Sept. 3, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Luis Cruz (47), shortstop Hanley Ramirez (13), pitcher Joe Blanton (56) and catcher A.J. Ellis (17) talk at the pitchers mound during the game against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium. Dodgers won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Observations from the Los Angeles Dodgers-San Diego Padres Series

I watched the Padres series, and I have a few observations about our boys in blue.

First, while starting the season strong, the bullpen is finishing extremely weak. For at least the past month, the bullpen makes me nervous, and now even more so with closer Kenley Jansen sidelined with heart issues. Outside of Jansen, there is not one pitcher in the bullpen who I can say, with confidence, who will get the job done without a hiccup. During Tuesday night’s game, when I saw Matt Guerrier warming up on the mound, I knew that the just achieved 3-1 lead was in jeopardy, and five minutes later after a base hit and a home run and a resulting 3-3 tie, it was confirmed. A few games prior, just after being activated from the disabled list where  he had been since April 19th, Guerrier gave up the game-losing home run in the 11th inning in the 4-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. In his 9.1 innings pitched in  2012, Guerrier has given up five runs, all earned, on six hits with a 4.82 earned run average. Then, in the Wednesday night game, when I saw Shawn Tolleson replace Aaron Harang, I had a similar sense that the 3-3 tie was in jeopardy, and two innings later, Tolleson had given up one run on one hit and one walk to put the Padres ahead 4-3. Tolleson has given up 23 hits and 15 runs with a 4.73 earned run average in his 26.2 innings pitched in 2012.

Second, the Dodger offense continues to struggle. While the walk-off win on Sunday night against the Diamondbacks and Monday night against the Padres were welcome sights and demonstrated to me that the Dodgers do have some fight in them (thank goodness), this was not the offense that we were hoping for at this time of year or expecting after the acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez from Boston Red Sox. For some clues into their offensive struggles, take a look at their rankings in several offensive categories. They currently rank 17th out of the 29 teams in the MLB in hits and 18th in batting average and on base percentage, and then drop to 24th in overall runs and 28th in slugging percentage. So while the Dodgers are getting on base, they are not getting a lot of bases and consequently not scoring runs. This is confirmed by their high left on base numbers. For example, in their August 26th 6-2 loss to the Miami Marlins, the Dodgers left 34 men on base, double that of the Marlins 17, and resultantly scored only two runs even though equaled the Marlins’ hit total with eleven. Hanley Ramirez is an upgrade. While his post home run celebrations are excessive for my taste, he hits the long ball. This is also where losing Dee Gordon hurts. While Dee struggled to get on base, when he did get on base, he either stole bases or was able to advance easily, even on a ground ball.

Third, even though his decisions make me cringe at times, Manager Don Mattingly should continue as manager, even if the team fails to make the playoffs. Yes, he micromanages the pitching and displays too much faith in this bullpen. Albeit his micromanagement is not to the degree that Joe Torre did with both the Yankees and Dodgers, it still frustrates me. For example, during Monday night’s game, after the Dodgers infield and Pitcher Joe Blanton met at the mound, he pulled Blanton and brings in Randy Choate. After giving up a two-run home run to Padre Third Baseman Chase Headley to begin the game, Blanton recovered nicely and pitched well. Now, Blanton makes me nervous, but the bullpen makes me more nervous. This move to the bullpen was repeated during Clayton Kershaw’s performance Tuesday night when Kershaw was pulled in the 8th inning for Matt Guerrier, and the above described game-tying home run happened. Still, Mattingly is good for the team, and he should be retained as manager, even if the team fails to make the postseason. Mattingly has tremendous baseball acumen and is able to transfer it to his players. Case in point is the recent hitting of right fielder Andre Ethier. In Monday night’s game, Ethier had two hits, including the game-tying home run in the ninth inning, and scored twice. In Tuesday night’s game, he had one hit, a game-tying home run in the second inning. It was the fifth home run in the last 13 games for Ethier, since Mattingly advised him to choke up on the bat to diminish the pain caused by the blister on his right hand.

Unfortunately, the team lost two out of three to the Padres and failed to make up crucial ground on the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals in multiple games. After the disappointing 8-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies on August 28th, Andre Ethier talked about each Dodger looking in the mirror and saying that they need to play better. As they look in the mirror, hopefully they realize the incredible opportunity before them to make the postseason and be in the hunt for the 2012 World Series. While they have injuries to their closer Jansen, their #2 pitcher Billingsley is out for the year, and their left handed relief pitcher Scott Elbert is hurt, they still have a tremendous opportunity. Today, I cannot tell you that the Dodgers cannot win the World Series. What I can tell you is that they have an opportunity to get in. And as the St. Louis Cardinals showed us in 2006 and 2011, once you get in, anything can happen, even when you are only one strike away from the World Series.

Tags: Andre Ethier Don Mattingly Los Angeles Dodgers Matt Guerrier Shawn Tolleson

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