Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
In what has to be considered one of the strangest starts to a season in the history of the club, the Dodgers have reached the 12 game mark and currently sit atop the NL West. The sense of deja vu has hit me several times in the past few weeks as the club seemed to be involved in Opening Day festivities an inordinate amount of times. Things kicked off in the land down under with a two game set with the Diamondbacks one full week before the rest of MLB started their regular season schedules. For myself, living on the East Coast this was particularly bizarre. I was able to catch the Dodgers season opener at breakfast and some 16 hours later that day I was tuning in for game 2. Listening to Bob Brenly certainly sucked some of the fun out of these two contests but I digress. Starting the season 2-0 against Arizona helped ease the pain.
The boys then returned home to take part in not one, but two Opening Day ceremonies in San Diego. To be fair, the Sunday night ceremony was in large part a salute to the troops which is customary at Sunday games at Petco Park throughout the season. On Tuesday the Dodgers were part of yet another Opening Day at Petco, before finally arriving home for a breath-taking Opening Day at Chavez Ravine. Watching Vin Scully ride in for his 65th season in the back of a ’65 Mustang convertible was spectacular. I was also thrilled to see all of the Dodgers greats in uniform to take part in the salute to Vin. Seeing Orel Hershiser in the familiar #55 was awesome. I also liked how Vin involved his grandkids with the first pitch which he smoothly delivered to Sandy Koufax.
Sadly, the Dodgers proceeded to play the first two innings on home soil as if they were being managed by Walter Matthau. It was really hard to watch as Hyun-Jin Ryu struggled and his defense completely failed him as well. The Dodgers would go on to to drop the home opener and only managed to take one of three from the hated Giants.
Of course it is still incredibly early in the season, but there is so much to like about this edition of the Dodgers. Like most teams, there are reasons to be concerned but the positives easily outweigh the negatives. Matt Kemp has returned and (knock on wood) has been able to stay on the field. Dee Gordon has stepped up and filled the hole at 2nd base. Gordon could help take this offense to another level. Speed kills! Dee simply needs to follow the sage advice Lou Brown once gave Willie Hayes. In “Major League” Brown instructed Hayes to be “putting the ball on the ground and be legging them out”. So far, Dee has been able to do just that while showing some pop as well. Once Dee reaches base he can wreak havoc on the opposition. Obviously, he is a threat to steal at all times, but just as important is the fact that he can take the pitchers concentration away from home plate. With the likes of Ramirez, Kemp, and Gonzalez and others coming to the plate this spells trouble for the bad guys. Hopefully Dee is able to keep reaching base and locks down his spot at the two bag.
The most obvious concerns lie with injuries. Obviously, when you take a Clayton Kershaw out of your rotation your depth is going to be severely tested. Many teams would not be able to overcome the loss of the staff ace. Thankfully, the Dodgers rotation depth may be their biggest strength. We have seen quality starts from Ryu, Zack Greinke and newcomer Dan Haren, as he attempts to help fill the massive void left by Kershaw’s absence. With these three sitting atop the rotation the Dodgers are still capable of rolling out three quality starters. The back end of the rotation is a cause for concern. I’m hopeful that Josh Beckett can contribute some quality starts once he knocks the rust off, but I am not convinced that Paul Maholm is the answer in the five slot. Maholm’s role with this club would be best served as a left-handed long man option, much the same as Jamey Wright is the right handed option for Don Mattingly.
The loss of A.J. Ellis certainly stings. Ellis value to this team cannot be understated. National League baseball inevitably lends itself to tight low scoring games and having a catcher with the defensive capabilities of an A.J. Ellis is of the utmost importance. Once a runner gets to first base against the Dodgers I am almost hoping for the attempted steal because there is a strong chance they will be gunned down by Ellis. The boost this provides to the entire squad is immeasurable. Ellis had also established himself at the plate. Despite not having flashy numbers, he had gained notoriety for being incredibly patient at the dish. Even in instances where he may not reach base, he could still make a pitcher work, which ultimately helps the Dodgers. I was pleased with Tim Federowicz play last season and I feel as though he will fill in nicely until Ellis returns. Drew Butera will also be given a look. The focus for both of these players should be on the defensive side of things. The lineup is already stacked offensively so any contributions at the dish from either catcher will be gravy. While it hurts to lose A.J. for upwards of six to eight weeks, it is also providing an opportunity to two hungry backups looking to secure their spot with this club.
What really excites me about this squad is the feeling that they are always in the game. There have been a few hiccups early in the season where the team has looked very sloppy. The opening day debacle at Dodger Stadium was a complete disaster. Down 8-0 in the top of the 2nd inning was rather embarrassing.Yet, there were actually several moments in that game where the boys in blue were one big hit or one lucky break away from being right back in the game and perhaps coming all the way back. The Dodgers offense is just that potent which could be vital in the coming months considering the injury bug we’ve encountered early in the season. I still remember the dark days where we could fall behind by three runs early and you could pretty much kiss that game goodbye. As they showed many times last year and early this year, this is a relentless squad that keeps coming at the opposition. Despite being pounded by a brutal travel schedule and some crippling injuries, the good guys currently sit atop their perch in the NL West. Today, we go for the sweep in Arizona, the home of “Pool-Gate”. Sorry Gibby, but your boys are going down today! Think Blue!