Dodger Thoughts: 'Would you like to play a game?'
Hi everyone – I'm the longtime writer of Dodger Thoughts, and I'll be making contributions here from time to time. Hope you enjoy them.
Good teams have bad weeks, and one bad week like the Dodgers are having (with four losses in a row, including Friday's 8-5 come-from-ahead defeat against the Angels) doesn't ruin a season. At the same time, people have feared all along that the Dodgers are a team living on the brink of destruction in a dangerous baseball world.
In the spirit of War Games, here's a snapshot of which Dodger problems are tic-tac-toe and which are global thermonuclear war:
Defcon 5 (Stand down.)
- Bullpen. Though there's some occasional mischief, the Dodgers have strong late-inning and middle relief – and with Blake Hawksworth and Javy Guerra coming closer to returning, there will soon be more arms than the team will know what to do with. Even a rehabiliated Rubby De La Rosa might provide some lightning down the stretch.
- Catcher. A.J. Ellis has slumped to a .672 OPS in June – which is about what some people thought he might peak at. His OBP is still .390 for the month – it's just that the power he showed in April and May has gone on vacation. He and Matt Treanor are doing the job.
Defcon 4 (A little tense, but no need to get up in arms.)
- Starting pitching. Even if Chad Billingsley has slipped to de facto No. 5 starter, he has still performed better than both Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito of San Francisco, as well as the mish-mash that Arizona has used to round out its rotation. I'm still on guard for a Lincecum rebound, for Trevor Bauer to come up and add some zing to the Diamondback five, for Chris Capuano to become a pumpkin and for Clayton Kershaw to aggravate his plantar fasciitis. But given that the Dodgers' have the second-best starting pitching ERA in the National League, it seems alarmist to fret over this.
- Center field. Matt Kemp is doing full baserunning drills, yet the Dodgers still don't offer any sign that he'll return until after the All-Star Break, which would be about six weeks after he went on the disabled list. That shows to me that they are truly being cautious. We won't know if Kemp is out of the woods until we see him in the clearing, but we should be hopeful we'll be rewarded – bigtime – for all this patience.
- Right field. We should be used to Andre Ethier being a streak hitter by now. So there will be downs with the ups, but we're nearly halfway through the season and he still looks to be in his best physical condition in years, something that has shown up in his baserunning and defense.
Defcon 3 (Weapons adequate, if dated.)
- Left field. Bobby Abreu has been a relative godsend, and in rotation with Juan Rivera and Elian Herrera, the position has been reasonably productive, at least if viewed through a partly charitable lens. (Dodger leftfielders have .355 OBP this year but only two home runs.) You can be a little worried that Abreu and Herrera will slump in the second half, but after Kemp returns, there will be enough bodies to hope that some combination will work out.
- Second base. Jerry Hairston Jr. had been holding down the fort until this week's team-wide hitting slump, and Herrera can return to play there as well. Mark Ellis, at his worst a defensive savior, is recovering from his near-calamitous leg injury.
Defcon 2 (Nearing emergency maneuvers.)
- First base. If the Dodgers can get a better first baseman than James Loney, I'll take him in a minute. In the meantime, we'll just have to make the most of his top-flight defense. (I still play the what-if game with Prince Fielder in my head.)
- Third base. Juan Uribe is a tangibly worse hitter than Loney, which is saying something. In fact, according to the True Average stat at Baseball Prospectus (which incorporates baserunning), Uribe and Gordon are virtually identical on offense. The Dodgers are rumored to be a leading contender to acquire Kevin Youkilis from Boston, but check your excitement at the door. After OPS-ing .975 in 2010, he dropped to .833 in 2011 and is at .670 this year. Alternatively, if and when the Dodgers get healthy, they could hand third base to Herrera and Hairston.
- Shortstop. It's been a season-long struggle for Dee Gordon, essentially the worst-case scenario in which his on-base skills stagnate, neutralizing his speed. Some people would put up with this more easily if he were batting eighth instead of first. Should the Dodgers simply push him down the order, or in the absence of Justin Sellers, should they give Gordon some time to regroup in Albuquerque and see if 28-year-old Luis Cruz (.353 OBP, .538 slugging) has any Herrera in him?
Defcon 1 (Launch missile strikes.)
The finger's on the button ...