Grading the week

July, 8, 2013
7/08/13
11:17
AM PT
Teams get hot. Teams get cold.

What the Dodgers have been doing the past few weeks appears to be more than just the tide coming in before the inevitable waning. It appears to be sustainable.

The additions, in the past month-plus, of Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp have made their lineup treacherous terrain for opposing pitchers. Their pitching doesn't look as top-heavy since the addition of Ricky Nolasco. Fielding remains an issue, but it's less of an issue when you're scoring seven runs a game than when you're scoring three.

The Dodgers won series in Colorado and San Francisco last week. If they can win one in Arizona this week, they will be on a trajectory to make some serious noise after the All-Star break.

GradeSCORING

It's not all about Puig any more. The Cuban phenom had kind of a topsy-turvy week, batting .308 but striking out 11 times in 28 plate appearances.

The fact the Dodgers scored an average of 6.5 runs per game speaks to their newfound balance. What he has done, coupled with what Ramirez and Kemp have added, seems to have energized the rest of the lineup, probably by relieving pressure. Carl Crawford, once he settles in, should bring a spark at the top of the lineup.

Juan Uribe drove in seven runs in one game, for crying out loud. This hot hitting has truly become infectious.

The Dodgers still rank 14th in the National League in runs scored, but if they can keep their main players healthy for once, they figure to steadily climb the ranks in the second half. As evidenced by Puig's week, hitters cool off. But the Dodgers appear to have enough depth to avoid prolonged freezes.

Grade: A

GradeDEFENSE

One of the reasons this upturn looks legitimate is the Dodgers don't appear to be playing at maximum capacity. For example, what happens when Zack Greinke starts pitching better and Nolasco bumps the highly erratic Chris Capuano from the rotation? What happens if the hard throwers at the back of the bullpen get it together all at once?

It's perfectly reasonable to suggest that the Dodgers' pitching will improve in the coming weeks and months.

The Dodgers allowed an average of six runs per game last week, but those numbers were skewed by another rough Greinke outing (he has a 5.40 ERA in his last four starts) and by another poor outing by Capuano in Colorado.

The Dodgers have the most errors in the National League. It's probably about time to admit they're just not a very good fielding team. Their shortstop, Ramirez, is built like a right fielder and often plays shortstop like one. They've had no stability in center field. Their second baseman, Mark Ellis, and third baseman, Uribe, have lost range as they've aged. They're just going to have to make the plays they can make and play around it when they don't.

Grade: C+

GradeDECISION-MAKING

The reason the Dodgers were able to beat out other teams for Nolasco is they were willing to take on all of his remaining 2013 salary, about $5 million. They couldn't care less how they got him.

They landed a pitcher who looks like he can finally stabilize the back of the rotation, a guy who has pitched more than 112 innings already and rarely walks anybody.

In exchange they gave up some aging minor-league relievers and a hard-throwing prospect who has been stuck on the slow train.

The final piece: They also got $197,000 in relief from the limits on international signings (did anyone know you could even acquire such things?). Coupled with the Carlos Marmol trade, they've now added $400,000 to spend on players across the globe. It might take years, but that could prove to be the most valuable piece. It just takes one Miguel Cabrera or Pedro Martinez.

Nobody's really talking about Don Mattingly any more and, given the tone of the discussion earlier this season, that is a good thing for him.

Grade: A-

GradeGRIT-METER

The Colorado Rockies must be the nicest guys in baseball. At least, that's the way it seems since they're the only team in the NL West the Dodgers don't seem to have bad blood with.

They've had ugly brawls with the San Diego Padres and Diamondbacks and, Sunday, some ill will surfaced with the Giants. The Dodgers admitted to reporters they weren't thrilled with the way Sergio Romo celebrated his save on Saturday and Puig punctuated their ninth-inning rally with a bat flip following his leadoff single on Sunday.

Pretty mild stuff, thankfully, compared to the Arizona and San Diego incidents, but the Dodgers have made it pretty clear they're not willing to be seen as well-paid pushovers.

Grade: B

GradeSTATE OF CONTENTION

The Dodgers couldn't do anything about the fact the Diamondbacks have won five games in a row, but they can now. They're in Arizona for their most pivotal series of the season (at least until the next one).

Since Tuesday, the Dodgers have actually lost two games in the standings while going 3-2, but they've kept the Rockies and Giants stuck on miserable and solidified their position in second place. Being 4 1/2 games out isn't ideal, but it beats 9 1/2 out. Plus, they've got momentum on their side, at long last.

Grade: C+

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.296 16 69 92
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
WC. Kershaw 21
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239