With injuries finally taking toll, team's flaws more apparent
By Sarah D. Morris
This past week, the Los Angeles Dodgers began to stumble and to show their weaknesses. It will be a difficult race to the National League West title.
In April, when everything was going the Dodgers' way, it seemed like they might win their division in a cakewalk. This is baseball. No matter how good a team is, it is going to struggle at times during the long season.
The Dodgers have had many unexpected problems, and they have dealt with them well until recently. No one knows when Yasiel Puig (hamstring tightness) or Carl Crawford (torn oblique) will return to the active roster. Their absences have weakened the offense, even though both Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke have performed well. On Friday night against the Padres, the Dodgers ended a 35-inning scoreless drought, one inning shy of establishing a Los Angeles record for the longest scoreless-inning streak. Also on Friday night, Yasmani Grandal was hit twice in the head, causing a mild concussion. He is out at least seven days, and this further weakens the offense.
When the Dodgers were averaging five runs a game, it was easy to ignore their potential starting rotation problems. Now it's glaring. Hyun-Jin Ryu underwent shoulder surgery last week to repair a torn left labrum. When he came to the Dodgers prior to the 2013 season, he had the injury but thought he could pitch with it. This season, Ryu couldn't even start a Major League game. He hopes to be ready by next spring.
The national media likes Carlos Frias, a rookie starter for the Dodgers. He throws hard all of the time. Frias doesn't have a good breaking ball, so the opposing teams can look for his above-average fastball and ignore his other pitches. His control isn't that good, so he throws too many pitches, resulting in short outings. Manager Don Mattingly likes Frias' makeup because he doesn't get too depressed after he has had a bad performance. Frias' pitching style is more suited to be a reliever than a starter, especially if he can conquer his control problems.
It appears the Dodgers have found a diamond in the rough in Mike Bolsinger. He has won his first three starts for the Dodgers. On Saturday, Bolsinger allowed a leadoff single and then retired the next 23 batters in order.
Since the Arizona Diamondbacks released Bolsinger last offseason, many baseball people assume he isn't a good starter. The D-backs desperately needed any kind of pitching, so why would they release a promising starting pitcher?
In every game that Bolsinger has pitched for the Dodgers, he has demonstrated great control. He knows how to change speeds well to keep batters off-balance. No matter what the situation is, Bolsinger doesn't look panicked or hurry his mechanics. He also can field his position well.
Clayton Kershaw, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner and NL MVP Award winner, hasn't performed the way he has grown accustomed. He hasn't pitched badly, but he also hasn't been getting enough offensive support to offset his dip in dominance.
Injuries to the starting rotation have put more stress on the Dodgers' bullpen. The Dodgers have had only one complete game this year. So far, the bullpen has handled the workload well, but can it continue for the entire season?
The Dodgers are the only division leader with a losing record on the road. On Monday against the Braves, the Dodgers ended their offensive slump when Ethier, Alex Guerrero and Jimmy Rollins blasted home runs. It remains to be seen if the Dodgers can generate enough offense to help cover their potential pitching problems for the rest of the season.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.