It wasn’t supposed to be like this; at least not in the National League.
The All-Star break finds the NL divisions headed up by teams that were, for the most part, not expected to be there. Several prognosticators were willing to buy into the idea of the Pirates and Nationals being teams on the rise (kudos to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports who picked Washington to win the NL East) but not quite ready to join the big boys club. On the other hand, the then-ongoing tenuous ownership situation made it difficult to take the Dodgers too seriously (although another round of kudos to Heyman who picked the Dodgers as a wild-card).
Yet this Dodgers team has made do with the cards a bankrupt owner dealt them. On May 30th, the Dodgers somehow managed to lay claim to the best record in baseball (32-18). Then just as the adrenaline rush of a bright future with new owners and an overachieving team could kick in, disaster struck. Matt Kemp went on the DL for the second time this season and was followed by pitcher Ted Lilly (on the 60 day DL) and outfielder Andre Ethier (15 day DL). The holes in the line-up and rotation finally saw this team begin to crumble as many thought it would. The Dodgers enter the break having lost 11 of their last 15. So the cup may be half full but all the injuries have created several leaks. Still, if you had told me the Dodgers would be in first place come July 9th, I would have told you Mitt Romney had no chance in November.
So who are the names in this no-name line-up that have helped put the Dodgers where they are now? And who has been responsible for this latest swoon? Here is a quick list of compliments complemented by a list of those who deserve one handed claps.
Three cheers for:
Chris Capuano (SP): This winter’s signing of Capuano,33, was looked at more as a sign the bankruptcy was forcing the Dodgers to add also-rans than a legitimate upgrade to the starting rotation. After all, Capuano was a survivor of two Tommy John surgeries and hadn’t compiled a winning record since 2005. Forget the past. Capuano has become one of the biggest reasons the Dodgers find themselves at the top. He is 9-4 with a 2.91 ERA. Until he was tagged for five runs this past Sunday, Capuano had not allowed more than four runs in any of his previous 17 starts. Manager Don Mattingly recently revamped the rotation to make Capuano, who began the season considered the fourth starter behind Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Ted Lilly, the number two starter behind Kershaw.
Ronald Belisario (RP): If baseball was software, Belisario would be called Version 3.0. Belisario, 29, who meandered in the Marlins and Pirates organizations between 2001 and 2008, signed with the Dodgers in 2009 and paid immediate dividends. He played a big part in the Dodgers run to the NLCS that year by going 4-3 with a 2.04 ERA as a late inning reliever. Then his fall began, and I’m not talking about October. A drunk driving arrest towards the end of the ’09 season eventually revealed a full blown substance abuse problem. Those issues delayed his return to the U.S. in 2010 and Belisario couldn’t rejoin the team until almost a month into the season. He finished the season with a 5.04 ERA but the worse was still yet to come. Once again, Belisario was “trapped” in Venezuela and it caused him to miss the entire 2011 campaign. He appeared to be losing it completely when a pre-spring training drug test registered positive for cocaine. Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Belisario for the first 25 games of the 2012 season. For whatever reason, the Dodgers believed in him when fans believed this man’s luck had run out. Lucky for Dodgers fans.
Belisario seems to have erased the last two years and looks a lot like the 2009 version of himself. He has once again emerged as the key 7th and 8th inning guy. Before Sunday’s rough outing against the D-backs ( 1 IP, 2 earned runs), Belisario was 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA He has definitely proven he can handle the phone call to the pen as rapidly as anyone else-before this weekend, Belisario had retired 22 of the 27 first batters he faced. He has blown just one lead in 29 appearances. Ironically, Belisario would end up the winner in that one game. As long as Belisario can keep his demons at bay, he just may be the late inning angel the Dodgers need come crunch time.
A.J. Ellis (C). Entering 2012, the catcher position appeared to be one of the biggest holes on the roster. After Rod Barajas bolted for the Pirates, the torch was passed to A.J. Ellis. Ellis, 31, had been in the Dodgers organization since 2003 yet was called up to the big leagues for a total of just 87 games over that time. He has played 543 games in the minors. Although he hasn’t exactly hit the cover off the ball, Ellis is giving the Dodgers way more productivity than anyone could expect. In 68 games, he is batting .285 with 7 home runs and 28 RBI.
And jeers for:
Chad Billingsley (SP). Billingsley has once again failed to be the “number 2″ guy to follow Clayton Kershaw. He is 4-9 with a 4.30 ERA and has lost his last five starts. Since 2009, a season Billingsley began as the ace of the staff, his record is a mediocre 39-42. Billingsley was on the other end of this week’s rotation revamp by Mattingly. He is now in the number four spot behind Kershaw, Capuano, and Aaron Harang. If the Dodgers pick up another starter, don’t be surprised if Billingsley finds himself in the bullpen.
Juan Uribe (3B) and James Loney (1B). Theses two loads have combined for a .228 BA, 3 HR, and 37 RBI. Pathetic. Uribe doesn’t even appear to be trying. Loney is the definition of inconsistency. At least Manny Ramirez produced while disappointing us with his cheating; these two are giving us just the disappointing part.