid the Brewers (1-6 vs. Milwaukee this season) they’d have even more impressive numbers. Their schedule is somewhat difficult leading into the All-Star break, as they open up a nine-game road trip Tuesday going through Oakland, Anaheim, and San Francisco, before hosting the Mets and Reds and visiting Arizona to close the first half, but knowing this group, they’ll play each and every game close and tight, and probably enter the Midsummer Classic still boasting the best record in baseball.
Even if they still don’t appear anywhere on Google.
Playoff “Dead” List
Three series to watch this weekâ¦
If the season ended today, the playoff teams would beâ¦
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