Dodgers have the arms, but will they win the West?
Good pitching has carried the Dodgers in the first half, but is it good enough to win the NL West?
Last week while watching ESPN, I heard one of the game's top broadcasters say, "The Dodgers are scoring a lot of runs this year ..."
Well, they're not. A year ago the Dodgers scored 4.7 runs per game, eighth best in the National League. This year the Dodgers have scored 4.5 runs per game ... ninth best in the National League.
Shawn Green has been fantastic and Dave Roberts has been solid in the leadoff slot, but the Dodgers are getting almost nothing from three everyday players: shortstop Cesar Izturis (577 OPS), second baseman Mark Grudzielanek (630) and third baseman Adrian Beltre (653). Actually, looking at the numbers, I'm surprised that the Dodgers have scored as many runs as they have. Granted, Dodger Stadium is a pitcher's park, but the Dodgers are not an outstanding offensive club. They're approximately OK, and if Green returns to earth they won't even be that good.
No, the Dodgers' place atop the West standings has almost nothing to do with an improvement in their hitting (which, as we've seen, hasn't improved), and almost everything to do with an improvement in their pitching (which, as we'll see, has).
A year ago the Dodgers allowed 744 runs, which tied them with the Marlins for seventh best in the league. Seventh isn't nearly good enough when you play half your games at Dodger Stadium. This year the Dodgers have allowed 335 runs, second fewest in the league (the Braves are tops, naturally).
And for that, let's all stand up and give Dodgers GM Dan Evans a big round of applause. Because of the five pitchers currently in the Dodger rotation, four were the property of other organizations last season.
Evans and manager Jim Tracy also get big points for making a closer out of Eric Gagne, who's only been the best closer in the majors this year.
Before the season, most observers -- with "most" including a certain ESPN.com columnist who's never worked for a newspaper -- figured the Dodgers did have a chance, but only if Kevin Brown were healthy and productive for at least most of the season.
Kevin Brown has been neither healthy nor productive. Brown has started nine games, and sports a decent 4.06 ERA but only two victories. Still, the Dodgers are going to need him because it's not likely that all five current starters will remain healthy and productive for another three months.
So who's going to win the West? At this moment, the first-place Dodgers own a two-and-a-half game lead over the Diamondbacks and a four-and-a-half game lead over the Giants. Do the standings indicate the true quality of those three clubs? One way to look at that question is to check each team's run differential, and the records that typically result from those differentials.
Scored-Allowed Exp Rec Giants 430-343 53-34 Dodgers 391-335 51-37 2.5 D-Backs 425-375 49-38 4.0
These new "standings" don't really tell us anything we don't already know. Over the course of half a baseball season, four games one way or the other don't say much that's particularly meaningful about the quality of the teams involved. All we really know about the Giants, Dodgers and Diamondbacks is that they've all got a legitimate shot at winning.
My money's on the Giants because 1) they've got the best run differential, and 2) they were my preseason pick.
But it's more likely that the Giants will finish second or third than first. Who wins the West will depend on some things that we can't predict, things like injuries, trades ... and, yes, plain old luck. That's the thing about baseball that players understand but few others do; who wins the West could hinge on nothing more than a couple of groundballs that sneak (or don't) through the infield, a few bloopers that parachute (or don't) to the grass, just beyond a pair of desperate defenders. We like to think that the best teams always win, but it's a basic fact of life that they don't.
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