- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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A position-by-position breakdown through the first half of the season:
C Russell Martin
C -- Although his batting average has thus far dropped off for the third consecutive season, his offensive performance hasn't been all bad. Martin is on pace to dramatically increase his walks from last year, when he drew only 69. But he still has shown little power, at one point going 75 consecutive plate appearances without an extra-base hit and 195 without a home run. Defensively, he has been serviceable. His caught-stealing percentage is 30.8 percent, up from last year's 25.3, and his catcher's ERA is a shade over 4.00.
1B James Loney
A -- Although his three-run homer off Chicago's Carlos Silva was the big blast in the Dodgers' first-half-ending victory over the Cubs, he still doesn't hit for much power, something manager Joe Torre has been hoping to see from him for years. But in his typically understated way, Loney has been the most consistent hitter in the Dodgers' lineup this season, leading the club in doubles (25) and RBI (63). Defensively, he is a potential Gold Glover.
2B Blake DeWitt
B -- His inexperience at the position has reared its head on occasion, but with less frequency as the season has progressed. He has become much more comfortable turning the double-play pivot, and he made several outstanding defensive plays toward the end of the first half. Offensively, his on-base percentage (.359) has been far more impressive than his batting average (.269), but he does have some pop.
3B Casey Blake
C -- He fought his way through a lengthy slump in early June, but seems for the most part to have come out of it. He is the closest thing to a clubhouse leader the Dodgers have, even if it's a role he doesn't feel entirely comfortable with. He is striking out more often and walking less often than he did last year, which is why his OBP is down 24 points so far this season from the stellar .363 he posted last season.
SS Rafael Furcal
A -- He missed a month with a strained left hamstring and a week when his father died in the Dominican Republic, but he still managed to put together a first half for the ages, finishing it with one of the hottest offensive surges of his career and becoming a late addition to the National League All-Star team. Furcal would have gone into the break as the National League's leading hitter if he had enough plate appearances to qualify, a gap he figures to make up in the first two or three days of the second half. And despite the injury, his defense has been as dazzling and acrobatic as ever.
LF Manny Ramirez
B -- He did two disabled-list stints with separate injuries to his right leg, and he didn't hit for anything close to the power that had so characterized his first season and a half with the Dodgers. But if you can look beyond that, he had a stellar first half, hitting .322 with eight homers, 39 RBI and an outstanding .412 OBP, due mostly to the fact he walked almost as often (29 times) as he struck out (34). He is still a liability in the field, but he has always been that.
CF Matt Kemp
C -- He leads the team with 16 homers, but he still strikes out way too often, more than three times as often as he walks and more than once every four plate appearances. But he rallied late in the first half, apparently benefiting from what amounted to a disciplinary benching by Torre after Kemp reportedly dissed bench coach Bob Schaefer during a game on June 26. Upon returning to the lineup on June 30, Kemp hit four homers in his next six games. He has the potential to be one of the greatest players of his generation, but he isn't there yet. Defensively, he has fallen off dramatically from his Gold Glove-winning effort last year in terms of the jumps he gets on fly balls and the routes he takes.
RF Andre Ethier
B -- He was good enough to earn a starting spot in the All-Star Game, but he wasn't nearly as good after returning from a two-week stint on the DL as he was before. He was hitting .392 with 11 homers and 38 RBI at the time he broke a small bone in the little finger of his right hand. Since his return, Ethier has hit three homers, driven in 16 runs and batted .267. But with Ramirez apparently in the twilight of his career and Kemp not quite in his prime yet, Ethier is still the most dangerous power hitter in the Dodgers' lineup.
B -- The rotation, which caused endless agonizing by fans when the Dodgers didn't upgrade it last winter, has far exceeded expectations. More importantly, it now appears to have stabilized with the return of Vicente Padilla from the disabled list, leaving the Dodgers with a serviceable quartet of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Padilla. Longtime prospect James McDonald is a good bet to be called up after the break and slotted fifth, but that probably is only a temporary stopgap. There still isn't an unquestioned ace, and general manager Ned Colletti won't hesitate to add a significant piece if one becomes available to him before the trading deadline and, more importantly, if owner Frank McCourt is willing to give Colletti the money to make such an addition.
A -- The Dodgers' bullpen got off to a shaky start this season, largely because of unsettled roles and the unexpected absence of Ronald Belisario. But as the team seemed to hit its stride around the second week of May, so did the bullpen. Closer Jonathan Broxton rounded into his usual form and made the NL All-Star team for the second year in a row, and although he suffered a particularly gut-wrenching blown game against the New York Yankees on June 27, it technically wasn't a blown save. Broxton had only two of those in 21 chances. Meanwhile, with incumbent setup man George Sherrill having lost the job due to inconsistency with his mechanics, lefty Hong-Chih Kuo stepped into the role and became one of the nastiest relievers in baseball -- and also an All-Star in his own right -- holding opposing left-handed batters hitless in 31 at-bats and posting a 0.99 ERA overall. However, Belisario, who missed the first two weeks of the season because of his late arrival to spring training, disappeared again last week, this time without explanation. It isn't clear how long he will be gone or how much his absence will impact a bullpen that had come to rely on him.
A -- This is the one area where the Dodgers are undeniably stronger than they have been in recent years, due largely to the offseason signing of veteran utility man Jamey Carroll, who played well enough during Furcal's two absences that the team was able to tread water until its shortstop and offensive catalyst returned. Ronnie Belliard hasn't been as good as he was after the Dodgers acquired him late last season, and newly signed Garret Anderson has pretty much been awful. But backup outfielder Reed Johnson has been reliable both as a late-inning defensive replacement and an occasional starter to give Ramirez a rest. Longtime prospect Xavier Paul has been serviceable in three separate big league stints. Finally, with veteran catcher Brad Ausmus spending almost the entire first half on the disabled list following back surgery, A.J. Ellis has been a dependable if seldom-used backup to Martin.
B -- Torre is and has always been a delegator, leaving much of the details of running the team to his coaching staff. But his handling of the Kemp/Schaefer situation was masterful and appears to have achieved the desired result. His handling of the bullpen might have been even better, although Torre still hasn't overcome his career-long tendency to rely heavily on certain relievers (see Ramon Troncoso). And Torre still brings that calming presence in the worst of times, which might have played a role in the Dodgers' rebounding from that ghastly loss to the Yankees on June 27 by immediately going on a 5-1 road trip and winning nine of their final 13 before the break.
OVERALL TEAM GRADE
B -- The Dodgers probably have enough talent to win the NL West for the third year in a row, especially if they keep playing at their current .793 clip against the rest of the division. Right now, the difference between the Dodgers and the division-leading San Diego Padres -- who, by the way, have lost four of five games against the Dodgers -- is that the Padres faced a far more favorable interleague schedule and went 9-6 while the Dodgers were 4-11 against an endless stream of American League behemoths. But the Padres still might have better overall pitching than the Dodgers. Meanwhile, the Colorado Rockies got hot toward the end of the first half, went into the break tied with the Dodgers for second place and are too talented to fade anytime soon, especially if they get All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki back from his injury. This figures to be a tight, crowded race to the finish, and the Dodgers would do well to make a significant move at the upcoming trading deadline.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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