Springtime Storylines: Am I gonna talk myself into liking the Dodgers’ chances this year?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season.  The latest: Divorce Court, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Season 2.

The Big Question: Despite all the drama surrounding these guys, am I gonna talk myself into liking the Dodgers’ chances this year?

So much of the Dodgers’ zeitgeist is dominated by McCourt doom and gloom — more of that below — that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there are some things to like here.  First and foremost is the rotation which is pretty darn good. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a sucker for rotations, and I may be a cheap date when it comes to them too. All I know is that on paper Kershaw-Billingsley-Lilly-Kuroda-Garland seems pretty nice. At least if Garland’s oblique injury doesn’t prevent him from contributing, but it’s still a good front four.

Still, we must remember that this was a team that only won 80 games last season, and for them to be interesting, additional wins have to come from someplace. They’re probably looking at a decline behind the dish with the loss of Russell Martin. James Loney could improve, but I wouldn’t wager on it being a significant improvement. I think Matt Kemp is poised for a nice return to 2009 form and I believe that Andre Ethier will still be solid in right.  I’m less confident in the health and effectiveness of Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake, I’m still scratching my head at the Juan Uribe signing and I worry about the depth of this team.

All in all I see improvement, but I don’t see enough of it to scare the Giants or Rockies. If they start hot I know I’m gonna get sucked in, but as I sit here soberly considering it at the moment, I don’t think they have the horses. Please remind me of this when I wax effusive in some random late April “And That Happened” entry.

So what else is going on?

  • The McCourt divorce saga drags on, with some observers believing that the litigation and attendant shenanigans could last all season.  It’s easy to overstate the effect this will all have on the team on the field in 2011 — the roster is the roster at this point — but it will be interesting to see what happens if the Dodgers are competitive and need a little boost to get over the hump.  Will Frank, watching every penny, decline to make a move?  Or will the prospect of missing the playoffs due to the failure to make a move cause him to suck it up and go for broke (and for those playoff revenues)?  The point is that, no matter how the team does this year, it’s impossible to predict management’s decisions without at least some acknowledgment of the divorce looming over everything.
  • It will be fun to watch the Manny haters in the L.A. press this season.  Yeah, Manny is gone, and there were no shortage of scribes who celebrated his departure. But what happens if Manny posts a .900 OPS in Tampa Bay while a left field consisting of Jay Gibbons, Marcus Thames and too many at bats given to Tony Gwynn Jr. fails to deliver in L.A.?  Don’t get me wrong — as far as platoons go, I could see Gibbons/Thames being pretty darn interesting, at least offensively speaking — but it’s no lock, the defense will be ugly regardless and I do think Manny will hit a ton this season.  Oh, I shouldn’t worry. I’m sure someone will explain how the Dodgers’ offensive woes in 2011 are all Manny’s fault.
  • Everyone — myself included — has snarked at Don Mattingly’s managing gaffes during interim gigs in recent years, but I want the guy to succeed and think he’ll be just fine.  Let’s be clear about something: Joe Torre is a Hall of Fame manager, but Mattingly is not replacing the Hall of Fame version of Joe Torre. I got the sense he was really mailing it in last season, with the only real part of his old self shining through being his worst tendencies like, say, overworking certain members of the bullpen.  I don’t place too much stock in attitude and all of that, but the Dodgers need a fresh start, and Mattingly may very well be able to give it to them.
  • The most interesting thing to watch all year will also be the most talked about: Matt Kemp’s attempt to return to superstar status. Even if the Matt Kemp hate got a bit too much to handle, 2010 was a bad year for him. The 2009 version of the guy was someone who displayed the skills of a damn smart baseball player: picking good pitches at which to hack, making good choices on the basepaths and taking good routes to the baseball on defense. Something caused that stuff to slide sideways last season, and if he gets back on track in those departments this year, both his and the Dodgers’ stock will be vastly improved.

So how are they gonna do?

I think Clayton Kershaw breaks out this year and the return of Billingsley and Kuroda — and a full year of Ted Lilly — will make the Dodgers a competitive team.  But I think there are too many holes in the lineup for the Dodgers to seriously contend. If everything breaks right for them, and if things break seriously wrong in San Francisco and Colorado, the Dodgers could make things interesting. I think the smarter bet, however, is to pencil Los Angeles into the third place slot.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Happy Memorial Day, everyone.

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Blue Jays 10, Padres 1: Cavan Biggio had three hits, including his first career home run, giving the Biggio family 292 combined career homers. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit a homer too. He, his brother Yulieski and their father Lourdes Gurriel Sr. have a combined 299, depending on how much credence you want to give to Cuban stats from the 1970s-90s when dad played. No matter the exact number their dad was amazing, jack. He substantially outhit both Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi head-to-head in amateur play back in the day, even though he was older than Bonds and much older than Giambi. He would’ve been a certified stud in the majors. Vlad Guerrero Jr. had three hits on the day. He and his dad have a combined 2,610 hits now. Justin Smoak hit two homers. I have no idea if his dad ever hit any. For all I know he’s a dentist or a tool and die guy or something.

Can’t wait until the Jays call up Dante Bichette’s kid, Bo Bichette, and every recap of their games is about dads. Dads rule.

Mets 4, Tigers 3: The homer explosion in baseball over the past few years has drastically increased the percentage of runs scored via the longball. Which, as a guy who does recaps and tends to focus on the runs that are scored, I must admit it makes things somewhat . . . boring at times. Or at lease repetitive. But it is what it is, and if you write about what happens in games you gotta write about what, you know, happened.

Unless you’re the AP beat writer who covered this game, in which case you spend the first 178 words of a 500-word story talking about Todd Frazier dropping down a bunt against the shift. It was a pretty nifty bunt — it scored the Mets’ first run of the game — but given that two batters later Adeiny Hechavarría hit a three-run homer that brought the Mets back from behind and gave them what proved to be the game’s winning runs, it seems, I dunno, a bit unrepresentative. I get it. I really do. It’s more fun to talk about a bunt-against-the-shift in which the “long-time pro” “cleverly” pushed that punt into right field than it is the 10,000th home run of the past week, but I feel like you gotta give Hechavarría his props there before you go on about wily veterans doing wily veteran things. Anyway: New York takes two out of three from the Tigers and wins the sixth of seven overall.

Twins 7, White Sox 0: Jake Odorizzi tossed one-hit, shutout ball into the sixth, striking out nine, and the Twins’ powerful lineup continued to be powerful, with Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario each hitting three-run homers. Minnesota sweeps Chicago for the team’s seventh series sweep this year. They’ve won 11 of their past 12 games too and have built a big lead in their division because . . .

Rays 6, Indians 3: . . . Cleveland kinda stinks. Trevor Bauer‘s struggles continue. He coughed up four runs on five hits in six innings while the Rays’ bullpenning brigade shut Cleveland out until eighth, by which time Tampa Bay was up 5-0. Austin Meadows, meanwhile, led off the game with a home run and was 4 for 4 with three RBI and the Rays took three of four from the Tribe. Cleveland is now at .500, a full ten games — 10! — behind the Twins. I guess allowing the team to get worse in the offseason because they felt like the division was gonna be a cakewalk isn’t working out all that well for the Indians, huh?

Nationals 9, Marlins 6: On Friday I observed on Twitter that if the Marlins win streak were to continue against the Nats and Washington were to get swept out of this series that it’d be a mortal certainty that Dave Martinez would get fired. That hypothesis was not tested as the Nats have taken the first three games of this four-game set. Here Howie Kendrick homered, had three hits and drove in three. If you want to look for a the gray lining on this otherwise fluffy white cloud, note that while Washington built up a 9-0 lead, the bullpen coughed up six runs in the final two innings which is not what you want.

Dodgers 11, Pirates 7: Justin Turner had five hits and scored three times, Matt Beaty had four RBI, and Corey Seager homered and drove in two and Joc Pederson went deep as well. The Dodgers scored six runs in the sixth. Two of them came via back-to-back bases loaded plunkings. I guess what I’m saying is that the Buccos’ pitchers weren’t exactly sharp in this one. L.A. sweeps Pittsburgh in three.

Red Sox 4, Astros 1: Eduardo Rodríguez allowed a first inning run but that’s all he allowed in six innings of work as he outdueld Justin Verlander. The Sox didn’t exactly pummel JV — Rafael Devers homered but the other runs came on an error, a groundout and a sac fly — but they did enough. The win allowed Boston to avoid a sweep. The season series between these two is over, with Houston taking four of six. Wouldn’t be shocking to see them meet in the playoffs once again.

Brewers 9, Phillies 1: Brandon Woodruff allowed a solo homer in the sixth but was otherwise perfect — like, literally perfect; no hits, walks, runs or errors — in eight innings of work. If not for that dinger he’d almost certainly have come out for the ninth given that he was only at 97 pitches. No need for that here, of course, as the Brewers’ bats gave him nine runs of support. Ben Gamel had two homers, Hernan Pérez, Yasmani Grandal and Christian Yelich also went deep. Yelich’s was his major league-leading 21st home run on the year. Gamel now has four homers in his first year in Milwaukee. That puts him two homers behind Mat Gamel on the Brewers’ All-Time Gamel home run list.

Royals 8, Yankees 7: The Royals had a 7-1 lead after five and blew it, with a three-run ninth inning rally capped off by a two-run RBI single from Aaron Hicks forcing extras. Yankees reliever Jonathan Holder failed to live up to his name in the 10th, though, as he walked Billy Hamilton — and, really, who the hell walks Billy Hamilton? — who then did the obvious thing and stole second base. With two down in the inning Whit Merrifield came to the plate and scored Hamilton for the walkoff win.

Merrifield got an eat-the-third-baseman-alive bounce on this one, but sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good:

Reds 10, Cubs 2: Bad day for the Cubbies. Both because of the loss and because Kris Bryant — starting in right field — collided with center fielder Jason Heyward as the two converged to catch a fly ball. Neither caught it and a run scored but, more importantly, Bryant had to leave the game and now he’s on concussion watch. Nick Senzel had three hits and scored four times for the Reds. Eugenio Suárez finished with two hits and three RBI and Joey Votto banged out a couple of hits as well. Tanner Roark tossed five shutout innings and the Reds too two of three from the Cubs in Wrigley.

Rockies 8, Orioles 7: Colorado scored twice in the bottom of the ninth to come from behind and snag the walkoff win. The first run of the ninth came on a bases-loaded walk to Ian Desmond, which again, who walks Ian Desmond? The second run came on a sac fly from Tony Wolters which, hey, you load the bases and you don’t have much margin for error. Before all of that Nolan Arenado homered for the third straight game and Rockies starter German Márquez tripled and drove in three runs on the day. The triple was kind of a cheapie, if such a thing exists, as the O’s had pulled the outfield way in against him and he just lofted one to the wall and trotted in to third without a play. Colorado takes two of three from Baltimore.

Athletics 7, Mariners 1: Brett Anderson allowed one run while pitching into the seventh, leading the A’s to a three-game sweep of the M’s. Matt Chapman and Josh Phegley hit bombs. Oakland has won nine in a row. Though, actually, that winning streak could later be taken away because in the middle of it is a suspended game against the Tigers which they could end up losing when they finish it later this year. It’s the closest thing baseball has to time travel. 

Diamondbacks 6, Giants 2: Arizona came into this series on a five-game losing streak and swept the Giants in three. Here they sent San Francisco to its fifth straight loss. Ketel Marte homered and Eduardo Escobar had three hits. Rookie Mike Yastrzemski had three hits. I was at one of his minor league games a couple of years ago and a guy behind me said “ah, it’s Carl Yastrzemski’s son.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was his grandkid. Life comes at you fast and all of that, but jeez, Carl Yastrzemski is gonna turn 80 this summer.

Holy crap. I’ve seen a guy who is almost 80 play in person. He’s not the only one who’s old.

Angels 7, Rangers 6: Texas had a 5-1 lead heading into the seventh when the Angels put up a six-spot. Mike Trout homered early and then doubled in a run and scored on a wild pitch in the Halos’ big seventh. Two runs scored on wild pitches in that inning, in fact, both by Kyle Dowdy. L.A. took two of three from Texas.

Braves 4, Cardinals 3: This one has to hurt if you’re a Cards fan. St. Louis took a 3-0 lead into the ninth and Jordan Hicks came out to get the easiest of all saves. He couldn’t record a single out, though, and ended up being charged with three runs. The third run came when Ozzie Albies singled to conclude a ten-pitch at bat against Shelby Miller in which he fouled off pitch after pitch.  In the tenth Tyler Webb put two on — one via an unintentional walk — and then Mike Shildt called for an intentional walk of rookie Austin Riley to load the bases. Next batter up was Brian McCann who, yep, walked to force in the go-ahead run. Atlanta takes two of three from the Cards. They’ve won 12 of 16 overall. They’re a game and a half behind the Phillies.