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May 11, 2011

On the Beat

Dodger Dilemma

by John Perrotto

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The Dodgers' off-the-field problems have been covered ad nauseum. Two weeks ago, commissioner Bud Selig took away control of the team from majority owner Frank McCourt and named former Rangers club president Tom Schieffer as the franchise's overseer. That comes while McCourt is involved in a very bitter, costly, and embarrassing divorce from his wife Jamie, who was the Dodgers' CEO, and amidst questions of whether the team has enough money to cover payroll on May 31.

However, all the off-the-field drama has overshadowed what is happening on the field for the Dodgers. That hasn't been good, either. It has made first-year manager Don Mattingly's debut rocky, though he hasn't come under the scrutiny one would normally expect for a former Yankees icon.

The Dodgers are just 17-20 and have been plagued by injuries. As Mattingly points out, "We've had the lineup we had coming out of spring training together for just two games all season."

Third baseman Casey Blake, shortstop Rafael Furcal, and platoon left fielder Marcus Thames are currently on the disabled list. The Dodgers stand 13th in the National League with an average of just 3.56 runs a game.

Ironically, Mattingly was the Dodgers' hitting coach the previous 2 1/2 years before being promoted to manager when Joe Torre retired at the end of last season. Mattingly, though, isn't ready to say he has a mediocre offense at his disposal.

"I don't think you can really make a judgment just 35 or so games into the season," Mattingly said. "If you go through half of a season and you're not scoring runs, then it's obviously a problem. We haven't had our whole team together, and we're really missing Rafael Furcal at the top of the order. He really makes us go."

The Dodgers might be battling the Padres for the title of worst-scoring team in baseball if not for center fielder Matt Kemp and right fielder Andre Ethier.

Kemp has a .331 True Average, 18.0 VORP, and 1.5 WARP, more than halfway to last season's totals of 33.2 and 2.5 in the latter two categories. Ethier had a 30-game hitting streak snapped last Saturday, and his TAv is .341. Blake (.336) and Jamey Carroll (.275), who has been filling in at shortstop for Furcal, are the only other Dodgers with at least 20 plate appearances who have a TAv of .255 or better.

"Kemp and Ethier have kept us afloat, kept us halfway consistent," Mattingly said. "We just haven't been able to consistently get guys on base for them to drive in. Once we start getting more guys on, you're going to see the offense perform the way I know it's capable."

The pitching hasn't been appreciably better, as the Dodgers also rank 13th in the NL in runs allowed, giving up 4.53 a game. It says something about how poorly his team is hitting that Mattingly believes pitching has been his club's strength.

"The pitching is giving us a chance to win, for the most part, and that gives us confidence that things are going to turn around," Mattingly said.

Just two Dodgers starters rank among the top 85 in the majors in SNWP: left-hander Clayton Kershaw is 24th with a .547 percentage and Hiroki Kuroda is 39th at .528. Closer Jonathan Broxton will miss at least the next month with a strained elbow, and his Fair Run Average was 4.84 in 12 2/3 innings before going on the disabled list.

The pitching staff hasn't gotten any help from their fielders, as the Dodgers are next-to-last in the major leagues with a .699 Defensive Efficiency. Only the Astros are worse.

"Our guys understand what we've been up against so far this season," Mattingly said. "We haven't had our lineup intact. We haven't had the real Jonathan Broxton. We know we're a better ballclub once we are whole."

Hovering around all the disappointment of a slow start is the ownership situation. The Dodgers, though, insist it is having no bearing on what is happening on the field.

"We talked early on in spring training about this," Mattingly said. "It's just really not a concern. We know there is a lot of talk about it, and it's in the news a lot, but it's really just baseball for us who are in uniform. It's stayed the same. We talked about no excuses early on in camp, about how we were not going to make any excuses in any situation. You can say what you want about this situation but it doesn't affect us. Guys are not concerned, not worried about it. We're just trying to win ballgames."

Nevertheless, some of the more veteran Dodgers players are curious to see how the ownership situation eventually shakes out. Ethier is one year away from free agency and would like to re-sign, though he wonders if the Dodgers will have the money to offer him a market-value contract now that they are a ward of Major League Baseball.

"Of course, it's our business," Ethier said. "As much as you'd like to say it's not our business, it is because you're talking about the potential direction of the franchise. Yet it doesn't affect you when you're playing the game. It's not like I'm standing out in right field wondering what is going to happen to Frank McCourt, wondering who will be running the franchise by the end of the season. As players, there is nothing we can do but sit on the side and watch how it plays out. It's between our owner and Major League Baseball. It's not in our control."


Rumors and Rumblings: The Mariners have lost a potential deadline trading chip now that closer David Aarsdma has been diagnosed with a torn elbow ligament and will likely need Tommy John surgery that would sideline him until the middle of next season. … Right-hander Bobby Parnell is likely to be activated from the disabled list later this week, and the Mets plan to look at him in some save situations later in the season to see if he could be a viable closing option. … Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, who has had no setbacks since beginning to play in extended spring training games last weekend, is looking like he will be able to return to the active roster by the end of the month. … The Rangers hope to have left fielder and reigning American League MVP Josh Hamilton back by the end of the month, as he will begin taking practice this weekend. … The Twins won't activate Joe Mauer from the DL until he is ready to be a full-time catcher, declining to consider using him as a part-time designated hitter and having no timetable for his return from the DL.… The Red Sox and Twins have interest in trading for Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit … The Angels plan to give rookie infielder Alexi Amarista more playing time in the outfield with left fielder Vernon Wells going on the DL.


Scouts' views:

Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford: "He's starting to look like the Carl Crawford who played so well for Tampa Bay all those years. He's not jumping at pitches now. He's more under control in the batter's box. He's staying back on balls and hitting them hard."

Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta: "I'm glad they're finally giving him consistent playing time. He's not going to be a superstar, but he has his pluses. He has some pop and a strong arm. I don't think he's been given a fair shake the last couple of years."

Cardinals center fielder Colby Rasmus: "He's answered my last question about him because he's showing he can left-handed pitching with authority. That's been on the only weak point of his offensive game. I think he's just one good year away from blossoming into a superstar."

Orioles left fielder Luke Scott: "A torn labrum is nothing to mess with, but it's not going to affect his hitting so much because it's in his right shoulder and he is a left-handed hitter. Where it's going to make a difference is in the field. He's never been the greatest thrower to begin with, and now teams are really going to run on him since they know he has a bad shoulder.

Athletics left fielder Josh Willingham: "He's been a really good pickup for that club. He's always been a professional hitter, and I thought he was overlooked with Florida and Washington. Maybe he'll finally get his due if the A's are in the pennant race."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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