Would you believe, the part of this article that took me the longest was to decide whether the week that just ended was week two or week three? Fortunately for me, I did the smart thing and look at the first installment of this series, excellently written by Blake Coble last week. See, he made the astute call to just impound the couple of games from the end of March into the first week. No muss, no fuss. I digress, you’re not here to read about my pseudo-creative dilemmas. Here is a brief but astute Dodgers recap for the week.
Record for the week: 2-3
Season record: 5-9
Well, when you only win two out of five games in a week where you face off against an American League cellar dweller and a division rival, the good isn’t always something that jumps out. In this case though, some key pitchers stood out on their merits. First, Hyun Jin Ryu was utterly dominant in his start against the A’s, throwing six shutout frames and striking out eight.
It shouldn’t come as any huge surprise when a talented pitcher has a great game, but Ryu’s first start of the season was an oil spill in which he couldn’t find the plate and didn’t complete four innings. Bad starts happen but when they happen to a guy who missed two full seasons with a bum shoulder, they conjure up some fears. If his last start was any indicator though, Ryu is healthy and primed to offer great production from the number five spot in the rotation.
Another pitcher whose season got off to a dubious start was closer Kenley Jansen. First, there was a game-losing home run to Joe Panik. Then a game-tying three run shot to Chris Owings to cap off a blown save. Then a somewhat rickety save conversion against the Giants. That brutal cutter of his, normally sitting in the 93-94 mph range was hovering around 90, and the whispers were starting. Well, whether it was a mechanical tweak or merely rounding into form, the velocity is creeping back up and his last couple of outings were back to what we expect from our dominant closer. The heater isn’t quite all the way back to where it has been, but it’s getting there.
Lastly, and this should come as no surprise, but ace Clayton Kershaw delivered his best performance of the young season to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Diamondbacks, fanning 12 over seven dominant innings, a solo shot by Paul Goldschmidt accounting for Arizona’s only run. Kershaw is getting a little more dinger-prone as we progress later in his career, but it appears to simply be a cost of doing business. His approach of throwing first pitch fastball strikes makes him a little more vulnerable, but his commitment to getting ahead in the count is a big reason why he’s so frequently able to complete seven or eight innings in a very manageable number of pitches. He’s still the best in the game, no offense to Max Scherzer or Corey Kluber.
Honorable mention: Yasiel Puig’s results are starting to match his peripherals. Despite a great average exit velocity, he was hitting less than .200. After a couple of doubles on Saturday and a couple of runs knocked in on Sunday, it appears his luck may be on the upswing. He’s one to watch in the near future.
The bullpen. It’s one thing if your stud ace gives up one or two solo shots over seven or eight quality innings, but when your guys whose job is getting one to three hitters out start giving up long balls, you start feeling like leads aren’t safe late in games. The loss of Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson from last year’s World Series runner-up roster figured to leave a little bit of a mark, but the front office has done a good job in recent years of finding quality relief pitching on the cheap.
However, this year’s crop of JT Chargois, Wilmer Font (more on him later), and Tony Cingrani have all been victimized. Scott Alexander hasn’t given up any long balls. But apart from two solid innings in mop up duty on Saturday, he’s giving up far too many base runners. Early returns on Ross Stripling and Pedro Baez have been good, but neither enjoyed a great end to 2017. So those memories are still fresh in our minds. It’s still early and guys have time to round into form, but the team’s best reinforcement waiting in AAA is Walker Buehler. Who by the way, the team would much rather have start than relieve. It’s not time to push the panic button, but maybe dust it off just in case things don’t improve soon.
Alex Wood and Rich Hill. Both lefties had clunkers. Both can be excused to a degree. Wood had food poisoning. Hill was victimized by a couple of excellent right-handed hitters. Both are relentlessly fierce competitors and will bounce back. Nothing to see here, folks.
Corey Seager. He’s still not hitting. For as long as Justin Turner is out of the lineup, they need him to. A .200 average and a sub-.300 slugging percentage isn’t going to do it. He’s still great, and unless there’s some lingering elbow pain, it’s a matter of time before he turns it on. Nothing to see here either.
Chase Utley. He IS hitting. Sure, it’s a tiny sample size but his 133 OPS+ dwarfs the 71 OPS+ of Kiké Hernandez. Utley, much to the chagrin of many, was brought back on a two-year deal to provide veteran leadership in the clubhouse, and fill in maybe once a week at second base. If he’s playing enough in April that his offensive contributions are worth noting, it means that someone else isn’t. In this case, it’s Kiké.
I told you there would be more on Wilmer Font. In the off-season, Font was a popular dark horse pick to possibly be the fifth starter, or at worst, be a right-handed long reliever out of the pen. Then in Spring Training, he did just about anything he could to pitch his way out of a job. But, the combination of him being out of options and an intoxicating 12 K/9 rate in AAA in 2017 landed him a bullpen spot.
He’s been nothing short of appalling. He’s given up five home runs, and 13 runs total on 18 hits over 9 1/3 innings. There’s talent there, and teams without designs of competing in 2018 would have justification in keeping him on their roster. The Dodgers were one game short of winning a World Series in 2017. And despite key departures from the pitching staff, were expecting to contend again. On a contending team, every roster spot matters.
Sigh… it’s early. But at the moment, the team isn’t great to watch. They do this. They toil in mediocrity for a couple of months before flipping the proverbial switch in June and making a run. Their next four series are against the Padres, Nationals, Marlins and Giants. The Nats are always tough, especially when they can throw Scherzer and Strasburg at you in the same series. But the other three series have get well written all over them. Let’s hope this early season malaise wears off quickly, shall we?
Did I miss anything? Let us know on Twitter @thestainsports and @DodgersNation. Thank you for reading.
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