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A Quarter of the Way Through…The Dodgers are Who we Thought They Were

With all due respect to former Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green and his classic post-game meltdown, the 2011 Los Angeles Dodgers are exactly who we thought they were, well mostly. Since we still haven’t really seen the entire projected opening day lineup play together for more than a week. And considering the Dodgers plan was to platoon the three-some of Jay Gibbons, Marcus Thames and Tony Gwynn in LF, the opening day roster consisted of a gaping hole in LF and still does. Yesterday, for me at least, was really the moment where I looked at the product on the field, considered how this team was put together and realized they are fortunate to be only 4 games out of first place, despite the number of injuries they have sustained.

What may be even more troublesome is the complete denial that the Dodgers management is in about this team, especially their beleaguered owner, Frank McCourt. In his most recent open mouth/insert foot interview with the media McCourt again illustrated exactly why he has no business running this club. Among other things, McCourt said:

Even if the team didn’t have financial problems, it would be made up of the kind of players it has now. Asked whether the composition of the team is a reflection of the organization’s economic troubles, McCourt replied, “No. I think we have a very, very good team.”

“Very very good team” really? Sure injuries can be partly blamed for a Dodger offense that ranks 14th out of 16 N.L. clubs in runs scored and home runs, despite being 6th in the N.L. in batting average. What’s really troubling is the lack of power aside from Matt Kemp, Rod Barajas and Andre Ethier, the Dodgers are dead last with 90 extra-base hits.  So these numbers constitute a “very, very good team?”

Seriously Frank, “very, very good teams” are balanced, score runs in a variety of ways, and have quality depth to fill when injuries happen. The Dodgers have Juan Castro who has hit below .200 three of the past four seasons, Tony Gwynn Jr who is a career .240 hitter through almost 1,000 at-bats, Jay Gibbons who was out of baseball for almost 3 years after steroids in the sport became illegal, and Dioner Navarro who is a sub .250 hitter in over 1,700 career at-bats and a sub .200 hitter in his last 500.

Sure these are role players but a “very, very good team” has roles players who can contribute, the Dodgers have role players who have a track record of mediocrity. So again sorry to disagree with the boss man but this team, as constituted is not “very, very good,” and it’s not even close.

Take yesterday’s starting lineup for example, once you got past the top 4 hitters the current batting averages of the next 4 were James Loney (.230), Navarro (.176), Castro (.000) who only has 2 at-bats, and Gwynn (.224). It’s not rocket science to figure out that this lineup was going to struggle to score runs, and they did losing to the Diamondbacks 4-1.

So three games into a critical 19 game stretch against a favorable schedule the Dodgers a 1-2 and scored 4 earned runs in 27 innings against a starter, Joe Saunders, with an ERA over 6.00 prior to his start Friday. A guy making his first career start in the big leagues who limited this “very, very good team” to 2 hits over 6 innings, and Sunday, against the D’backs ace they scored 1 run on 4 hits.

However there have been some bright spots and players who actually have been “very, very good.” Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles have been forced into everyday duty due to injuries, they have responded by hitting near .300 and getting on base. Unfortunately Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp have cooled off lately and there’s a direct correlation to their production and the Dodgers success. Yesterday Carroll and Miles had 5 of the teams 6 hits and reached base back to back in both the first and third innings. Teams have also figured out that it’s better to pitch around Kemp and face Loney instead, who twice popped up with a runner on third and less than 2 outs, rather than scoring the guy at third with a simple ground out or sacrifice fly.

Unfortunately the Dodgers continued  their season long trend of not hitting with runners on base and thus leaving too many guys on base. Yesterday it was 8 men left on base and a 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position. “Very, very good teams” actually hit with R.I.S.P., the Dodgers again rank near the bottom in this crucial category and for a team averaging 3.5 runs per game (15th out of 16 in the N.L.) they simply cannot continue to leave over 7 runners on base per game, again which ranks 15th out of 16 N.L. teams.

Again, sorry Mr. McCourt but the stats don’t lie this team as constructed is not “very, very good” and what’s even more disturbing is his comments that the team would be made up of the same players even without the clubs economic issues. To me this screams out that Frank McCourt’s priority is to generate revenue for him personally at the expense, or lack thereof, of a roster filled with quality players vs. 1 year MLB journeymen.

McCourt’s other comments speak to exactly why Dodger fans should hope that the proposed media deal with Fox, which is McCourt’s lifeline, does not go through. When asked by Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. Times if the media deal would result in increased spending on the product on the field McCourt skirted the issue like a seasoned politician, but his comments speak volumes about exactly what his priority and agenda is:

“I’m not going to get into the specifics, but I will say in very general terms that the media transaction, in whatever form, is a critically important component for this organization,” he said. “It always has been. This is something that other teams have the benefit of and it’s time for the Dodgers to have the benefit of it, so that we’re able to have the additional resources that other teams enjoy.

The media deal is important for Frank McCourt, it will allow him to remain in control of the organization he has racked up nearly $500 million dollars worth of debt for since he took over in 2004. It provides him with immediate cash he needs to settle his divorce and actually pay the players currently on the team. But what is scary is if this deal goes through why would anyone think he would do anything different than what his track record has been? Exorbitant personal spending first, with the product on the field a distant second, or third.

The 2011 season is a quarter of the way through, the Dodgers are 19 and 22 and have one of the worst offenses and bullpens in baseball. Their roster is not built to sustain the injuries they have had, but is anyone surprised Rafael Furcal is hurt or that 37 year old Casey Blake is hurt? It’s not like they have a solid track record recently of being able to avoid the DL. It’s crazy to say but where would this team be without Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles? If you would have asked me in spring training that question, or told me the Dodgers would rely on those two as offensive keys I would have told you that you were crazy.

But here we are, one-quarter of the season under their belt, and the Dodgers are really exactly who we thought they were. Solid starting pitching, aside from Ted Lilly, two big offensive threats in Kemp and Ethier and then everyone else. Unless some changes are made, mostly in the front office, this is what you can expect for the rest of the year, a team that will struggle to score runs and struggle to maintain a winning record.

Oh and they also have a rookie manager who made several questionable late inning decisions over the weekend that hurt the club and illustrate he has a way to go to hone his craft. But that is a story for another day. Tonight it’s the Brewers in town, and with Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder who has a lot of history against the Dodgers both on and off the field, the Dodgers offense better wake up, or at the very least keep Prince out of the clubhouse.

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Topics: Aaron Miles, Andre Ethier, Casey Blake, Dioner Navarro, Don Mattingly, Frank McCourt, James Loney, Jamey Carroll, Jay Gibbons, Juan Castro, Los Angeles Dodgers, Major League Baseball, Marcus Thames, Matt Kemp, Milwaukee Brewers, Prince Fielder, Rafael Furcal, Tony Gwynn Jr.

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