So the Dodger losing streak is finally over. That was a particularly nasty one. Six in a row, seven of their last eight, and swept in the doubleheader. It appeared it was going to be extended to seven when the Dodgers fell behind early in game three on Sunday to Baltimore 4-1. The Dodgers were in danger of being swept for the second consecutive series. Fortunately the offense came through by rallying for four runs in the fifth inning, to take the lead. Once they had the lead they never relinquished it.
The bullpen which has been one of the blowniest this year, (yeah it’s a word, I’m using it) came through with flying colors on Sunday. They pitched 4.1 scoreless frames, allowing just three hits, and walking only one. If you remember, J.P. Howell, Paco Rodriguez, Ronald Belisario, Matt Guerrier, Kenley Jansen, and company were unable to hold a lead during the first game of the series, and couldn’t hold a 1-1 tie in game two. It’s nice to see the bullpen put together a solid outing for once. They should be well rested after a day off for the Mets series.
Matt Kemp broke out of his prolonged early season slump, with three hits in a 3 for 5 performance on Sunday. He drove in a run, scored a run, and stole a base in the Dodger’s 7-4 victory. This time, the Dodgers used aggressive base running that helped directly lead to two runs being plated. As I’ve pointed out before, the Dodgers are one of the least aggressive and worst base running teams in all of Baseball. So in the top of the third inning on Sunday, when A.J. Ellis walked, I was shocked to see him flying all the way around to third base on Skip Schumaker’s single to center. One of the Dodgers subtle weaknesses in their lineup, is their inability to take extra bases. They are one of the worst teams in going from first to third on base hits, and scoring from second base on hits. A.J. would eventually come home to score on a Mark Ellis sacrifice fly.
Later in the game, in the seventh inning, Kemp singles, and then steals second. The Dodgers rank at the bottom of the league in steals. Kemp then came around to score all the way from second base on an A.J. Ellis single. What do you know? Kemp scored a run, from second base! He singled, and then he aggressively stole second, and then took an extra base, in coming around to score on A.J.’s single. And that is what has been sorely lacking in the Dodger offense. The ability to take extra bases. It’s really just proper base running. Once again, good base running, like the Dodgers had on Sunday, leads to more runs.
The Dodgers have had three main problems on offense that has led them to their slow start. The first is the obvious. Matt Kemp’s slow start. Bison is now hitting .235 (16 for 68) after his three hit game on Sunday. He has yet to homer, and has driven in only six runs. Kemp is the guy that makes the offense go. The Dodgers success is directly linked to the success of Matt Kemp.
The second problem, is the one that has been grabbing all of the headlines, the lack of hitting with runners in scoring position. It’s been a huge problem this year. You know the story. We’ve been suffering through it for years now. The Dodgers get multitudes of hits, and leave hordes of men on base. Of course that is also tied to their third problem, the lack of base running skills. Again, the Dodgers rank 25 in all of Baseball in Hitting Advancement Opportunities with men on base. The Dodgers have a -1.35 rating, which places them just ahead of Cleveland and Toronto. The rating tracks the Dodgers ability to take extra bases. If the Dodgers continue to do what they did on Sunday, they will score more runs.
Of course they have to improve their hitting with runners in scoring position. Because their 28 MLB ranked .185 (28 for 151) batting average with RISP, just isn’t acceptable.
Here’s hoping the offense sees some better days. Hanley Ramirez may be back earlier than expected, so if the offense can begin to put more runs on the board, the Dodgers are going to win more games.
It’s a shame about Chad Billingsley. We knew what we were getting into back in spring training. We knew his elbow could go at any moment. Bills is flying back to Los Angeles to have an MRI on his elbow. We’ll know more in the next couple of days. I don’t expect him to be back anytime soon. In the meantime the Dodgers have run out of options. They’re going to have to use Stephen Fife. I know, I know, it’s horrific, but what else can they do?
I expect the Dodgers to juggle the rotation through most of May. The Dodgers are going to need a fifth starter for three more starts, before they have five scheduled off-days in May. All on Thursdays. Strange scheduling. Now if Fife is horrible, the Dodgers could use right hander Matt Magill, an interesting option. He’s gotten off to a good start with the Isotopes, in three games, he has whiffed 16 through 15 frames, and only allowed one home run. I heard he has a plus fastball, and he hails from my neck of the woods, graduating from the same school as myself, Royal high. Too bad the 23 year old Simi Valley native is not on the active 25-man roster. But Fife is, and I don’t expect the Dodgers to make a move unless Fife is exceptionally bad. Keep in mind that this is a team that once let Ramon Ortiz make not one, but two Major League starts. You can do worse than Stephen Fife, and well we have before. No I don’t think the Dodgers are going to call-up Zach Lee, although I am hearing that he has logged enough innings in the minors. Note that he is not on the 40-man roster, which would force the Dodgers to make a move.
We’re going to just have to grit our teeth and bare it. We’re going to have to watch three Fife starts, and then with the off-days and the juggling, we won’t need a fifth starter until end of May, and by then Chris Capuano, should be back from a calf injury. Our rotation should be Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu, Josh Beckett, and Ted Lilly. For the time being, this will have to do. With Stephen Fife making three more starts the end of April, into early May. If the offense starts to get it’s act together, we should be ok. We could be a lot worse than 8-10 right now.
The pitching match-ups for the Mets series in New York has the Dodgers going with Kershaw, Ted Lilly, and Ryu. We’ll see Jonathon Niese, a familiar foe in game one. Game two will feature the Met’s top prospect Matt Harvey, who is off to a fantastic start. Finally in game three, the Mets will use another noob, rookie Jeremy Hefner.
The three game series with the Mets starts Tuesday night. After the series in New York The Dodgers will return home to play a six game home-stand, against Milwaukee, and current first place holders Colorado.