The Los Angeles Dodgers just finished the first half of their season with 44 wins and 37 losses and six games out of first place. The theme of this season for the Dodgers has been resiliency. When the season began, nobody would have thought the Dodgers would survive twelve players on the disabled list sometime during the season. Jim Tracy has done wonderfully keeping his team together and focused on a common goal. In the past the media has called the Dodgers underachievers, but this season the media must call the Dodgers overachievers.
The Dodgers have injuries everywhere this season, so they have relied on bench players to win games. Though injuries are a part of baseball, it seems the Dodgers have had more than their share. All of their infielders, except Alex Cora, have been on the disabled list. Gary Sheffield missed fifteen games with an injured finger. Three starters have been on the disabled list putting increased stress on the bullpen. Mike Fetters is on the disabled list with a sore neck. Before Thursday the Dodgers have had their projected lineup only once this season.
The Dodgers expected Kevin Brown would be their ace in 2001. Although Brown has pitched well, he has spent two separate times on the disabled list. With an Achilles' tendon problem Brown began the season on the disabled list and missed his first start of the season. He suffered several minor injuries, but they did not affect his performance. Having three straight poor outings in May, Brown revealed he had a sore neck. For three weeks Brown was on the disabled list with an inflamed nerve in his neck. In 13 games he has seven wins and three losses with a 2.77 ERA.
Last year Chan Ho Park matured into a brilliant starter, and his maturation progress has continued this season. Jim Tracy honored Park when he chose him to start on opening day, and Park did not allow a run. Park has had fourteen straight quality starts (going at least six innings and allowing no more than three runs). Park has eight wins and three losses with a 2.91 ERA in eighteen games. When Brown was on the disabled list, Park helped to lead the pitching staff.
Darren Dreifort has had a rough season. After signing a five-year $55 million contract, Dreifort received much criticism when he did not perform well. In sixteen games he has four wins and seven losses with a 5.13 ERA. Not many knew it, but Dreifort has been pitching with a painful stiff elbow. Last Friday Dreifort had to leave the game with a sprained elbow. Though the Dodgers do not know the extent of his injury until an MRI is taken Tuesday, they know Dreifort has a tear in the medial collateral ligament, which was repaired in 1995. The Dodgers hope Dreifort's injury is not career threatening nor season-ending.
With Andy Ashby's season-ending injury the Dodgers have relied on Luke Prokopec. Prokopec, who skipped triple-A, has done well with six wins and four losses with a 4.11 ERA. When Eric Gagne failed in the major leagues, Terry Adams was given an opportunity to become a starter and has done well.
When the Dodgers' rotation has struggled, it has put increased stress on the bullpen. The Dodgers' bullpen has an ERA of 4.38. Matt Herges and Jeff Shaw have been anchors of the bullpen. Herges has been remarkable pitching every day. Gregg Olson could not perform satisfactorily, so the Dodgers released him. The Dodgers have searched for a quality left-handed reliever. Neither Jose Antonio Nuñez nor Jesse Orosco has done satisfactorily. Lately Jeff Williams and Al Reyes have done exceptionally.
The Dodgers were not built for offensive production, but they have scored enough to win. They have averaged 4.8 runs a game. This is remarkable considering the Dodgers have not had their projected lineup many times. Tom Goodwin has proven he cannot be a productive leadoff hitter when he had a .302 on-base percentage. Gary Sheffield has not had a career year. Eric Karros, who has been hampered with back problems, is batting .244. Alex Cora has not proven he can hit major league pitching when he hits .215.
The Dodgers have had some spectacular offensive performances that have helped them to stay in the divisional race. Before the season began, the media believed the Dodgers would not get much offensive production from Paul Lo Duca. Lo Duca, not known for power, has eleven home runs while having a .340 batting average.
A month ago I wrote that Shawn Green was the most disappointing Dodger hitter. However, since then, Green has performed amazingly when he hit .327 in June. He responded well when he was the only established power hitter. He leads the Dodgers in home runs and RBI with twenty home runs and 64 RBI. His batting average of .295 is highly respectable.
Mark Grudzielanek has been amazing considering that he has played most of the season with a partially torn ligament in his thumb. He has batted .317 with eight home runs and 34 RBI.
Coming off a bad season with the Milwaukee Brewers, Marquis Grissom has been a Godsend for the Dodger clubhouse. His personality and people skills helped the Dodgers to get through the Gary Sheffield situation this spring. Grissom has batted .270 with fifteen home runs and 42 RBI. Because he performed so well while Gary Sheffield was on the disabled list, Grissom has stolen the center field job from Tom Goodwin.
As in the past, the Dodgers do not have good defense. A renewed importance on the defense has helped but has not solved all of the problems. Most Dodgers are satisfactory defensive players. Alex Cora has committed thirteen errors in 63 games, and he does not have much range. Adrian Beltre has seven errors in 45 games. If the Dodger left side does not improve, the Dodgers will be in trouble.
With all of their injuries it is remarkable the Dodgers are hanging in their divisional race. If the Dodgers can win 50 out of the remaining 81 games, they might go the playoffs for the first time since 1996. The Dodgers need to trade for a starter, but they should not trade Mark Grudzielanek.