Monday, June 17, 2013
Grading the week
By Mark Saxon
It will be remembered as the week their feud with the Arizona Diamondbacks devolved into violence, but in many regards, it was just more of the same.
The Dodgers haven't won more than two games in a row since the first week of the season. They had an emotional win over Arizona the night the benches emptied twice and the teams traded punches and shoves. The next night they competed into the 12th inning, but relievers Ronald Belisario and Brandon League blew the game.
The Dodgers had a good all-around effort behind Clayton Kershaw in Pittsburgh on Saturday night and felt good about their chances of going on a little run, but Zack Greinke made some key mistakes and they lost Sunday.
The minute you start to think they have a little traction, a wheel spins in the mud.
In the long run, it will help to have Hanley Ramirez back. It will help to have A.J. Ellis back. Those guys returned from the disabled list over the weekend and the Dodgers now are short only Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, each of whom could be back in about a week.
You would expect this lineup to get out of the three-runs-per-game rut it's been stuck in all year. Last week, there were some positive moments. They got to young lefty Patrick Corbin, who had been on a special run. They averaged 3.8 runs per game last week, a slight tick above their average offensive output.
The driving force for the offense in the past two weeks, of course, has been rookie Yasiel Puig. Pitchers seem to have found a formula they're more comfortable with. They are pounding him inside, hopeful that he won't be able to extend his long arms and drive the ball to right field.
The strategy has had mixed results. Puig batted .500, but all 10 of his hits were singles and he hasn't driven in a run since June 7.
Defense (pitching and fielding)
Clayton Kershaw reacted angrily when reporters in Pittsburgh asked him about a report that his agent and the team were making progress on a seven-year contract extension worth greater than $180 million. Kershaw wants to keep such matters private.
Perhaps the people he should be upset with are the hitters and relievers who have unwittingly kept him stuck on 5-4.
The last time Kershaw got a win, on May 20, he had to pitch a complete game. In his five starts since, he is 0-2 despite having a 2.91 ERA, a 1.000 WHIP and holding opponents to a .240 batting average. The most wasteful aspect of it, though, is that the Dodgers aren't even winning when Kershaw pitches. They've gone 2-3 in those starts.
Stephen Fife seems to pitch well virtually every time the Dodgers call on him, though they rarely win when he starts. Greinke seems like he just can't quite get his season resumed since breaking his collarbone in mid-April. Hyun-Jin Ryu continued to be the Dodgers' most-consistent starter, though he fell victim to low run support in that 12-inning loss.
The relief pitching was better after League was demoted from the closer spot in favor of Kenley Jansen. The defense figures to suffer now that Hanley Ramirez is back at shortstop, but so far there have been no major meltdowns.
You would hope, at some point, teams will find other ways to, in their words, "protect" their hitters after plunkings. But, in the current climate, it's tough to fault Greinke or manager Don Mattingly for throwing at Arizona catcher Miguel Montero after Puig had been hit in the nose by a 92-mph Ian Kennedy fastball.
The idea is that, if the Dodgers don't stand up to Arizona, its pitchers will continue to brush their hitters off the plate routinely.
After League couldn't protect a 3-1 lead Monday, Mattingly did what some Dodgers fans had been calling out for since Opening Day. He took League out of the closer role and gave it to Jansen.
I thought Jansen was a better choice going into the season, because his resume -- though not as long as League's -- suggested he was a better pitcher. Righties hit .143 off him. Lefties hit .183 off him. So, it seems fair to levy some criticism at the Dodgers for making this move more than one-third of the way through what has been a disappointing season.
We just don't know whom to pin it on, since their contracts (League is making nearly nine times more than Jansen) likely played a role.
It must have been hard for middle-aged and older Dodgers fans to watch Kirk Gibson mix it up against their team last week. The Diamondbacks manager was the epitome of grit when he played for the Dodgers near the end of his career, famously challenging teammates to fight in spring training and instilling intensity to what was viewed as a laidback team in 1988.
The truth is, his Arizona team is probably winning on talent (a good young pitching staff) rather than any intangible factors. The Dodgers have shown more fight lately, scoring two 12th-inning runs off Heath Bell to nearly make that Wednesday loss interesting and backing up their teammates in the scuffles, but that hasn't translated to wins.
State of Contention
The Dodgers were 7 1/2 games back when the week began. They are 7 1/2 games back today. Because the NL Central has had three hot teams, the wild card looks like it could be out of the Dodgers' reach.
At 10 games under, the odds of the Dodgers getting back to .500 by the All-Star break are virtually nil. If they don't at least move a bit closer by then, though, it's becoming pretty apparent this is a lost season. More than anything, the Dodgers need to somehow gain some momentum or, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, it will get late early out here.