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Don Mattingly Has the Dodgers Rolling

July 20, 2013 | By RotoRob | comment on this post
Stephen Fife will be back soon for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Stephen Fife could add some kick to the Dodgers’ rotation.

It was just a couple of months ago that speculation was rampant that Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly was on thin ice. In fact, in a mid-May Podcast, we predicted he was done like dinner.

Um, maybe not.

Less than a month ago, the Dodgers were 30-42, having sunk to dead last in the NL West, 5.5 games behind the fourth-place Rockies.

Donnie Ball clearly wasn’t translating to the left coast.

Since then, however, this team hasn’t just righted the ship; it’s completely turned this boat right around.

After walking into Washington to win the opener of their three-game series against the Nats 3-2 Friday night, LA has moved above .500 for the first time since it was 7-6 in mid-April. The Dodgers are 18-5 since hitting rock bottom on June 21, and now find themselves in second in the NL West, just a game and a half back of Arizona, which is spinning its wheels of late, and three games up on the third-place Rockies, who are fading after a nice couple of months.

Welcome to the Wild NL West, arguably the most mediocre, yet competitive division with no team better than four games over .500 or worse than 13 games under.

Let’s talk about how the Dodgers have turned things around so quickly.

The key factors:

  • The Dodgers are doing an excellent job of getting on base (eighth in walks), but obviously lack the ability to deliver (just 25th in runs).
  • The overall pitching performance has compensated for a lack of clutch offense – especially the rotation, which has really carried this team.
  • The rotation could get a boost soon as Stephen Fife (shoulder), is making progress. He’s been out nearly two weeks, but it sounds like he’s nearly ready to pitch in some rehab outings before rejoining the Dodgers. Fife was doing a better job of going deeper into his starts this year, so he’ll strengthen an already stellar rotation.
  • Speaking of the rotation, Zack Greinke is rolling now, having won five straight starts with a chance to earn his 100th career win Saturday in Washington. After his collarbone injury, he really struggled to find his game, but man, talk about being in the zone now – he has a 2.50 ERA with a .208 BAA during his winning streak, including a two-hit shutout in his last start for his first complete game of the year (check out the highlights in the video below). By the way, Greinke loves facing the Nats (3-0, 1.86 in his career against them).
  • Chris Capuano, who has also dealt with injuries this year, will take the mound Tuesday in Toronto in his first start in almost two weeks. He’s struggling through his worst season, ERA-wise, since 2007, but he’s generally looked better since a real ugly first few weeks. If Capuano can match what he did in his last start (six shutout innings, eight Ks, no walks), he can help this team and potentially be worth looking at in NL-only leagues.
  • Ted Lilly (neck) is also making progress, and his return would give the rotation another option. He’s going to throw a simulated game Saturday and then another one next week in Toronto. Lilly has missed over six weeks, and once he returns, he’s probably ticketed for the bullpen, where hopefully he can stay healthy. Still, it’s nice to have that kind of rotation depth should injuries strike later in the second half.
  • On offense, uber rookie Yasiel Puig – perhaps the key man in the Dodgers turnaround – returned to the lineup Friday after missing a couple of games with a hip woe. Unfortunately, he continued his recent struggles, going 0-for-4 with another two strikeouts, but he if he can stay healthy, he should get it going again soon. Keeping Puig in the lineup is a key to the Dodgers’ continued success in the second half.
  • Carl Crawford, who missed a couple of games recently with a back injury, got good news from his MRI and was back Friday, although he also looked rusty (0-for-4 with a strikeout). CC is absolutely scuffling now, but he’s already managed to stay healthier than he did in 2012, so we expect the production to follow. Don’t forget how hot he was to start the season.
  • Of course, if Puig and Crawford can’t shake their injury woes, perhaps Skip Schumaker will get more PT. We like what we’ve seen out of him in limited action this month (8-for-19), although overall, he’s not hitting nearly as well as he did for the Cards last year.
  • 2B Mark Ellis (leg) was also back Friday, and came through with a pair of hits as he tries to shake off a slump that started in May. Health woes seem to limit him more every year, and at the age of 36, that isn’t going to suddenly improve, leaving him as an NL-only league asset at best.
  • Back in the outfield, it was nearly forgotten man Andre Ethier who played the hero Friday, spanking a leadoff home run in the top of the ninth off Washington closer Rafael Soriano to give the Dodgers a lead they would not relinquish. Ethier has actually been red hot in July, albeit in limited action. He simply hasn’t hit as well this year, so let’s hope his nice July doesn’t devolve into his usual second-half swoon.
  • Still in the outfield, the Dodgers got some good news on the Matt Kemp (shoulder) front on Friday as he looked very good in batting practice and in a simulated game. He’s expected back Sunday, so let’s hope he can build on what he was showing earlier this month when his power started to return. A renewal of Kemp’s extra-base pop is a huge key for the Dodgers’ hopes.

Now tell us what you think. Leave a comment below and let us know where you think the Dodgers will finish in the NL West this year.

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