Monday, July 29, 2013
Grading the week
By Mark Saxon
LOS ANGELES -- Is it throwing a wet blanket on this thing to point out that the Dodgers would be in fourth place if they played in the American League East?
Or, that they would be seven games out if they played in the NL Central? Or that they wouldn't be leading any other division aside from the one they're lucky enough to be playing in?
Might be, but the way they're going, none of those things may be true in a week or two. The Dodgers, along with the Tampa Bay Rays, can't seem to lose.
Never was that more true than Sunday, when they were tied in knots by the Cincinnati Reds' young lefty, Tony Cingrani, and struck out a team-record 20 times, then, somehow, pulled it out in the 11th inning.
Five weeks ago, it seemed like the Dodgers sat around waiting to lose. Now, it seems like they sit around thinking up new ways to win. The baseball schedule tends to move in those big, sweeping cycles, but the trajectory of the Dodgers' season seems entirely novel.
Yasiel Puig is an interesting baseball player.
We'll leave aside the matters of his head-long, go-for-broke running style, his on-field swagger or how he comports himself in the clubhouse and confine this discussion to the numbers.
He is a wildly streaky player. The staff at ESPN Stats and Info passed this one along this morning: From his promotion June 3 to July 2, Puig batted .443 with a 1.218 OPS. For the next 19 days, he batted .220 with no home runs and .520 OPS. He went from striking out 20 percent of the time to striking out 32 percent of the time.
And now? The sample size is smaller than either of the first two, but it kind of looks like he's back. Puig batted .435 this past week with two home runs (including the walk-off blast Sunday) and he "only" struck out 25 percent of the time.
Puig's hot week made up for a slight softening from Hanley Ramirez, who at times expanded his strike zone as pitchers give him fewer and fewer pitches to hit, suddenly aware he's been the hottest hitter on the planet. Andre Ethier cooled off at home after a torrid road trip.
The Dodgers pounded the ball in Toronto, as many teams do, and then adapted to more pitching-friendly games in Los Angeles. Hard to fault them. The Reds have some very good pitchers.
All eyes should be on the bullpen for several reasons. For one thing, general manager Ned Colletti has said that's his primary focus heading into Wednesday's non-waiver trade deadline. For another, the bullpen has been the point of weakness when the Dodgers have looked their most vulnerable this season.
July has seen a dramatic uptick in the fortunes of Dodgers relievers, particularly the most-maligned one. Brandon League, though working in some lower-stress settings, pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings and picked up three wins in relief. Kenley Jansen pitched five out of six days and saved three games.
It was a mixed bag from Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke and Chris Capuano, but pretty definitive from Clayton Kershaw. He held the Reds to one run and struck out eight in eight innings.
One scout who has seen Carlos Marmol frequently was asked why, even as he has struggled, he doesn't give up many hits.
"Because he walks you before you have a chance," the scout said.
It will be interesting to see how long an audition the Dodgers give Marmol, who allowed six hits and two walks in just 2 2/3 innings last week. Perhaps his window of opportunity is about as long as young flame thrower Jose Dominguez is on the the disabled list. The Dodgers have also said they'll consider using Capuano or Stephen Fife out of the bullpen, so maybe it's not even that long.
Manager Don Mattingly's oddest game was Sunday, when he made a mid-inning defensive replacement in left field and lifted Capuano after 7 2/3 shutout innings after just 83 pitches. He later called the Capuano move a "tough call," and sounded sorry for potentially embarrassing veteran Jerry Hairston Jr.
But this is how well the Dodgers are going: neither move had any negative fallout.
When the Dodgers fell behind 8-3 in the seventh inning of Tuesday's game, they had about a 2 percent chance of winning, according to truebluela.com stat wiz Eric Stephen. Didn't matter. They came back and won anyway. They won the next night, too, despite trailing when they were down to their last strike.
And then, Sunday, they were in the midst of, arguably, the worst offensive game in Los Angeles baseball history, and they somehow pulled it out.
They aren't just the It Team. They're the Grit Team!
STATE OF CONTENTION
Monday, the Dodgers slipped into sole possession of first place for the first time all year. They started the week half-a-game behind the Arizona Diamondbacks and finished it 2 1/2 games up. Yeah, it's going well, but until they have a comfortable lead, we're sticking with ...