Dodgers to make their move in second half
After rough start, Los Angeles in the thick of NL West race
The coming months could be the last as a Dodger for Manny Ramirez as well as Joe Torre, for that matter.
Can they go out winners? Well, they're still in the National League West, so anything is possible.
A third consecutive National League West title remains on the table for the Dodgers, despite the bumps in the road they've hit during the first half of this season.
They spent only seven days out of first place last year, but only six days in first place this year.
They have temporarily lost to injuries Ramirez (twice), Opening Day starter Vicente Padilla and Chad Billingsley, Triple Crown threat Andre Ethier, sparkplug Rafael Furcal and backup catcher Brad Ausmus. They've dealt with the frustrations of the talented Matt Kemp.
The Dodgers have patched together a starting rotation with a pair of rookies, John Ely and Carlos Monasterios, and endured the transition of Ramirez from fun-loving slugger to a subdued singles hitter, when he was healthy.
And they're still in contention, having feasted within the division (22-6).
"I've seen a lot of good things," said general manager Ned Colletti, who didn't hesitate criticizing the club when he felt it was warranted in April. "We've played up to our capabilities, just not consistently, and we've struggled against the American League (4-11). Take away the beginning and the AL games and it's been a good first half.
"When we play well, it's evident we're a good club. You're going to have your ups and downs, and in the second half we have to diminish the downs. Our division calls for us to be like that. The division is playing like I thought it would. It's a very close race for four clubs. Nobody gave San Diego credit in the winter, but watching them in the spring you could see they would be better. Everybody is waiting for them to collapse, but you just have to take care of your own business."
Torre said the series in which the Dodgers lost two of three to the Yankees, which most Dodgers fans considered a failure because it ended with a blown four-run lead and loss, actually impressed him.
"The thing I like is the fact, for how much we've struggled, all of a sudden there's a team on the field tested ourselves itself and passed about every test," Torre said. "[We're] not concerned about playing anybody. We lost two of three to the Yankees, but we had a four-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 3. That proved to me we can play on the field with them. We had a good result, even though we wish the two of three was on our side. For the most part, the club is not afraid of a challenge."
Dodgers Midseason Awards
|First-Half MVP||Andre Ethier||What if he hadn't broken his finger?|
|Cy Young||Clayton Kershaw||Clayton Kershaw is the ace-in-training.|
|Rookie||Carlos Monasterios||Carlos Monasterios is a Rule 5 draftee who has stuck.|
|Top Reliever||Hong-Chih Kuo||No offense to Jonathan Broxton, but Hong-Chih Kuo has been even better.|
The Dodgers get some schedule relief in the second half. In April, they played five series in the Eastern time zone and in Interleague Play had 12 games against the Angels, Red Sox and Yankees. Of their first 92 games, 28 were against the NL West. Of their final 74 games, 43 are against division rivals.
Colletti and Torre are in agreement that the pitching needs a boost. The Dodgers didn't have enough Major League-ready players to satisfy the Mariners and missed out again on Cliff Lee, but they remain in search of a fifth-starter upgrade.
Colletti also is looking for relief help, as he did last year when George Sherrill came aboard and made a strong bullpen even deeper. This year, Ronald Belisario's repeated issues (he's on the restricted list for a second time) have had a domino effect on the bullpen, as have Sherrill's inexplicable collapse and the regression of Ramon Troncoso.
"The pitching has sorted itself out and gotten better," said Colletti. "Sub par here and there, but overall we're getting better starts. That doesn't preclude us from adding to it. Ely and Monasterios have given us more than we expected at the beginning."
They've also received a healthy first half from Hiroki Kuroda, watched the continuing maturation of ace-in-training Clayton Kershaw, enjoyed an All-Star first half from Ethier and Jonathan Broxton, solid run production from James Loney and dominant setup from remarkable reliever Hong-Chih Kuo. The addition of Jamey Carroll and Reed Johnson has made the bench more versatile.
It's no surprise, though, what Torre thinks is needed to finish first again.
"We need our pitching to be consistent," he said. "Even though we're capable of scoring a lot of runs, I don't think the mentality of scoring a lot of runs works for us. We get impatient and get a little long [swinging the bats]. When we play the close games, we have good at-bats."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.