…our Dodgers are currently the best team in baseball. That’s right, people. One-fourth of the way through the season, nobody expected us to be where we are at, sitting on top of the National League West, holding the best record in baseball.
But blind be the fan who thinks this team is perfect. We are nowhere near unbeatable. In fact, there are still a ton of problems to be dealt with.
That being said, let’s take a gander at Jeremy’s quarter-season report for the Los Angeles Dodgers:
Hitting – B
Outside of Kemp and Ethier (sure-fire N.L. all-stars for the numbers they’ve put up), the lineup has been a mish-mash of confusion. Let me clarify: James Loney got off to a sluggish start, before finally creeping around a corner recently. AJ Ellis has come out of nowhere to hit over .300 with a .444 on-base percentage. Dee Gordon has been atrocious, and everyone else has been pretty much average. The reason for the higher grade, outside of the two sluggers, is how timely our role players have been. When we needed guys like Tony Gwynn, Jr. and Matt Treanor (among others) to step up, they have. In fact, Gwynn, Jr. is hitting .500 with runners in scoring position. Absolutely incredible how clutch this bench has been.
Pitching – B
You might be surprised at this grade, considering the consistency of Clayton Kerhsaw, the hot start by Chad Billingsley, the ridiculous records and ERA’s from Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano, and Aaron Harang‘s landmark strikeout record. But remember, pitching also factors in the bullpen. Which, until recently had been historically bad. Javy Guerra lost his closer’s role to Kenley Jansen, who looks like, dare I say it, a very raw, not AS talented Mariano Rivera. And once Ronald Belisario came back and Josh Lindblom found his control for good, this bullpen has been at least average. Todd Coffey and Scott Elbert still must go as soon as possible.
Baserunning – C-
Ugh. I don’t understand why a team with Davey Lopes as a first base coach is so terrible on the base paths. We’ve had our fair share of dazzling base running moments. For example, it’s always fun to watch Dee steal any base. And Jerry Hairston, Jr. essentially won us a game by knocking a ball out of a catcher’s mitt versus the Nationals. But I’ve seen bad base running far too often from everyone; that includes Kemp. And for how fast Gordon is, he’s been caught far too many times. These are the little things that will bite us in the butt in the postseason.
Fielding – C-
The Dodgers rank 19th in the MLB in fielding, which is not a pretty number. Gordon is still raw at shortstop, having committed 10 of the Dodgers’ 30 errors. A.J. Ellis, for all the great things he’s done, has some moments on defense too that make you question his glove. Two bright spots for the Dodgers on defense: Mark Ellis is still the best defensive second baseman in the game (0 errors). And the worst-fielding team in all of baseball? Those damn Giants. Muahaha! Gordon will mature with time, and we haven’t really made too many costly ones, but you’d like to see that rank climb into the top ten at least.
Intangibles – A+
This is the engine that keeps the machine running. I don’t know how it happened, but the combination of players under Don Mattingly have an uncanny chemistry that bonds them together. I’ve never seen a Dodger team in all my time that embraced the underdog role so much, picked each other up when needed, and been such big cheerleaders for each other. The passion this 2012 Dodgers team plays with is what has helped us survive the DL stint of Kemp, and what will help propel us into the playoffs, come October. I’ve even been seeing some rumblings on Twitter recently that this team reminds people of the 1988 Dodgers. And we all know how that season turned out!
Overall – B
Yes, we’ve played out of our minds, and yes we are the best team in baseball. But I’m not satisfied, and I’m sure the players and coaches aren’t either. There IS room for improvement. For example, if the bullpen had been stronger in the first 20 games of the season, that team is legitimately 18-2 to start the season. Our areas of need still do include the ‘pen, and we could definitely use one more bat. But if we do go out and get a couple arms or another impact hitter, they better fit in with this lovable bunch of goofballs.
My take on the first quarter of this 2012 season as a Dodger fan is this: We deserve to be the best team in baseball. We have played like it, and we will continue to play like it. But I want to be realistic. Elbert and Coffey need to go. We need a really good left-handed reliever for tough situations. We could also use one other really good back-end starter, because Cappy and Lilly are good, but not THIS good. If we could go out and get Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels at the deadline, this team is set for the rest of the season, and a scary group to face in the playoffs.
I’d also love to upgrade at third base, where Juan Uribe is a fat money vaccuum, sucking away all our cash. I’m happy with every other position right now, and could actually be totally fine with a platoon of Hairston, Jr. and Adam Kennedy in the hot corner. But if Kevin Youkilis is on the trading block, why not go out and grab a professional hitter who can play both corner infield positions and provide some pop in the middle of the lineup?
Time will tell. The 2012 Dodgers are the team to beat in the National League, and the first quarter of the season has been incredibly fun to watch. Here’s to hoping we keep it up for another 115 games or so!
Follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman!