Grading the Dodgers' first half

Updated: July 10, 2012, 2:17 PM ET
ESPNLosAngeles.com

The Los Angeles Dodgers are in first place in their division. Still. These Dodgers. How'd they do that?

It's tough enough to wrap our heads around in L.A., while we wait for Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier to heal up. But what does the rest of the country make of this improbable run?

We assembled a roundtable of experts from across ESPN's blog network for some outside perspectives on five questions designed to evaluate the Dodgers' first half.


What was the Dodgers' greatest strength in the first half?

[+] EnlargeLos Angeles Dodgers
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesThe Dodgers lead the West by half a game over the Giants.

Michael Baumann, Crashburn Alley: Is luck a strength? Getting a .363 wOBA from career backup catcher A.J. Ellis has been huge, as have the resurrections of starters Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang. Bobby Abreu also has hit well since his arrival. If there's one overriding contributor to the Dodgers' success, it's getting production from places you wouldn't expect.

Logan Burdine, Blake Street Bulletin: The Dodgers' biggest strength in the first half was their starting pitching. Clayton Kershaw was his usual self, and the entire staff did a really nice job of keeping the ball in the park.

Diane Firstman, Value Over Replacement Grit: The good fortune to be playing in a division with the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres, against whom they are a combined 12-6.

David Gershman, Marlins Daily: Pitching, as Clayton Kershaw and Chris Capuano anchored a rotation that was unhittable at times.

Kevin Orris, Capitol Avenue Club: When healthy, the outfield has been a strong asset, but with Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp out, it has been a struggle. Regardless of the injuries on offense, the starting rotation provides plenty of value.


What was their greatest weakness?

[+] EnlargeMatt Kemp
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp's hamstring injury has kept him on the bench, but he intends to return Friday.

Baumann: Lack of depth. The Dodgers have, apart from the fluky Ellis, one good hitter in Andre Ethier and one elite hitter in Matt Kemp. With Kemp on the shelf, we've seen how grim that lineup looks, and Ethier's DL stint certainly isn't going to help matters.

Burdine: Aside from Matt Kemp, nobody in the lineup provides much pop. He is the only player on the team with a slugging percentage better than .500, and despite having only 144 plate appearances, he is still the team leader in home runs. As a team, the Dodgers have one of baseball's worst slugging percentages.

Firstman: The lack of lineup depth past Kemp and Ethier.

Gershman: Probably the middle of the infield. Both Dee Gordon and Mark Ellis (combined with Adam Kennedy) displayed less-than-stellar performances.

Orris: The offensive output from first base has been abysmal. Both James Loney and Juan Rivera have struggled to do much of anything to this point.


What, or who, was the biggest surprise?

Baumann: By far, A.J. Ellis. It's probably not going to last, since 31-year-old quad-A players rarely turn into Carlton Fisk overnight, but until he falls off, I'd enjoy the ride. Apologies to Chris Capuano, who's pitching as well as he ever has, despite being 33 years old with two Tommy John surgeries in his past.

Burdine: Chris Capuano has solidified the Dodgers' rotation, and even though he pitched decently with the Mets last year, I don't think anyone expected this. He is racking up innings and missing bats.

Firstman: Raise your hand if you predicted this kind of season from Chris Capuano. A career-low .266 batting average on balls in play helps and screams "second-half regression."

Gershman: A.J. Ellis, who was one of the first half's best catchers.

Orris: While there is plenty of room to improve, the back half of the starting rotation has been surprisingly reliable. A.J. Ellis deserves an honorable mention for his improvement across the board.


What, or who, was the biggest letdown?

Baumann: Don Mattingly. Between the excessive bunting, and putting Dee Gordon and his 56 OPS+ at the top of the lineup 62 times (replacing him occasionally with Tony Gwynn Jr.'s 67 OPS+), Mattingly is proving himself to be a throwback manager. By that I mean that he appears oblivious to the tactical and strategic innovations of the past 50 years or so.

Burdine: The biggest letdown, without a doubt, was Kemp's inability to stay on the field. He might be the best player in baseball. The Dodgers obviously need him.

Firstman: Dee Gordon's lack of improvement on defense makes his BABIP-regressed decline on offense even more painful.

Gershman: With his having missed much of the first half with injury, I would probably have to say Matt Kemp.

Orris: Not that there were big expectations, but Dee Gordon's .562 OPS at the top of the order has been a big letdown. Simply put, it is hard to score runs when your leadoff hitter can't get on base.


What's your overall grade for the first half, and why?

Baumann: A-plus. It's been said that Ned Colletti constructed the most expensive replacement-level team in history, and for the Dodgers to go into the break in the division lead has to be the best outcome fans could have expected.

Burdine: A. They have struggled all season to generate offense and have been hurt badly by the loss of Kemp, yet they are in first place at the All-Star break.

Firstman: B. Mattingly has done an admirable job with a "stars and scrubs" roster. Any squad losing the talents of players such as Kemp and Ethier should be expected to struggle.

Gershman: B-plus. The Dodgers managed to finish the first half in first place but not without some heavy competition from the second-place Giants.

Orris: B-plus. There is clearly some talent on this team, but with Kemp and Ethier out of the lineup, the team struggled. If you had told me before the 2012 season that this team would be in first place, I would not have believed you.