NL West Rundown

The MLB season is just about three weeks in, although it may feel like two months with all that is happening in the National League West. Since the Dodgers (13-6) took over firstplace after a full week into the season, they haven’t looked back. As they continue to try and stay on top of the division with a 3.5 game lead, we will fill you in on how the other teams in the NL West have panned out so far.

Colorado Rockies (9-9)
The Colorado Rockies started off cold this season, yet suddenly they find themselves back at the .500 mark and in second place in the division. Before their two-game series split in a doubleheader with the Pirates, they had won three consecutive series against the Diamondbacks, Padres, and Brewers.

Reason to be worried (as a Dodger fan): The Rockies could be a threat in the NL West all year long, with a lineup featuring superstars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.

Reason to be optimistic (as a Dodger fan): This team has yet to establish a pitcher in their rotation who could be labeled as an ace. At 49 years old Jamie Moyer has the lowest ERA (2.28) in the rotation, which is impressive, but his days as an ace are long behind him. The next lowest ERA by a pitcher in the Rockies rotation is a miserable 4.76, belonging to Juan Nicasio.

Biggest contributor: Michael Cuddyer, hitting .303 with a team-leading 11 RBI.

Biggest disappointment: Carlos Gonzalez, hitting just .246 with 9 RBI in 15 games.

Biggest surprise: Jamie Moyer is 1-2 with a team-leading 2.28 ERA in four starts.

San Francisco Giants (9-9)
The Giants are currently tied for second in the NL West, but it seems a lot worse than that for their fans. Everyone in San Francisco is “freaked” out about their two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, who is off to the worst start of his career. They also have lost their All Star closer Brian Wilson for the season due to Tommy John surgery. Could it get any worse? They are on the verge of perhaps getting swept in a three-game series by the Cincinnati Reds.

Reason to be worried (as a Dodger fan): Even with Tim Lincecum struggling at the moment, this team has one of the deepest starting rotations in all of baseball.

Reason to be optimistic (as a Dodger fan): Besides a guy named Buster and another guy nicknamed “The Panda”, this Giants team doesn’t have much to offer on offense if these guys don’t hit. By the way, I was referring to Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, not the names of my niece’s Beanie Babies.

Biggest contributor: Pablo Sandoval, hitting .329 with a team leading 13 RBIs.

Biggest disappointment: Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner is off to a horrendous start with a 1-2 record and 8.20 ERA.

Biggest surprise: Barry Zito in four starts has a 1-0 record and leads the Giants starting rotation with a 1.67 ERA.

Arizona Diamondbacks (9-10)
After a great start to the season, the Diamondbacks have been hit with their first rough stretch of their schedule. They lost center fielder Chris Young to the 15-day DL. He leads the team in batting average (.410), RBIs (13), and home runs (5). Starting pitcher Daniel Hudson joined him on the 15-day DL, further making the case that the D’Backs have been bitten by the injury bug. The team is (3-7) in their last ten games and looks to rebound with a four-game series with the Marlins over the weekend.

Reason to be worried (as a Dodger fan): You have to be worried about the defending NL West Champions, they are young, talented, determined to repeat, and are managed by the great Kirk Gibson.

Reason to be optimistic (as a Dodger fan): Other than Ian Kennedy who won 20 games last year and the addition of Trevor Cahill, the back end of their rotation has been roughed up so far. For example Josh Collmenter and Daniel Hudson combine for a gruesome 15.82 ERA, not what you expect from any part of a rotation.

Biggest contributor: Jason Kubel, who with Young out the lineup has picked up the slack (somewhat), hitting .288 with 9 RBIs.

Biggest disappointment: Justin Upton, hitting just .240 with a home run and three RBI.

Biggest surprise: Joe Saunders, in three starts has a 1-1 record with a 1.29 ERA.

San Diego Padres (5-14)
It has to be tough for Padres fans to watch their team lose a lot more games than they win. They haven’t won a series yet this season, although they did manage to get a split in a four-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s possible that this team could end up with the worst record in the major leagues by the end of season, giving the Padres something new to cheer for: the first pick in next June’s amateur draft.

Reason to be worried (as a Dodger fan): I know this might be hard to do but people shouldn’t forget that this is an MLB team. They have major league talent on their roster, which will find ways to grind out wins here and there as the season goes on.

Reason to be optimistic (as a Dodger fan): The Dodgers hold a 19-6 record against the Padres since last season.

Biggest contributor: Chase Headley leads the team in all categories, home runs (4), RBIs (13), and batting average (.288).

Biggest disappointment: Yonder Alonso, who they traded for in the off-season. Thoughts that he could be the team’s franchise player haven’t panned out well, as he’s hitting .217 with 3 RBI.

Biggest surprise: Cory Luebke has a 2-1 record in 4 starts with 2.52 ERA.


James Loney is Better than Advertised

During the last couple of seasons one question has surrounded James Loney: When will he start to be consistent at the plate?

Is that even a fair question?

In 2008 and 2009 Loney hit over .280 and drove in 90 RBIs in each of those seasons. In 2010 his average dropped off a bit as he hit only .267, but still managed to finish the year with 88 RBIs. Then last season he finished the season at .288 with 65 RBI.

Loney isn’t your typical first baseman who drives in 100 runs and hits over 25 home runs, but all the Dodgers need is the return of the 2008-2009 version of James.

Besides last year’s 65 RBI, Loney has been better than advertised at first base. He has never hit over 15 home runs since he entered the league back in 2006, but does he really need to hit more than that? Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will hit the home runs, drive in the RBIs, and put people in the seats.

The Dodgers have mentioned adding another solid bat to their lineup before this year’s deadline. They really could use another bat to protect Kemp and Ethier, but if Loney returns to form, that could be the solid bat! Just think about Kemp and Ethier with 100 RBIs a piece, over 30 home runs, and Loney adding 90 RBIs of his own. That could be the most dangerous lineup in the National League.

While everyone has talked about Loney’s struggles at the plate over the last couple of seasons, he hasn’t let it affect his defense. His glove hasn’t gotten anything close to the credit it deserves. He has yet to be rewarded with a gold glove to show proof, but this could be his year.

National League Gold Glove First Baseman since 2006

2006-Albert Pujols

2007-Derrek Lee

2008-Adrian Gonzalez

2009-Adrian Gonzalez

2010-Albert Pujols

2011-Joey Votto

With Pujols and Gonzalez now playing in the American League, the chances for Loney are a lot better. Loney has made a total of just 16 errors over the past 3 seasons and has a career fielding percentage of .994.

The Dodgers seem to always record an out when a ball is hit in his area. Seriously, a ball hit in his direction has now become more automatic than seeing a Ron and Sammy fight on an episode of the Jersey Shore, I like these odds.

He should already have won a gold glove in my opinion, but it won’t be long before he gets his first. The fact that Loney is perceived by most as a below-average first baseman is frustrating, he is a lot better than people give him credit for.

I want people to recognize what this guy brings to the table, which is an A+ fielder, B+ potential as a hitter, and an overall above-average first baseman.

I would go as far as saying he could be an All Star-caliber first baseman one day if he can return to his old form. Now this is something that must happen in the next two years because time is running out for the unappreciated James Loney.

Dodgers Beat Braves, Behind Group Effort

The Dodgers returned home last night after their 6 game road trip in quite a fashion, beating the Atlanta Braves 7-2. It was the way they needed to respond after losing 12-0 to the Houston Astros on Sunday. This was one of those games that you didn’t think they could lose; everything was going right for the Dodgers. It actually didn’t seem that way from the beginning, when Dodgers starter Chris Capuano was in a two out bases loaded jam in the first-inning, eventually striking out Jason Heyward to escape the trouble.

The offense got hot early against Braves starter Jair Jurrjens, and never looked back. Dee Gordon started the game with a leadoff single, and didn’t waste any time getting into scoring position, stealing his 9th base of the year. He eventually scored on a RBI single from Andre Ethier, which tied Matt Kemp with 22 RBIs on the season. The Braves got the run right back in the second-inning, with a solo home run from former Dodger catcher David Ross. I know it seems like 100 years ago, but he did wear Dodger blue from 2002-2004. Anyways, believe it or not the Dodgers got 3 consecutive singles in the bottom half of the second-inning from James Loney, Juan Uribe, and AJ Ellis! The Uribe and Ellis singles both went for an RBI giving the Dodgers a 3-1 lead after two. Capuano continued to escape any trouble he got himself into and pitched his best game of the year so far. He finished with 7.0 innings-pitched, allowing 6 hits, 1 run, and striking out 5.

Once again in the fourth-inning the Dodgers got 3 hits in a row from Loney, Uribe, and then Ellis giving the Dodgers a 4-1 lead on another RBI single. This was almost more exciting to see than a Matt Kemp home run, seriously I’m joking. The Dodgers got another run in the fourth-inning to go up 5-1 on the Braves, when Gordon hit a sacrifice fly that scored Uribe. Atlanta got their second run in the eight-inning on another solo home run, this time it was Dan Uggla who hit one off of Josh Lindblom. The Dodgers added two more runs in the bottom half of the eight-inning to go up 7-2, when Uribe got a 2 RBI single, making it his first four hit game since 2007. Scott Elbert pitched a perfect ninth-inning to give the Dodgers their 13th win of the season, and a perfect 7-0 record at Dodger Stadium.

This wasn’t just another win for the Dodgers, it was the biggest win they’ve had so far this season. They had guys besides Kemp and Ethier get the job done, which could boost the confidence of this team. It could also take some of the pressure off of Kemp and Ethier, who maybe feels like if they don’t produce, it will be hard to win games. The game pitched by Capuano could mean that their number 3 starter can go deep into games, if necessary. I’m not saying that this one game can have these effects, but this win could mean more than you think. If the Dodgers can keep getting anything close to the group effort that they put on display tonight, the wins will pile up.

Dodgers Look to Rebound

The Dodgers will return home tonight after their first road trip of the year to host the Atlanta Braves for a 3 game series. They ended their trip with a record of 3-3 after taking 2 of 3 from the Houston Astros and losing 2 of 3 in a tough series against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Dodgers were on the verge of sweeping the Astros yesterday, but instead suffered their worst loss of this early season, 12-0. They looked as if they had already packed their bags to return home. The Chad Billingsley who had pitched brilliant in his first 3 starts was nowhere to be found during this game; he finished with 3.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, and 2 SO. The Dodgers bats were also “MIA” as they were shut down by the Astros lefty Wandy Rodriguez who only allowed 3 hits in 7 innings pitched.

The Dodgers will have their hands full tonight against the Braves, as they look to rebound from that embarrassing loss. The Braves are 10-6 on the year so far and are looking to stay hot after taking 3 of 4 from the Arizona Diamondbacks over the weekend. Jair Jurrjens will take the mound tonight for Atlanta, who is 0-1 with an 8.10 ERA in 3 starts this season. Don’t let these numbers fool you, last year before the all-star break he was an early favorite to win the NL CY Young award, until an injury ended his season early. He still finished last year with a 13-6 record and 2.96 ERA. This guy is capable of being a top of the line starter when he has his stuff working, so we’ll see which Jair Jurrjens shows up at Dodger Stadium tonight. The Dodgers will send Chris Capuano to the mound tonight, who has pitched exceptionally well early on this season with a 1-0 record and 4.50 ERA.

The lefty Capuano will be facing a tough lineup from top to bottom, featuring guys like Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and Chipper Jones. This lineup could be labeled as one of the toughest in the National League, with power coming from everywhere in the lineup. The Dodgers bullpen will be HUGE for them in this series, despite the early struggles that have been put on display. Scott Elbert, who is the only left hander in the Dodgers bullpen, is someone to keep an eye on during this series. He has only appeared in 5 games this year, posting a 5.40 ERA in the 3.1 innings he has pitched in. The Braves have two left-handed hitters in Freeman and Heyward who can do some damage with runners on base late in the game, which is why Elbert will be a key to the Dodgers success in this series. If he is called upon to face these guys in a situation late in the game, he MUST come through; being the only lefty Don Mattingly has in the bullpen to face left-handed hitters. So the Dodgers will look to rebound tonight, but will also be looking to add-on to their perfect 6-0 record at home.

Bullpen Struggles Against Brewers

After one of the best starts in franchise history the Dodgers droped two in a row against the Milwaukee Brewers. These weren’t just two ordinary loses; these games were lost in the Brewers final at bats on both nights. After these two games the question is now a serious one, what’s wrong with the Dodgers bullpen? The Dodgers either had the lead or were tied in both of these games, only for the bullpen to lose it in the end.
Chad Billingsley took the mound for the first game of the series on Tuesday night. He started off in Chad Billingsley fashion, giving up two quick runs in the 2nd inning. Those would be the only runs he would allow in the game, he settled down and finished with 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, and 2 SO. He was at just 83 pitches for the game and in a groove after the 6th, but was pinch hit for in the 7th in a 2-2 tie with the go ahead run on second base. Matt Guerrier came into pitch the bottom half of the 7th and gave up the lead on a sacrifice bunt by Norichika Aoki. The Dodgers trailing 3-2 in the 8th were bailed out by Andre Ethier AGAIN! He hit a 2 run go ahead home run to put the Dodgers on top 4-3. After the home run the dugout was going nuts and had to be feeling confident. Kenley Jansen was going to pitch the 8th and Javy Guerra was going to come into pitch the 9th. This game was over, right? Not so fast. Jansen was lights out in the 8th, retiring the side in order and striking out two. In the 9th, Guerra came in with a perfect 0.00 ERA, 5/5 in save opportunities, and a 1-0 record on the year. He gave up a leadoff single, walked the next hitter, and then finally got the first out. The Brewers then brought in George Kottaras off the bench to pinch hit, yeah I was thinking the same thing, who the hell is this guy? Well THIS guy hit a game winning double in the gap that scored two; the Brewers won the game 5-4.
In the second game of this series tonight former Brewers pitcher Chris Capuano took the mound for the Dodgers. Matt Kemp got the Dodgers off to a good start with an RBI single in the 1st. The one run held up until the Brewers Matt Gamel singled in a run of his own in the bottom half of the 2nd. The Dodgers took the lead again in the 5th with an RBI from AJ Ellis on a fielder’s choice. Capuano was cruising along in this game with a 2-1 lead but that lead was erased in the 6th when Aramis Ramirez hit a solo BLAST to tie the game, I’m not sure if that ball has landed yet. Capuano was taken out of the game with a solid performance, 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, and 4 SO. Josh Lindblom came into pitch the 7th, who has been one of the few bright spots in the bullpen this year. He pitched two shutout innings in the 7th and 8th, allowing only one hit and striking out one. Jansen was once again dominant, retiring the side in order in the 9th. The game went into extra innings with the game still tied 2-2, and Guerrier was called upon to pitch the 10th. He walked 3 hitters in the inning eventually leading to a bases loaded 1 out situation with Ryan Braun at the plate; everyone knew this wasn’t going to end well. Ryan Braun actually hit a shallow fly ball to Matt Kemp in center field; he made the catch and threw what wasn’t his best throw to the plate. The throw was on target but Nyjer Morgan was called safe on a bang-bang play, by the way, watching Morgan celebrate is like watching a 3-year-old throw a temper tantrum, it actually could be worse than that. So the bullpen blew what could have been an 8 game winning streak for the Dodgers. Instead the Dodgers send Aaron Harang to the mound tomorrow to avoid the 3 game sweep.

Unexpected Start

The 2012 Dodgers season is off to a shocking 9-1 start, best since the 1981 World Series Champion Dodgers. I’m not crazy; I know it’s only been 10 games into this 162 game season, but no one expected this kind of start. The Dodgers are playing with no pressure on them right now, if you look at any baseball magazine predictions, they were picked to finished in 3rd place or below in just about all of them. It’s a lot easier to play when you don’t have the pressure of the Angels, Yankees, or Red Sox which is to win the World Series RIGHT NOW. The Dodgers have only played the San Diego Padres and Pittsburg Pirates which aren’t your best big league competition, but the Dodgers have been playing at a level that could last awhile
The Dodgers had a 6 game home stand last week after taking their first 3 out of 4 games against the Padres at Petco Park. The Pirates were the first team to come to Dodger Stadium this year, but left with a bad taste in their mouth after being swept in the 3 game series. Clayton Kershaw pitched the home opener against Pittsburg, finishing with 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 7 SO. Those are your typical Kershaw numbers. The Dodgers went on to win that game 2-1 thanks to an 8th inning go ahead homer by Andre Ethier, is “Captain Clutch” back? The Padres were the next team to come to Dodger Stadium over the weekend for a 3 game series, which is always a good time. On Friday night Aaron Harang took the mound for the Dodgers, who lost his first start to the Padres on the previous Sunday. Harang started the game with 9 consecutive strikeouts! That is a new Los Angeles Dodgers record, and probably the most unexpected thing we will see all year. It was a wild game with the Dodgers winning 9-8 on a walk off walk in the 9th, by no other than Andre Ethier. This series also ended in a 3 game sweep, with Matt Kemp hitting home runs in all 3 games and 4 overall for the series, and now Kobe Bryant isn’t the only one getting MVP chants in Los Angeles anymore.
I’m not saying this 9-1 start means that the Dodgers will win the World Series this year, but I’m also not saying that they won’t win it. Everything is going right for this team right now, although the bullpen could use a little bit of help. Dee Gordon has been stealing bases as often as the Kardashians are on TV, Matt Kemp is playing like he is worth $260 million, Andre Ethier is playing like he actually wants to play, and after Kershaw the starting pitching has been better than expected. Even Mark Ellis, AJ Ellis, and Juan Rivera are doing their part, and James Loney and Juan Uribe are starting to HIT!! That actually probably deserves more than two exclamation points, I’m almost happier than when I got my first car. The Dodgers start should be credited to the great baseball they’ve been playing, but also to all of the baseball magazines that counted this team out before the season started.

The 1-2 Punch

In the game of baseball it’s a valuable weapon to have a 1-2 punch in your lineup or on your pitching staff. If you look at the teams that are constantly in contention for a World Series, they have this weapon. The Philadelphia Phillies have both, with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in their lineup, except this year due to injuries. When it comes to their pitching they really have a 1-2-3 punch with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. This is why they’re in the hunt, every single year. In the American League you have 1-2 punches in lineups everywhere like Miguel Cabrera/Prince Fielder in Detroit, Alex Rodriguez/Mark Teixeira in New York, Adrian Gonzalez/David Ortiz in Boston, and Josh Hamilton/Adrian Beltre in Texas. As long as these teams can have a productive 1-2 punch, they will always be in contention. A 1-2 punch in your pitching staff with a lack of offense can even take you a long way in the MLB, just look at the 2010 San Francisco Giants.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who are being overlooked by everyone, might have both weapons this season. They already have Matt Kemp who is coming off of what should have been an MVP season, and Clayton Kershaw who won the NL CY Young award last year. So who will be the two players to complete the Dodgers 1-2 punch? In the Dodgers lineup look for Andre Ethier to be the guy to fill that spot. In last night’s game against the San Diego Padres he went 2-4 with 4 RBIs, against left hander Cory Luebke. I mentioned that it was off of a lefty because that will be the big test for him this year, can he hit left-handed pitching? It was just one game, but for me that question was answered last night when he tripled off the wall. When the Dodgers went to back to back NLCS appearances in 2008 and 2009, they had one of the deadliest 1-2 punches in baseball with Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez. So if Ethier can get back to his All Star form and hit left-handed pitching consistently, a Matt Kemp/Andre Ethier 1-2 punch could take this team a long way.

The pitcher that needs to step up and complete the Dodgers pitching 1-2 punch will be Chad Billingsley. He has the stuff to be a dominate pitcher in this league, but the consistency hasn’t been there for him. He once won 16 games in 2008 and was named a National League All Star in 2009. The All Star Chad Billingsley made an appearance last night against the San Diego Padres when he went 8 1/3 innings with 11 K’s, 1 BB, 0 R, and 4 H. Now I know with his consistency he could do the complete opposite in his next start, but let’s be optimistic. If he can pitch anything close to those numbers consistently, the Dodgers will have a dominate 1-2 punch. We already know what Kershaw can do; he threw 3 innings of shutout ball with the flu on Thursday afternoon! So if the All Star Chad Billingsley decides to show up on a consistent basis this year, the Dodgers will have their pitching 1-2 punch. The key word here is CONSISTENT, if Ethier and Billingsley can be that, and Kemp and Kershaw do anything remotely close to last season, the Dodgers 1-2 punches could take them deep into October.