As I write this, the first game of the Dodgers/Nationals series is currently being rain delayed, so I figure this is the right time to look back on the first full month of Dodger baseball and assess the True Blue state of affairs. So, how do the Dodgers look thus far? Well…good enough. They may sit in third place right now with an 18-14 record, but it’s not in a way that reflects an irreversibly disappointing start. Nonetheless, it’s enough to gauge the incredible strengths and frustrating shortcomings that have pervaded each game thus far.
First, the highlights. A salute to Dee Gordon, who I expected to be a creampuff excuse for a second baseman. This season, he’s answered my prediction by leading the majors in stolen bases, all while batting above .300 and making a difference in seemingly every at-bat. On the contrary, I had exceedingly high expectations for the starting rotation and they have exceeded them. Even without Clayton Kershaw, we’ve been treated to Zack Greinke’s historic streak of starts with two or fewer earned runs, Hyun-Jin Ryu’s scoreless inning streak on the road, Josh Beckett’s gritty renaissance, and Dan Haren’s ace-like line that blows the mind when you consider he’s the fourth … FOURTH … starter.
Adrian Gonzalez is reaching new levels as a power hitter and producer on offense, and Yasiel Puig has mercifully cut out off-field drama in favor of simply being the titanic player he is. (And seriously, how about that crazy escape story? As I write this, even some things that were looking to be Achilles heels at first (Brandon League’s performance, the team’s resolve in extra-inning games) are looking up right now.
At worst, though, the Dodgers have looked discordant and sluggish in key regards. First, as I’ve noted before, Los Angeles’s offense can disappear in the worst way at the worst time, and I have to harp on that with extra frustration this time because their hitting slumps have wasted some incredible starts from the rotation. The defense has been repulsive, with one to three errors almost every game, including ones that put the starters in a hole early.
The bullpen, while mostly great, has had a few nerve-racking hiccups, with Brian Wilson’s dreadful start the biggest eyesore of all. And most dishearteningly, they have a losing record at home, including recent series losses to the Phillies and Rockies. I realize of course that it’s fortunate to see these flaws displayed early in April, both early enough to address them and to still have a winning record. But they’re still cause for at least a little apprehension nonetheless. And to all Dodger fans who excuse the appallingly sloppy defense, I challenge you to name me a World Series championship team that averaged an error a game.
A begrudging tip of the hat to the Giants and Rockies, however. There’s no doubt the Dodgers’ record could be much better with a more consistent offense and fewer errors, but it would be unfair to take away what their division rivals have been able to accomplish thus far. The Giants should come as no surprise, as this is a team that’s won two World Series titles in the past four years and does so with an incredibly balanced attack of precise hitting, deep starting pitching, and a strong bullpen. As per my division preview, they’ve rediscovered all of that, even in low-scoring affairs that don’t reflect just how potent their offense can be.
The Rockies’ surprise resurgence has been a partial delight for me because it includes the revival of my favorite player in the game, Justin Morneau. But that doesn’t mean I’d like to see them usurp Dem Bums’ division title defense, which should always be considered a likelihood even if Colorado slumps, given their penchant for late season surges a la 2007 and 2009.
Luckily, there’s always something new to look forward to in this opulent era in Chavez Ravine, and in a critical week that I feel will say a lot about LA’s gumption, they’ll get back the one thing they need for it: Clayton Kershaw. After a typically spotless start in the first game in Australia, he’s been out but steadily rehabbing with shoulder inflammation. He’ll make both a start tomorrow in Washington, then pitch the last of a four-game home stretch against the Giants. While Ryu will be out for a quick spell with shoulder inflammation of his own (albeit he looks to recover quickly), there’s no excuse for coming up short when the best pitcher in baseball makes his return. LA has to win both of these series, to win series period, to win against stellar competition, to gain ground in the division, and to finally start winning at home. There couldn’t be a better time for the Mighty Kersh’s return indeed.
Until next time,