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April 16, 2012

What You Need to Know

Monday, April 16

by Daniel Rathman

The Weekend Takeaway
There’s magic in the air at Dodger Stadium. No, not Magic Johnson—though his group’s purchase of the team was approved by a court on Friday. I mean the kind of magic that leads to a 9-1 start for a team that was expected to flirt with the .500 mark this season.

Matt Kemp, perhaps still smarting from Ryan Braun’s upset in the NL MVP race, has hit six homers in the first 10 games. Chad Billingsley, looking to bounce back from a rough 2011 campaign, has compiled a 15-to-1 K/BB over his first two starts, to go with a pair of victories and a 0.63 ERA. Dee Gordon is just 8-for-40 with 10 strikeouts, but he has nonetheless found a way to steal seven bases. And Aaron Harang, who struck out just 124 batters in 170 2/3 innings last season, somehow fanned nine consecutive Padres, en route to a career-high 13 punchouts, on Friday.

Thus, the Dodgers have reeled off a six-game winning streak to bring them to a league-best 9-1 on the year. Fans at Chavez Ravine had plenty of reasons to be excited during the past week, and it appears the Dodgers may outperform their mediocre expectations, at least to some extent. The hot start, though, comes with a few considerable grains of salt.

Los Angeles played seven of its first 10 games against San Diego and the other three against Pittsburgh—two teams that are unlikely to factor into the playoff picture this summer. More than half of its victories have come in one-run games. And while general manager Ned Colletti plugged some holes during the winter, he did not add any star-level talent to last year’s 82-win roster.

The real tests for the Dodgers begin this week, with a visit to Miller Park next on the docket. Don Mattingly’s team will run into Yovani Gallardo on Tuesday and Zack Greinke on Wednesday, before a weekend breather in Houston. Tough home matchups with the Braves and Nationals loom later this month.

For the first time in a while, it’s a great time to be a Dodgers fan. But if you are wondering about their playoff chances in a mediocre NL West—well, enjoy the run now, and ask again in two weeks.

What to Watch for on Monday

  • It’s Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts, which means two things: a rare chance for this senioritis-afflicted undergrad to drink on a Sunday night, and another early weekday baseball game, as the Red Sox host the Rays at 11:05 a.m. ET. Daniel Bard will make his second start of the season, and the key for the converted reliever will be mixing his pitches better than he did last Tuesday. The Blue Jays tagged Bard for five runs on eight hits in five innings during that 7-3 loss, and many of those knocks came on fastballs left up in the zone.
     
  • After a disappointing, 2-4 homestand, the Twins will face a challenging road trip to Yankee Stadium and Tropicana Field. But the news isn’t all bad for Ron Gardenhire’s team, as the skipper believes Justin Morneau is finally ready to return to his former home at first base. The Twins had been using Morneau as their designated hitter to start the season, but their lineup is best when that spot is reserved for Ryan Doumit or Josh Willingham. We’ll see if Gardenhire is ready to make the switch at 7:05 p.m. ET.
  • The pitchers’ duel of the day may come in the Phillies-Giants tilt late at night (10:15 p.m. ET)—assuming the Freak holds up his end of the bargain against the Doc. Tim Lincecum entered Coors Field without a fastball last Wednesday, and he exited with the shortest outing of his career: a 2 1/3-inning debacle that included six runs on eight hits, two walks, and two wild pitches.
  • Move aside Jamie Moyer—there’s another quadragenarian returning to the big leagues. The Phillies activated veteran reliever Jose Contreras from the disabled list on Sunday, and the 41-year-old righty figures to make his 2012 debut sometime during the aforementioned series at AT&T Park. 

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

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