by Joshua Worley
The past two games have forcefully reminded me how thin the Dodger margin for success is. The offense feels like it's ready to collapse into a puddle of stranded singles. The only reliable defenders the Dodgers have are their strikeout pitchers. So much is asked of the bullpen. They deliver, but I wonder how long they can. The Dodgers won by one run today in a wonderful comeback victory. They needed this unexpected win to stay in first place, and I fear they will need many more close, unexpected wins to remain in first place for the remainder of the season. If they can pull it off, that's great. How exciting that will be! But if not ... and the difference between first and second was one or two talented youngsters being denied playing time in favor of mediocre, highly-paid veterans, then the failure will as bitter as a ninth-inning loss to the Giants.
Being a baseball fan is essentially an emotional experience. This is an emotional review of the season so far.
Jon Broxton needs a good off-speed pitch. When the location of his fastball is a bit off he can be in trouble. When he misses up in the zone hitters can time it and rip it. If Broxton had a Gagne-like change-up hitters couldn't time the fastball as easily, and he could get away with not having perfect location on it. Broxton is already an elite relief pitcher with the pitches he throws now, but he could be nearly rally-proof if he increased the velocity range of his pitches. If Broxton had a good change-up, he would be like the gigantic love-child of Gagne and Saito.
What happens when Takashi Saito is no longer perfect, or is hurt for an extended period of time? What do the Dodgers do then? What will happen to their terrific record in close games? The Dodgers have so many players they rely on to win the way they do; if one falters then they will likely stumble deep into third place. Have we seen the first stumble of an essential Dodger player? Only losing Martin would hurt more than losing Saito.
Brad Penny wasn't going to give up no home runs for the entire year, but did he have to give up two in one game? Is he going to start to give them up in bunches? Does Penny even know how he was accomplishing this homer-less streak, or was it just him hoping things worked out with each pitch? Will he start striking out more batters now that he's started giving up home runs again? Will the Dodger offense start scoring more runs if Penny stops pitching like Jake Peavy, to make up the sudden performance deficit?
Jeff Kent cost the Dodgers and Kuo two runs on Saturday by failing to field a double play ball hit to his right. Jeff Kent has cost the Dodgers offense many precious outs during his week-long slump. He's cost the Dodgers a chance to run up the pitch count on starters by so often going out on the first pitch. He's going the cost the Dodgers millions of dollars when he piles up enough plate appearances to trigger his option for next year. He's also going to cost the Dodgers a roster spot and playing time that might better go to a younger player. Such a costly player, all for a few home runs. Right now the Dodgers aren't getting much for the high cost they're paying.
I felt sick when Juan Pierre was signed in the off-season. That feeling came from the knowledge that management was not careful with who they invited into the lineup. They ran heedless into a five year commitment. A pitcher may be easily booted from the rotation when he is awful, but a position player is often much harder to dislodge, especially a veteran with a long contract. Pierre stubbornly clings to a decent looking batting average as management stubbornly clings to the idea that Pierre deserves a spot in the lineup. Equally careless, equally clueless, Pierre and management share an embrace of mediocrity.
Nomar Garciaparra has lost his way. The fans who cheer the loudest for him during lineup introductions have lost their way too. They're cheering for singles and outs and nothing else. They're cheering for singles with runners on ... and lots of outs. They're cheering for first pitch outs and double plays to end the inning. They're cheering for James Loney in the minor leauges. I don't want them to boo Nomar. I ask, merely, that Nomar be greeted by polite applause. Seven perfunctory claps to match the syllables in his name, and nothing more.
If Andre Ethier can consistently hit crucial late-inning home runs for the Dodgers, I won't complain about his many faults as a hitter. I won't complain that he doesn't walk much, that he swings at crap too much. I won't complain about how his sky-high batting average from 2006 seems like such a lie now, a misrepresentation of what he was, like padding in a bra. I won't worry that the Dodgers can't score enough runs to stay in first place with a weak hitting right fielder in their lineup. If he keeps hitting those clutch home runs, I'll only think about his wonderful defense, and forget about his woeful offense. I won't whisper the name Matt Kemp. Do you have it in you, Ethier? Can you keep Matt Kemp at bay with your late inning magic?
Tony Abreu thrills me with his hitting. I close my eyes and see him ripping a double down the line. Either line; he does them both! Then I wonder, what happens when the hits stop coming? The man he replaced had a plan B. Andy LaRoche could contribute to the offense if the hits weren't falling. When Andy went 1 for 12, he would still got on base 3 or 4 times. How many times will Abreu get on base when he goes 1 for 12?
Russ Martin is the heart and soul of the Dodgers. Russ Martin is the blood and breath of the Dodgers. Russ Martin is the spirit and mind of the Dodgers. Russ Martin is the captain and chaplain of the Dodgers. Russ Martin swings the bat and losses turn into victories. He throws the ball and singles turn into outs. Russ Martin plays six days out of seven and turns a third place team into a first place team.