The Dodgers’ adaptation amidst pitching questions

The Dodgers have seen their fair share of injuries. Hanley Ramirez sits out with a strained oblique as I write, but the overwhelming majority of the club’s injuries have come from the pitching staff. As such, the rotation continues to develop as pitchers move on and off the DL (or extend their time on the injury list).

Still, only the Orioles have a larger lead in the division than the five games the Dodgers hold over San Francisco. Some of that is due to initial composition of a team with the largest payroll in baseball ($238.8 million, according to ESPN), but a portion of the credit can be given to the front office for moves that didn’t involve big spending.

The rotation

Earlier this month, Joe wrote a defense of Clayton Kershaw as one of the faces of the game. The Dodgers ace has been one of the best in the game, and since returning from DL in May, he’s been phenomenal. The lefty has a career-low 1.78 ERA to this point in the season. His numbers keep getting better, so the Dodgers can take comfort in the extension of an elite starter who continues to live up to his billing.

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Will Bryce Harper ever achieve superstar status?

Since the start of the 2012 season, one of the most talked-about players in all of baseball has been Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. The 21 year old was called up that year at the tender age of 19, and was extremely impressive. His 20 home runs, 58 RBIs and 18 stolen bases warranted him a trip to his first All-Star Game, as well as the Rookie of the Year Award. Since then , Harper’s young career has been something of a roller coaster ride. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but will he ever be the once in a generation talent many experts believed him to be?

Harper’s journey through the Major Leagues

After winning the ROY in 2012, Harper looked to be getting even better in 2013. Through April of that season, he hit .344 with 9 home runs and 18 RBIs. For that first month, he seemed ready to become an MVP-type player, following in the footsteps of fellow outfield phenom and 2012 AL ROY Mike Trout. However, that’s when things started going downhill.

In May of 2013, Harper hurt his knee crashing into the wall in Dodger Stadium. A month-long trip to the disabled list did not turn out to be enough, as he would not be the same player after returning. For the year he actually put up nearly identical statistics to his rookie year, with 20 home runs, 58 RBIs, and a .274  batting average. These were good numbers, but slightly misleading, considering Harper was at his best in April. After his injury, though, he struggled mightily at the plate, partly because of the residual effects of his knee injury.

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One Frenchman’s conquest of Montreal

It takes a lot of skill to beat a Top Ten tennis player. It also takes a lot of skill to beat one who has won Grand Slams on that particular surface. It takes a completely different set of skill entirely to beat three such Grand Slam-winning Top Ten players, all while marching on the road to a Masters 1000 title.

Meet Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Frenchman is not exactly a household name, but he has had some degree of success in the past, contesting the final of the 2008 Australian Open as well as making showings in the semifinals of Wimbledon and the French Open. He holds a career 11 titles, including two Masters 1000 titles, and spent the better part of 2013 within the lower levels of the Top Ten.

His 2014 season prior to Montreal, however, has been less than satisfactory. He failed to win a single title, and produced sub-par fourth round showings in the first three Grand Slams of the year. As a result, Tsonga dropped down to World No. 15, finally falling out of the Top Ten for the first time in nearly a season.

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Race for the Postseason: NL West

Over the past weeks I have been previewing the race for the postseason. On Monday, I covered the NL East, and today I will be previewing the NL West. We will organize our discussion by the current standings.

Los Angeles Dodgers
65-50 | division lead

A year after Yasiel Puig burst onto the scene to help lead the Dodgers’ improbable comeback, LA is in control of the West, sitting 15 games over .500.

On the offensive side of the ball, Puig leads the team with a .316 batting average to go along with 13 home runs and nine triples. Including Puig, the Dodgers have 5 starters (Puig, Gordon, Kemp, Ramirez, and Gonzalez) batting .257 or better. All of this combines to give LA the eigth highest batting average in the majors at .257, as well as a 12th place rank in the majors in runs scored with 472.

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Trades, the expanded Wild Card and parity

Last week’s quick-hit trade deadline moves were surprising in a lot of ways. A week after the fact, I’d like to outline some of the differences between our expectations and the actual moves.

The Wild Card and parity

We’ve been hearing a lot about the expanded Wild Card in the last few years. It’s part of Bud Selig’s vision for the league where everyone’s in the chase, supposedly creating more excitement and better attendance.

Another bigger aspect of his plan that’s supposed to fall in right alongside that is parity. As a true salary cap (or perhaps, true-er cap) is in place with giant luxury tax implications, teams are encouraged to be in the same range of spending as others. Revenue sharing creates even more of a redistributive feel.

As far as these things contribute to an equaling of the playing field like that of the NFL, Selig has done the job. The Yankees’ empire appears to be crumbling, a topic Joe tackled in this morning’s post, and teams like the Marlins and Royals are no longer the worst in their divisions. (The Royals are five games above .500, while the Marlins are six games out in the Wild Card race.)

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