Monday, June 24, 2013
Grading the week
By Mark Saxon
On Sunday, April 7, the Dodgers completed a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Nothing about it seemed particularly extraordinary at the time. The Dodgers were 4-2, off to the the kind of start they expected after a winter of prolific spending and a productive spring. Things, as they say, started going downhill from there.
Now, the Dodgers have a chance to do something tonight against the San Francisco Giants they haven't done since that day way back in April: win a third game in a row. Going into their 13th week, the Dodgers are still searching for their first three-game winning streak.
All in all, last week wasn't a bad one given the circumstances. The Dodgers got torrential rain in New York, then had to play a dreaded day-night doubleheader.
They went 3-3. For a team digging to get out of last place, that's not great, but winning the last two games in San Diego put them in position to hit their second trifecta. Maybe that will be a start. Have we heard that before?
For a while, Hanley Ramirez was hitting into a lot of bad luck, scalding line drives right to where opposing fielders were standing. Not any more.
Ramirez had a Puig-like trip. In the New York and San Diego series, he went 11-for-22 with three home runs and two doubles. His hot streak has given the Dodgers' lineup a different look, an extra power bat to go with that of Adrian Gonzalez, who showed some signs of emerging from his cold streak in his hometown of San Diego.
With Ramirez getting hot and Gonzalez starting to produce, the Dodgers didn't have to rely utterly on Yasiel Puig. It's not that Puig cooled off particularly, he just stepped out of the oven. Puig batted .320 last week with two home runs.
Matt Kemp will be back this week. Carl Crawford probably isn't more than a couple of weeks away. The Dodgers could soon have the lineup they thought they had.
When a team is down as long as the Dodgers have been down this season, sometimes it takes extraordinary individual efforts to start things moving again.
Chris Capuano is one of the least-likely Dodgers to make such a contribution, but the veteran lefty gave the team a huge lift by pitching well on three-days' rest Sunday. In his last two starts, Capuano has pitched 11 scoreless innings, allowing just seven hits.
Zack Greinke is showing signs of settling into the kind of groove that can help a team finally gain some momentum. Three of his last four starts have been strong. Clayton Kershaw is pitching well, but as usual, the Dodgers aren't taking advantage of it.
It's hard to know what to make of the Dodgers' sloppy fielding, but you have to assume some of it is caused by injuries and a constant rotation of players at various positions.
As the Dodgers grow healthier, the scrutiny on manager Don Mattingly should abate. Either that, or they'll continue to struggle and the alibis will be thinner.
It's a lot easier to manage when you can just write the same lineup every day, assured you're getting production on a consistent basis.
The Dodgers had far-from-appealing options to make Sunday's start at Triple-A Albuquerque, so deciding to use Capuano on short rest seems like a good idea, particularly in hindsight.
The bullpen continues to struggle, but the Dodgers are seeing a little more stability at the back end with Kenley Jansen (and Branon League setting up), so that move appears to be settling in. All in all, a fairly uneventful week for decision-makers. That's probably exactly as they like it.
Mattingly, obviously, has had a lot of things to worry about this season, so it seemed a bit odd when one of them was fretting about keeping Nick Punto healthy. Pressed into everyday service, Punto, 35, would wear down, Mattingly said.
He just may have been right. Punto, the Dodgers' grittiest player, is struggling, going 1-for-11 last week, but the good news is with Ramirez back and Skip Schumaker starting to produce, Punto doesn't have to play every day.
Does Andre Ethier look like he's playing harder, or is he just playing better?
STATE OF CONTENTION
The Dodgers lost a game in the standings, slipping to 8 1/2 games out with no wild-card net. Given their situation, those kinds of weeks are borderline fatal.