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June 22, 2012

What You Need to Know

Friday, June 22

by Daniel Rathman

The Thursday Takeaway
A week ago, when the Dodgers put the finishing touches on a 7-6 win in their series opener against the White Sox, broadcaster Vin Scully was as captivated by their continued success as the fans watching on TV. That win was the 41st of the season for Los Angeles, then a league high, and after it, Scully—with all the eloquence you’d expect from the game’s best broadcaster—described “a Dodger team that is a wonder. You wonder how they do it.”

With his roster ravaged by injuries—most notably Matt Kemp’s hamstring, which has sidelined him essentially since mid-May—manager Don Mattingly fielded a lineup that could have made even the most optimistic fan cringe. Leadoff man Dee Gordon entered with an on-base percentage of .279. He was followed by Elian Herrera, a minor-league veteran getting his first look at the age of 27. And yes, that was indeed Jerry Hairston, Jr., of the .702 career OPS, batting fifth.

Yet, somehow, the Dodgers produced seven runs that day. The deciding one came around to score on a wild pitch by Matt Thornton in the bottom of the eighth, before closer Kenley Jansen slammed the door. Call it luck, call it finding a way, or call it—as Scully did—a wonder.

Heading into this weekend’s battle of Los Angeles at the Big A, the Dodgers still own the National League’s best record at 42-28, but they are coming off a sweep in Oakland during which their run-scoring magic began to wear. The Dodgers plated just two runs in the three-game set and have scored only eight in five games since that 7-6 win. They are the only major-league team without a home run in the last week, and they are batting a lowly .193/.254/.241 as a team over that span.

Kemp should be activated shortly after the All-Star Break, but the Dodgers will play 17 games in 17 days before that four-day rest. The schedule makers did not do them any favors, either, as that batch includes the crosstown Halos, the rival Giants—who are now four games back in the NL West—the equally surprising Mets, the NL Central-leading Reds, and the Diamondbacks, who are within a game of .500 after an 11-7 start to the month of June.

The next two and a half weeks may prove the most difficult test of the season for Don Mattingly’s team, which has played the league’s easiest schedule to date and must now meet a formidable challenge. If Herrera, Hairston, and A.J. Ellis can keep the Dodgers atop the division standings through July 8, Kemp’s return could carry them the rest of the way.

What to Watch for This Weekend

  • The Rays and Phillies meet at Citizens Bank Park this weekend in a rematch of the 2008 World Series. James Shields, who won Game Two of that Fall Classic for Tampa Bay, takes the mound against Cliff Lee, who is still searching for his first win of the season, in tonight’s opener (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • After four tune-up starts in the minors, Roy Oswalt is ready to return to the majors as a member of the Rangers. His first assignment comes in the first game of a three-game series against the Rockies this evening (8:05 p.m. ET). Oswalt pitched six innings of two-run ball in his most recent outing for Triple-A Round Rock on June 17, striking out five and walking one. He is 8-2 with a 1.94 ERA in 12 career starts versus Colorado.
  • In three games against the Mariners this week, Aaron Hill raised his OPS by 86 points, from .782 to .868. The Diamondbacks second baseman went 8-for-12 in that series, with a home run and a double in each of the three games, becoming the first player to accomplish that feat since Evan Longoria in 2008. He’ll try to become the first player to do it in four straight since Jim Edmonds in 2003 when the D’backs take on Jeff Samardzija and the Cubs tonight (9:40 p.m. ET).
  • Max Scherzer, who fanned 12 Rockies in his last start, gets another chance to rack up the K’s on Saturday (4:05 p.m. ET) in the middle match of the three-game set between the Tigers and the Pirates. Fifteen of Scherzer’s 100 strikeouts this season came in the previous meeting between those two teams, and three of those were courtesy of Pedro Alvarez. Scherzer may have a tougher time with the Pittsburgh third baseman this time around, though, as Alvarez is a remarkable 11-for-17 with five homers and three walks in five games coming into the series.

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

Related Content:  Dodgers,  Don Mattingly,  Matt Kemp,  First Place,  Vin Scully

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