Grading the week: The train rolls on

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
7:59
AM PT
DENVER – The Dodgers were essentially overpowered by the pitcher they were facing, a towering right-hander named Andrew Cashner, who was pumping 98, 99 and even 100-mph fastballs past their hitters as late as the seventh inning.

Not a lot you can do in a situation like that, just hold on and hope you’re in striking distance when he gets tired.

Thanks to Chris Capuano, the Dodgers were. And thanks to Zack Greinke, they were the next day, too, winning essentially the same game -- by the same 2-1 score.

If anyone doubted the Dodgers' pitching was taking over a few weeks ago, nobody doubts it now. The Dodgers had the best pitching in the majors in August. In fact, three of their starters, Clayton Kershaw, Greinke and Ricky Nolasco, had ERAs in the top five in the National League.

The last Dodger team to pitch that well in a month did so in April of 1981, a World Series year.

Things are trending up, in other words. To have suggested the Dodgers would win 100 games in April, May, June or even July would have been moronic. To suggest it now seems like a pretty good reading of the winds. The Dodgers need to go 19-7 to win 100. Amazing.

SCORING

Yasiel Puig continues to be impossible to ignore.

Bench him and it only seems to stoke his desire. After his first disciplinary benching, he hit the decisive home run. After his second, last Wednesday, he came back to go 4-for-5 with two stolen bases in the next game.

Puig was cold, but now he’s not any more. Because he’s such a free swinger and has such great strength and hand-eye coordination, his streaks don’t follow normal trends. It reminds me of former AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero. An advance scout said he never put Guerrero in the “cold” category, because the minute he did, Guerrero would hit two home runs and go 3-for-5 and the scout looked bad.

Puig has multi-hit games in five of his last eight games. He is batting .596, best in the majors, when he swings at the first pitch. That raises the question: So why not bounce a slider or throw a fastball above the neck on every first pitch? Because he’s adjusting. Remember when he never walked? Now he has a .409 on-base percentage.

Other than Puig’s contributions, one big night from Adrian Gonzalez and some clutch hits from Mark Ellis, it was a ho-hum week for the Dodgers' offense. The Dodgers averaged 4.1 runs per game, but nine of those came in one game against San Diego, much of it at the expense of one reliever, Anthony Bass.

But give the Dodgers credit. They score according to the game, somehow finding ways to scrape runs across to support their pitchers, at least pitchers not named Clayton Kershaw.

Grade: B-

DEFENSE

Kenley Jansen isn’t getting enough publicity. If he keeps this trend up for another 17 or 18 years, other teams are going to give him a farewell tour like they did for Mariano Rivera. Rivera is the only comparison for Jansen that is apt at the moment, even if it is essentially absurd.

Confining the discussion to 2013, is there a more unhittable closer in baseball? Jansen gives teams no hope of late-inning heroics. He has nailed his last 17 save chances and, over that time, had a 1.03 ERA with 41 strikeouts (in 17 games). For his career, batters are hitting .155 against him.

It’s only Sept. 2, but Greinke’s first season has exceeded even the expectations raised by his then-record, $147 million contract. He is pitching at his 2009 level, though through slightly different means. Greinke’s ERA has gone done in three consecutive seasons, so the Dodgers can feel good about getting him in the middle of his prime.

Once again, Kershaw was the only Dodgers pitcher to take a loss and he’s not just a virtual lock to win the Cy Young, but he’s getting talked up for the league MVP trophy. Go figure. The Dodgers need to start making life a little easier on their ace, so he doesn’t have to throw a shutout to get a win.

Hanley Ramirez is showing signs of reverting to the way he played shortstop last year, reacting slowly to ground balls and getting his footwork tied up, sometimes sailing his throws. The Dodgers should, and probably will, make Ramirez's defense a point of emphasis in the final month.

Grade: A-

DECISION-MAKING

Should we just trust Ned Colletti and Don Mattingly and assume that Michael Young’s leadership skills and still-useable bat will make up for the fact he is going to take playing time away from another player who puts up at least comparable offensive numbers and plays better defense?

How is Young an upgrade, particularly since he costs the Dodgers $1 million and a young pitcher who might one day be a useful big-league arm?

It seems the Dodgers’ early-season trauma -- a seemingly endless string of injuries -- has pushed them into a cautious footing as they begin to eye a post-season run. They’ve begun to hoard depth. Young, like Carlos Marmol, Brian Wilson and Edinson Volquez, is viewed as a more-capable injury replacement than any of the players the Dodgers have at Triple-A.

So there’s that.

It will be interesting to see how the veterans blend into the fabric of the team over the next month, as the Dodgers make evaluations for their 25-man playoff roster.

Grade: B-

CHEMISTRY TEST

The Dodgers clubhouse has become a frat house. Wilson and Juan Uribe, longtime teammates, yell at each other across the room, usually on the topic of each others’ wardrobes. There’s no telling what dugout shenanigans Uribe, Puig and Ramirez will get into.

They seem to have the ability to snap into business mode at about 7 p.m., so nobody’s really too worried about the joking around. It has been interesting to see how quickly Wilson has gotten comfortable, considering all the years he pitched for the team the Dodgers like least.

Young, like Uribe, Wilson, Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker, is another World Series veteran, one more reason the Dodgers thought he would be a useful addition. That’s their desired destination, after all, so why not invite in players who know what it's like to get there?

Grade: A-

STATE OF CONTENTION

It’s getting close.

In fact, the Dodgers have put themselves in position where, even if something goes terribly wrong in this final month, they should back into the playoffs.

Their magic number is 16 with 26 games left. There is a very good chance the Dodgers will clinch some time during a four-game series at Arizona that starts Sept. 16. To have the division in hand so early would allow the Dodgers to align their pitching perfectly for October.

Remember when the 2005 Chicago White Sox were able to rest their starting pitchers and they all came out throwing 95 mph and up, just strong-armed their way to the World Series title? Well, the Dodgers could set up a similar scenario, only with much more accomplished pitchers.

Grade: A-

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

WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
19 1.70 219 185
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .293
HRA. Gonzalez 23
RBIA. Gonzalez 103
RD. Gordon 84
OPSY. Puig .854
ERAC. Kershaw 1.70
SOC. Kershaw 219