The month of April ends tomorrow and the Dodgers are right where they need to be for my mental well-being (well, not really), first place in the Western Division. The west is probably the best and most competative division in the National League with a good chance to send the second place team to the playoffs as the wild card.
The Dodgers, until the recent sweep by the Giants, were vying with the Red Sox for the best record in baseball, but they righted things taking two of three from the Padres. The Dodgers have a very deep team and a very deep minor league system, I just wish they would use it more.
The Dodgers have been in first place most of the year despite a few things:
The first problem is the biggest and can't be allowed to continue much longer. Wilson Betemit needs something to shake him up. It's too soon to simply give up on him and let him go, he's got the talent and the tools, but the team needs production. The obvious solution is bring James Loney up. It is worthless to have him in Triple A, he led the PCL in hitting last year, had a great year with the Dodgers when they were forced to bring him up and is the best fielding firstbaseman in the National League (if he were playing). The other part is move Garciaparra to third base. He's played there before and he's no more prone to get hurt there than at first. Since we all know he will go on the DL sometime this year, let him do it from third. While he plays an OK first base, he's not a gold glove there like Loney would be. Send Betemit down to figure out his hitting and perhaps learn how to play second base (since LaRoche is the third baseman of the future and Kent probably will retire in another year or so).
Now, with Furcal, he's going to be fine. The same thing happened last year and by about the middle of May he was playing All-Star baseball the rest of the year. When he's not hitting he obviously presses in the field and makes some bad throws (which I think Loney would have saved a couple). Just keep letting him play every day and he'll play out of it.
With Jason Schmidt, the Dodgers are fortunate that they are deep in starting pitching. Hendrickson has filled in nicely (although I would rather see Billingsley starting, I don't think he is being helped in his development pitching set up or long relief) but I don't see him as a season long solution. They also have other minor league options they can use. As I said a loss of velocity is never a good sign. He needs to have a fastball at least in the 90-91 range to be effective. The 80-83 fastballs he was throwing are not going to get anyone out. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't see Schmidt helping this team much this year, and I won't be surprised if we hear the word "shoulder surgery" next to Schmidt's name in the next few weeks. It will also help if Brett Tomko would concentrate a bit more.
Now, the hard part. The Dodgers, for reasons that are beyond me, signed Juan Pierre to a large contract for four years. OK, Pierre comes close to leading the league in hits, steals a lot of bases, doesn't strike out much, and so on. But, on a power challenged team he adds zero. If he hits a single home run this year I'd be shocked. But here is the biggest problem, he is probably the single worse defensive center fielder in the National League. He runs routes to balls that make you wonder if he can actually see them and has an D- arm; simply put he is a horrible defensive player. His defense and the fact that teams run on him all the time, taking extra bases, is costing the Dodgers runs and making the pitching staff work too much and be too careful (I think young Billingsley is effected by this, he's trying to make perfect pitches). Well, since he can't be traded (no one would take his contract), he should be sitting when Kemp returns and be replaced for defense when he does start.
This brings us to Luis Gonzales. Now, I like Gonzales, he's a quality guy, good veteran presence, still brings a bat to the game, will probably be in the Hall of Fame some day. But he has the only throwing arm that is worse than Pierre (because of surgery a few years ago). Between the two of them cut off men are having to get 20-30 feet deeper in the outfield to make relays (that effects other aspects of the defense). Like Pierre, teams run on him without even thinking. Hits that would be singles with Either in left are turned into doubles. Virtually anything hit to his right is a sure double. Runners score from first or second that someone with a better arm would hold. He just gives up way too many bases. Now, to his credit, he does give the Dodgers a little power and he fields his position OK with somewhat limited range. He also is enough of a team guy not to pout when they replace him for defense in the late innings (something Pierre apparently hasn't learned).
The solution, this isn't an easy one. There is a lot of money tied up in these two guys, but ultimately Matt Kemp has to play center. He's on rehab in Triple A and hitting about .360. He's also the one guy who can bring a big power threat to the plate. The answer is NOT putting Andre Either back on the bench (I wonder how much Either and Loney's confidence have been hit by the way the year started). Either is a plus fielder with a A- arm. Lest we forget last year, he could have been the Rookie of the Year had he not worn down in September. But even with that, the Dodgers probably would not have made the playoffs without him. Either stays in right field, Kemp starts playing center with some regularity, Gonzales gets the bulk of the duty in left with Pierre as a pinch runner, hitter and sub. That's a bitter pill to swallow if you've made the mistake of signing him for a lot of money, but the bottom line is that he's not scoring as many runs as he is giving up because of his defense. Their lack of defensive skill is effecting the pitching and the pitch calling. Kemp and Either playing and Pierre as a back up makes the Dodgers a better all around team.
The Dodgers should win the west and win the NL pennant with what they have. To borrow a phrase from Jim Collins, they have all the people they need on the bus, they just need to get them in the right seats.
Well, will check in again at the end of May.Posted by Narnia3 at April 29, 2007 8:46 PM | TrackBack