Something unusual happened in Los Angeles this weekend.
Clayton Kershaw has been very sharp in his last two starts.
Okay, so what could be unusual in the city that put the “un” in usual? How about the Dodgers sweeping the Chicago Cubs this past weekend? Yes, the Cubs. You know; the team that may have put the “ick” in pathetic. The Dodgers last swept the Cubs at Dodger Stadium way back in 1998. That does indeed sound odd given the Cubs would win 90 games that year but win less than 70 games three of the next four years.
The Dodgers certainly needed to be inhospitable to the Cubs given how the Dodgers looked a lot like the Cubs earlier in the week by going 0 for 3 versus their previous houseguests, the Arizona Diamondbacks. Many are wondering if the Dodgers, who are currently one game back of the Giants in the loss column, can stay in this thing. So here is what should and shouldn’t happen:
The Dodgers will rise in the NL west if:
1. Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley continue their “return to form.”
Kershaw was rocked by the Cardinals for eight runs in just 5.2 innings on July 24th . There was a question whether he could duplicate his amazing final two months of 2011 when he went 8-0 in his final nine starts of the year. But in his last two starts, Kershaw has looked like he did last August. Kershaw is 2-0 and has given up just 8 hits and one run in his last sixteen innings.
Billingsley struggled early in the season and was 4-9 at the All-Star break. Manager Don Mattingly used the break to announce Billingsley was being “demoted” to the number four spot from the number two spot in the rotation. Some thought if the Dodgers acquired another starter by the trade deadline, Billingsley would be the odd man out. Maybe something snapped.
Since returning from a stint on the 15 day DL on July 23rd, Billingsley is 3-0 and has surrendered just two earned runs in his last 20.1 innings. The question is whether Billingsley can erase recent history and maintain this pace down the stretch. Billingsley is a disappointing 7-13 in the final two months of the season dating back to 2010.
2. The no-names continue to let opposing pitchers know their names
One of the most pleasant surprises, on the offensive side of the ball at least, has been the productivity of catcher A.J. Ellis. Ellis is batting .289 with 10 home runs and 33 RBI. Unfortunately, his percentage of throwing out base stealers is among the lowest of starting catchers. Still, as a player who played in 541 minor league games and only 87 major league games before this season, Ellis has certainly added a bit of pop to the bottom third of a questionable line-up.
And speaking of career minor leaguers, infielder Luis Cruz had only been able to make it to “The Show” for a total of 56 games after toiling in the minor leagues for five different organizations since 2001. An injury to Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon saw Cruz called up at the beginning of July. It might be tough for him to go back down again.
Cruz has done a lot in the 27 games he has played. He has nine doubles and 18 RBI. The last time Cruz played in 27 major league games in one season was 2008 with the Pirates. He had one double and two RBI in those games. Cruz is a big reason the Dodgers have hung in the race despite having gone 15-25 between June 15th and July 31st. He ran off a surprising 12-game hitting streak between July 18th and July 29th; the Dodgers went 8-3 during that time.
3. Keeping up with the somebody’s
The Dodgers are a combined 14-7 against the five other NL teams (Washington, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, San Francisco) that would make the postseason if it started today. And they are 22-20 against the NL West. Keep beating those teams and good things will happen.
The Dodgers will sink in the West if:
1. Pitcher Chris Capuano can’t regroup.
Since closing out May with a 7-1 record, Capuano is just 3-6. He has given up 11 runs in his last two starts. Mattingly “promoted” Capuano to the number two spot in the rotation last month. Let’s hope Capuano doesn’t drop a number two.
2. Top o’ the line-up keeps going 0-fer.
Lead-off batter Shane Victorino is just 2 for 17 since joining the Dodgers on August 1. Clean-up batter Andre Ethier is 3 for 17 in August and hasn’t hit a home run since July 14th. Up until he drove in two runs in Sunday’s 7-6 win over the Cubs, Ethier didn’t have an RBI in his previous 12 games. And number two hitter Mark Ellis, who was batting .273 until he suffered a serious leg injury in May, is batting just .231 since returning to the team on July 4th.
3. They get no bull (pen).
The Dodgers have 15 blown saves this season. They are tied for the fourth most in baseball and are first among teams over .500. Relievers Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen, and Ronald Belisario, all expected to be able to close out games, have been prone to inconsistency. If the Dodgers had even matched the Giants 11 blown saves, they’d be on top of the division. Last year, Southern California baseball fans watched painfully as the Angels lost out on their bid for the postseason due, in large part, to leading the league in blown saves (25). Dodgers fans don’t want a deja vu’ all over again.