LOS ANGELES, May 7, 2013 — The Los Angeles Dodgers are having a rough season, to say the least. After losing, 9-2, to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night, the Dodgers are 13-18 on the year and sit in last place in the National League West.
If you want to find some silver lining, they do have the best record among all last place teams. Perhaps that is more of an aluminum lining, but the Dodgers will take what they can get at this point.
The team went into the 2012 season with a slumlord owner in Frank McCourt dealing with bankruptcy and putting a for sale sign up in Chavez Ravine. While McCourt did a good job early on of making the Dodgers at least a perennial contender to make the playoffs, fans soured on him when he stopped putting money into the team and started pulling large sums of money out of the team.
McCourt’s mismanagement of the Dodgers led to the team becoming bottom feeders on the free agent market. While other big market teams went after the best talent available, Ned Colletti was forced to dig through the bargain bins for washed up players looking to make a comeback.
The reclamation projects worked at times, but overall the Dodgers became just another afterthought in a division loaded with afterthoughts. When they were thought about, they were laughed at.
That all appeared to be in the past when the Guggenheim group purchased the team for over $2 billion, an unheard of amount of money for a baseball team. The new owners promised change and immediately started dumping money into the team.
By the end of the season, they had many new faces, including Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford. Despite a poor showing to end the year, Dodger fans were excited about this new team and the possibilities that 2013 could bring.
They made their biggest splash in the off-season when they signed top free agent pitcher Zack Greinke. The Dodgers were back and again a force to be reckoned with…or so it had appeared.
Zack Greinke started the year on the disabled list and then went back on the disabled list when big bad Carlos Quentin fought the little guy after being hit by a pitch and broke his collar bone. Hanley Ramirez also started the year on the disabled list after injuring his thumb playing in the World Baseball Classic. He came back for a few games before going back on the DL with a hamstring injury.
Yes, injuries have plagued the Dodgers this year, but that is not really the problem. Their problem lies in being able to score runs. They can get on base, but they cannot score. The Dodgers have the third lowest run total in all of baseball, while sporting the sixth highest on base percentage in baseball and second in the National League. The reason for this is that they are the third worst team in slugging percentage.
Their big guns are either firing blanks, in the case of Matt Kemp, or beebies in the case of Adrian Gonzalez. In a recent LA Times article Adrian Gonzalez said that he tried to go back to his homerun swing last year, but got bad results. This year he is going with a swing that will produce more line drives than homeruns. As a result, Gonzalez expects to lose up to 10 homeruns over the course of the season.
Gonzalez is sixth in the majors with a .343 batting average. He is also nursing a sore neck. The real problem with the Dodgers offense is Matt Kemp. He said at the start of spring training that he dropped the extra weight that he had last year and returned to his 2011 weight, when he almost won the MVP award.
Unfortunately, Matt Kemp’s play from 2011 has not returned. Kemp is batting .265 with just one homerun. Andre Ethier is batting .241 with three homeruns. The Dodgers big three hitters, Kemp, Ethier and Gonzalez have a combined seven homeruns.
The Dodgers are the third worst team in baseball leaving four runners per game in scoring position. Leaving runners on base and not being able to score are obviously huge problems for the Dodgers, but the offense is not alone when it comes to the blame game. The Dodgers, as a team, rank 21st in baseball for both ERA (4.25) and WHIP (1.36). This is where the injuries are really rearing their heads.
The Dodgers went into the season with a surplus of starting pitchers. They ended up trading Aaron Harang and holding on to Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly. Both have spent time on the DL already this year. Throw Zack Greinke, who is still a few weeks away, in the mix, as well as Chad Billingsley, who is out for the season, and you can see the plight of manager Don Mattingly. His pitchers are breaking down and giving up a lot of runs.
Things probably are not going to turn around anytime soon unless the big three get their act together and start knocking in runs. If they remain silent on the power front, perhaps it is time for Don Mattingly to learn the art of small ball and start manufacturing runs any way they can. Most of the Dodgers’ stars are locked up for multiple years with expensive, hard to unload contracts.
Teams are increasingly locking up their young stars to multi-year contracts before they reach free agency. This means that teams that are flush with money like the Dodgers, are going to be more hard-pressed to find places to spend that money.
Unfortunately for Dodger fans, the solution to their problems is going to have to come from the players they are currently overpaying. It is a long season and we are just over a month in. Things can change. The players have all had success before, the question is whether they can find that success again.
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