Dodgers' shrinking NL West lead no cause for concern

Updated: August 25, 2009

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Manny Ramirez has one RBI and zero home runs since Aug. 11, a stretch of 11 games.

For a good part of the season, the Dodgers had been perceived to be the best team in baseball. That's no longer the case, but they are still a high-caliber team that is bound for the postseason.

The Dodgers are 18-19 since the All-Star break and their lead in the NL West has shrunk to three games over the Rockies after Colorado pulled off a wild, extra-innings win against the Giants on a walk-off grand slam from Ryan Spilborghs. Still, even with the Rockies surging, the Dodgers are going to end up winning the division, if for no other reason than they have the most balanced roster in the division.

They have been struggling as of late because of their starting pitching. Injuries to Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda have impacted the staff. The wear and tear on their bullpen over the first half of the season also started to take a little bit of a toll in recent weeks. Add to that the fact that their offense hasn't been quite as potent as it was early on, most notably from Manny Ramirez, and you can understand why they currently find themselves on the downswing.

Featured Series: Dodgers at Rockies
Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw) at Rockies (Jason Hammel), 8:40 ET
Dodgers (Randy Wolf) at Rockies (Josh Fogg), 8:40 ET
Dodgers (Vicente Padilla) at Rockies (Jorge De La Rosa), 3:40 ET

But now that Billingsley's back in the rotation, it should make a big difference. The Dodgers have gotten a couple of good starts out of knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, which has been a bonus for them as well. The real impact, though, will be with the return of Hong-Chih Kuo and the addition of George Sherrill to their bullpen. Dodgers GM Ned Colletti has added two high-quality left-handed relievers to an already deep bullpen. This will allow manager Joe Torre to better work matchups in a game and allow him to avoid overworking any one individual over the final month of the regular season. The Dodgers are an exceptional defensive team, and have a very good bullpen and an offense that can score in a number of different ways. All of those strengths have and will continue to make up for any deficiencies in their starting rotation.

Look for the Dodgers to start to get hot at just the right time -- heading into September -- and be primed and ready to play some October baseball. But the upcoming series against the Rockies is certainly going to be a big one. Expect the entire state of Colorado to be fired up for it. The Rockies have been an amazing story, but in the end, I just don't think they have the pitching on their roster (1 through 12) to match up with the Dodgers.

Look for Manny to get hot. As the games mean more, his attention will be grabbed and he will get locked back in at the plate. Torre has managed teams in this situation before, and I expect he will draw upon that experience with his veteran coaching staff in this series against Colorado and down the stretch as well.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Aug. 23 | Aug. 20 | Aug. 19 | Aug. 18 | Aug. 17


Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
Carlos Pena, TB35HalladayTop 5: 0-0, 0 Outs. 1 on.
Ryan Howard, PHI34ParnellTop 3: 3-2, 1 Out. 1 on.
Ryan Howard, PHI33ParnellTop 1: 2-2, 1 Out. 2 on.
Ryan Braun, MIL27BalesterTop 6: 0-0, 0 Outs. 1 on.
Paul Konerko, CWS23BuchholzTop 5: 2-1, 2 Outs. 2 on.
Ben Zobrist, TB23LeagueTop 7: 0-0, 0 Outs. None on.
Mike Lowell, BOS16ContrerasBot 3: 3-2, 2 Outs. 2 on.
Travis Hafner, CLE13MecheTop 4: 3-0, 1 Out. 2 on.

The complete list of Monday's homers


Rangers at Yankees, 7 p.m. ET

The Rangers have lost each of the past three games Kevin Millwood has pitched, though Millwood has escaped each with a no-decision. Joba Chamberlain didn't last very long the last time he faced Texas; his day was done after four innings. He walked four, struck out five and permitted three runs in a 7-3 loss.

Astros at Cardinals, 8:15 p.m. ET

Perhaps the night's best pitching matchup, with the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright (14-7, 2.61 ERA) facing the Astros' Wandy Rodriguez (12-7, 2.89). Wainwright has not given up more than two runs in a start since June 26. Rodriguez has given up a run or fewer in eight of his past nine outings.

Tigers at Angels, 10:05 p.m. ET

Jarrod Washburn still is searching for his first win with the Tigers. He is 0-1 with three no-decisions. He has allowed at least five runs in three of his four starts. The Angels have scored only four runs over John Lackey's past three starts.

For the rest of Tuesday's schedule, click here.


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10 p.m. ET
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Peter Gammons, Chris Singleton
12 a.m. ET
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Chris Singleton



Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at Johan Santana, who teammates have suggested might be headed for arm surgery. Clearly, there is something wrong with Santana:

Johan Santana (2009)
First 10 starts Past 15 starts
W-L 7-2 6-7
ERA 1.77 4.02
BA against .208 .267
K's per 9 innings 11.7 5.4
HRs per 9 innings 0.7 1.3
Avg. fastball (mph) 91 90
Pct. of fastballs 90+ mph 73.1 52.2



Cliff Lee• Yes, Ryan Howard hit a pair of homers, but it was yet another masterpiece from Cliff Lee that earns the honor. Lee came into the game with a 0.82 ERA in four starts with the Phillies -- and lowered it. Lee gave up two runs -- neither earned -- to lower his ERA to 0.67 since moving to the National League. Lee is now 5-0 with Philadelphia thanks to a 6-2 win against the Mets.
Jose ConterasJose Contreras has made 26 starts this year. He's lost an American League-leading 12 of them. His most recent came when he lasted only 2 2/3 innings against the Red Sox, giving up four hits, seven runs and three walks in the White Sox's 12-8 defeat. He is now 1-5 over his past eight starts.


Ryan Howard Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard has been on a tear lately, hitting eight home runs over his past 11 games and driving in 22 runs. He has now hit 34 home runs this year, his fourth straight season of topping the 30-HR plateau. However, this season has been different from his previous three in regard to distribution of home runs.

From 2006 to 2008, Howard hit 68 percent of his home runs against fastballs. However, that number has dipped to 52.9 percent in 2009, one of the lowest percentages in the majors among hitters with 20 or more homers (only Michael Cuddyer, who has hit 50 percent of his homers on fastballs, had a lower percentage entering Monday).

Howard is punishing more inside fastballs (.313 BA, .716 SLG, seven homers) than he did in previous seasons.

Howard and the NL East-leading Phillies begin a series with Pittsburgh on Tuesday and will face right-hander Ross Ohlendorf. Opposing batters are hitting .299 with a .485 slugging percentage against Ohlendorf's fastball. And 14 of the 20 homers he's surrendered this year have been off his heater.

Ryan Howard
Home run by pitch type (2006-09)
2006-08 2009
Pct. of HR AB/HR Pct. of HR AB/HR
Fastball 67.9 9.0 52.9 13.2
Non-Fastball 32.1 16.2 47.1 14.6

-- ESPN Stats & Information


Adam Madison examines the 15 games on Tuesday's slate.

Fantasy Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Tuesday. Daily Notes