Return to health key for Dodgers to rebound

Return to health key for Dodgers to rebound

Return to health key for Dodgers to rebound
LOS ANGELES -- General Motors, Larry King, Donald Trump, the Texas Rangers. They all filed for bankruptcy.

They all recovered.

The Dodgers hope a four-game winning streak leading into the All-Star break signals the start of a turnaround in a season that, so far, has been unreal on the field and surreal off it.

"We felt at the start of the season we had a competitive club without margin for error or injury," general manager Ned Colletti said. "Then we got banged up pretty good in key areas. Last year we had four All-Stars -- Rafael Furcal, Hong-Chih Kuo, Jonathan Broxton and Andre Ethier. So far, one of the four [Ethier] has been healthy enough to play regularly in the first half. Take any team, four All-Stars and only one healthy enough to play and see how that affects the club.

"That said, we need to execute better in the second half and gain the confidence that we can, and we'll be in buying mode at the [Trade] Deadline, as usual. I'm still confident we can make a run, pick up a game a week and be in a decent spot. We still have a load of games in the division."

AT THE BREAK
First-half awards
  1. MVP: Matt Kemp -- Not just for the team, but maybe for the league as a Triple Crown candidate.
  2. Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw -- Ace of the staff at 23, he just keeps getting better.
  3. Rookie: Rubby De La Rosa -- Stepped into the starting rotation out of Double-A and figures to stay there a long time.
  4. Top reliever: Blake Hawksworth -- A winner by default, as virtually the entire bullpen has been injured.
Players to watch in the second half
  1. Dee Gordon: He's got some learning to do, but he's exciting, athletic and he wants to be good.
  2. Trayvon Robinson: He continues to improve at Triple-A and figures to get a callup sooner or later.
  3. Juan Uribe: The Dodgers knew they weren't signing Albert Pujols, but they need run production from Uribe if they will make any noise in the second half.

The Dodgers have suffered 20 disabling injuries costing nearly 550 player/days. They've lost for varying periods three of their four starting infielders, three catchers, virtually the entire bullpen, two outfielders and a starting pitcher.

Among the injuries, lack of roster depth, legal distractions and whatever else has gone wrong, not even All-Star performances from Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw have mitigated the mess.

Since moving to Los Angeles, the Dodgers have never finished first after trailing at the All-Star break by more than five games and have never overcome a deficit of more than 7 1/2 games at any time of the season to finish first.

"When the season started, I thought we'd be in the mix, and at this point, we're on the outskirts," manager Don Mattingly said. "We have tons of games left in the division [42 of 70]. I'm not cashing in any chips, that's for sure."

So, after losing too many games in the first half, how can they turn that around and make a second-half run?

"For one thing, I'd like to see us get healthy and see the team that we thought we'd have out there," Colletti said.

"We need to get Juan Uribe turned around," Mattingly said of the club's key winter offensive acquisition who has struggled hitting both for average and power.

"We need to have a healthy Rafael Furcal," Mattingly continued. "While I've been here, as Furcal goes, so goes the team."

The Dodgers need production from left field. Tony Gwynn now holds down the position that has had seven players this year, including Jay Gibbons and Marcus Thames, who were supposed to platoon there. Gibbons is at Triple-A and Thames has only seven RBIs.

The Dodgers also need resolution in Casey Blake's situation. He's supposed to be the starting third baseman, but at 37 he's on the disabled list for the third time this season.

Club breakdowns
Video recaps

For the second consecutive season, one of the steadiest players is Jamey Carroll. Management views him as a role player, although the role he winds up playing has been that of a starter, and he's done it very well. He plays to his strengths, fundamentally sound offensively and defensively, he plays hurt and doesn't complain.

"It's been a constant uphill battle for us," he said. "We need to do a better job hitting with runners in scoring position. We've lost a lot of games when better situational hitting by everybody would have made a difference."

If there is no rebound, the Dodgers can deal away pending free agents like Hiroki Kuroda and Furcal and use what's left of the season to get a first-hand evaluation of the few prospects in the farm system.

Rookies Rubby De La Rosa and Dee Gordon have already shown glimpses of their capabilities. Fellow rookies Javy Guerra and Scott Elbert have filled in nicely in the bullpen.

Josh Lindblom pitched better than expected during his brief callup. Jerry Sands struggled before being sent back to the Minor Leagues, where outfielder Trayvon Robinson continues his seasoning for a likely callup later this year.

Of course, no summary of this Dodgers season is complete without considering the possible effects of the unsettled ownership, which shows no signs of a quick solution.

Mattingly insists it hasn't translated into losses, but is it possible the endless distraction really has made no difference on the field?

"Who knows?" Blake said. "It probably hasn't. I don't know. If somebody believes in negative energy, it could play a part. Nobody's using it as an excuse.

"I'd like to think the injuries have played a pretty big part. At times we've hit, for the most part we've pitched well, but we just haven't been able to fire on all cylinders at the same time."

Carroll won't use off-the-field drama to deflect on-the-field failure.

"That has nothing to do with us," he said. "When I'm taking a swing in the cage, I'm not thinking what the court's going to rule. It has nothing to do with my ability to play baseball."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.