The Los Angeles Dodgers have wrapped up their first month of the season, and what a wild and wooly opening month it was!
The Boys in Blue survived the hot bat of old friend, Matt Kemp on Opening Day, to win and take first place in the National League West, and they closed the month out with a strong victory powered by four Dodger home runs to remain in first.
Along the way the team lost Yasiel Puig and found Alex Guerrero. They discovered they may have the shakiest starting pitching rotation, but the strongest bench in the division. They made major league history and got swept by the last place team in the division. Whew!
Here are my ten top observations from the Dodgers’ first month of play:
1. Adrian Gonzalez is THE butter and eggs man once again.
Just as he did last season, Gonzalez came out of the gate at full speed. Last season Gonzalez was unconscious at the start of the season. This year he topped that by getting off to the hottest start (with a bat) in MLB history. He became the first player ever to hit five home runs in his first three games, powering the Dodgers’ April momentum at 11. He cooled off a bit mid-month, but closed out April’s final series against San Francisco with his bat showing signs of heating up again.
2. We really don’t miss Matt Kemp that much.
Prior to the season most observers and fans were asking whatever will the Dodgers do without the bats of Hanley Ramirez and Kemp? Although Kemp represented himself well in the opening series against his former team, the large, ego-sized void that he left behind has been quickly filled by the big bats of too many present Dodgers to list, and by the swift cleats and sure leather of his replacement in center field.
3. Joc Pederson is the real deal.
After a strong spring which earned him a spot on the Opening Day roster, Young Joc has shown himself to be exactly as advertised. The kid patrols center field like a hawk and has made a number of highlight reel catches. Just the other night he made a spectacular over the shoulder catch, running at full speed with his back to the plate, just like Willie Mays woulda done.
Most writers and observant fans knew Joc could play center field, but the question surrounding him this April was – can the kid hit? Pederson has shown not only can he hit, but he can hit for power, and earn walks, and steal bases. Manager Don Mattingly had Pederson buried in the lineup, batting eighth for most of the month, but allowed him to bat leadoff, and Pederson promptly knocked one out of the park.
4. Clayton Kershaw is returning to Earth.
Sure Kershaw is getting his strikeouts, but he’s opened this season showing some troubling signs of being human. He’s getting hit by opposing batters, and getting hit hard. I’ve never seen Kershaw’s pitches missing high and over the plate as often as this year.
For example, the night I went to watch him pitch against the Rockies, he struck out a dozen, but gave up two homers, a double, and assorted singles. In his last start he pitched well enough to win – 7 innings and giving up 2 runs – but he lost because the Dodger bats only gave him one run of support.
5. Andre Ethier surprised everyone this April – except his fans.
Before and during Spring Training the Dodgers did everything but hang a “For Sale” sign around Ethier’s neck. After a decent spring, Skipper Mattingly showed Andre respect and gave him chances to play in spot starts and assorted pinch-hitting opportunities, and Ethier was steady throughout.
When Yasiel Puig went down to injury, Ethier replaced him, and he’s been playing like a man granted a second chance at life. He’s rediscovered his home run swing and last night he made a spectacular diving catch in right-center field. Play on, Dre!
6. Five years in and Don Mattingly still has trouble filling out a batting order.
First of all, he kept young Joc Pederson’s big bat buried far too deep in the lineup for way too long.
Second, he gave too much credit to Carl Crawford by batting him too high in the lineup.
Third, Yasmani Grandal has absolutely no business batting clean up. Ever. Period.
7. Carl Crawford continued being the same old Carl Crawford.
He made a few catches and showed flashes of a bat, just enough to keep Mattingly fooled. However, he couldn’t complete the first month of the season without getting hurt.
8. Word is out that Yasiel Puig is fair game.
At the start of every series against a NL West opponent, the opposing pitcher will throw high and tight to Puig. Higher and tighter than against any other Dodger, and occasionaly they will hit him. Mattingly does not have his pitchers remind the other teams that type of pitching against his star players won’t be tolerated, so the next team repeats the pattern. I’m not a fan of beanball wars, but Yasiel gets hit way too often, and I for one, would like to see some payback.
9. The Dodgers have a great season (and future) coming.
Despite the injuries to Puig and Crawford, the Dodgers are showing great depth off the bench, with nary a bad option to be found among them. Besides all that, the Dodgers’ youth that are getting spot chances (Alex Guerrero, Yimi Garcia) are showing early signs of becoming stars, and the youth in the pipeline (Corey Seager et al) are impressive as well.
10. Vin Scully is just as golden as he ever was.
Listening to the great HOF announcer that I grew up with, in what may be his final season, I am led to hope if there is a heaven, surely there must be a “Chavez Ravine in the clouds” where the Dodgers are eternally playing, and good ol’ Vinny is always calling the game.