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Dodger Thoughts: The Cruel Shoes
Though it might seem as if the Dodgers have been struggling for quite some time, the team was 10-7 (.588) in June and held the best record in Major League Baseball until just a week ago. As it is, despite losing six of its past seven games, Los Angeles still has the top mark in the National League, a two game lead in the NL West and a four-game cushion for a playoff spot.
Nevertheless, the month has taken an ugly turn. The Dodgers’ on-base percentage (.301) and slugging percentage (.302) in June form a nearly matching pair of cruel shoes. The highest OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) belongs to Bobby Abreu at .740; no other Dodger is breaking the .700 club.
Dodger fans are left to cling, not unreasonably, to the notion that as bad as some of these players are, they aren’t going to be this bad forever. For example:
- Andre Ethier, streak hitter that he is, isn’t likely to repeat his .614 OPS of June going forward.
- James Loney, for all his flaws, shouldn’t be OPSing .551.
- Juan Uribe … well, we’ll stop there.
It’s not entirely clear that the 2012 Dodgers won’t flash out of the pan. This season could easily replay last year’s terrible start and bracing finish in reverse. At the same time, we should probably not form lasting opinions based upon a week in which the Dodgers, almost to a man, have been at their worst.
Good luck with that. The next 24 hours in San Francisco present a sterling opportunity to play games with our heads.
Tonight at 7:15 p.m., Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw (2.73 ERA, .618 opponents’ OPS, 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings) takes the mound against the Giants, trying to improve upon a season that is a disappointment only by his NL Cy Young Award-winning standards. A victory would provide reassurance that the sky isn’t falling, a defeat would reinforce that perception.
Then, at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday, San Francisco righthander Tim Lincecum will start against Los Angeles. The two-time Cy Young winner is suffering through an astonishingly difficult year, with a 6.07 ERA and .775 opponents’ OPS despite 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. How the Dodgers do against Lincecum this time around will similarly jostle the fans’ state of mind.
Should the worst happen from a Los Angeles perspective, it would mean the Dodgers would be tied for first place in the NL West after 76 games despite playing without superstar Matt Kemp for more than half the season to date. Most local fans would have taken that bargain when Kemp’s hamstring problems materialized in mid-May. It stands to reason that even if the Dodgers fall out of the division lead, a healthy Kemp offers the hope of a rebound after July’s All-Star break.
The question that we’ll still be left with, the question that no single game, week or month can answer, is whether the Dodgers can rise above a roster that, before the season began, seemed destined to leave them out of the postseason party. Is the “Wonder Team,” in Vin Scully’s words, still there, somewhere?