Spring has sprung. Although in the case of the Los Angeles area baseball teams, they haven’t quite found the spring in their steps.
The Dodgers have just one win in their last seven games. Statistically, they aren’t exactly keeping company with the best of the rest. They rank 29th in the majors in runs scored. Only the Miami Marlins have done worse. The Dodgers also rank next to last in the NL in home runs, ahead of only, you guessed it, Miami. Of course, the Marlins have an excuse.
Their owner, Jeff Loria, is deliberately destroying the team as a way to eventually sell it and make a huge profit. The Dodgers, on the other hand, are working to rebuild the rubble left behind by the closest thing the L.A. has to Loria, former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.
Meanwhile, about 30 miles (or a two hour drive on these freeways) south of Dodger Stadium, the Angels aren’t exactly grabbing the local headlines. They won just four of their first fourteen games. They have won three of their last four so the hope is there is light at the end of the tunnel. Still, at 7-11, the light could still be an oncoming train.
So with both teams lower in the standings than fans expected, the phones of the Los Angeles area sports talk shows are ringing off the hook. Naturally, each fan has a solution to all that ails these teams. Still, it is interesting to hear the differences between Angels and Dodgers fans as to reasons for each team’s disappointing start.
For Angels fans, the focus is mostly on manager Mike Scioscia. In spite of throwing hundreds of millions of $$ at free agents, the Angels have not appeared in the postseason since 2009 which makes it easier to blame the people running the team more than those running the bases.
Last year, batting coach Mickey Hatcher was fired in early May after the team finished April with an 8-15 record. Scioscia appeared vindicated when the Angels ended up going 81-58 the rest of the way. This season’s 7-11 start has brought up the name of yet another member of the coaching staff, Mike Butcher, the pitching coach.
Up until this past weekend, the overall staff ERA was a league worst 5.43. Holding the Tigers to just four runs in their series moved the team up to 12th in the AL. So if Butcher gets the blame today, will it all turn on Scioscia tomorrow?
Meanwhile, back in March, Magic Johnson fired what could be construed as the first shot across manager Don Mattingly’s bow when he stated it would be unacceptable if the Dodgers failed to make the postseason. Add to that the Dodgers somewhat nonchalant approach to extending Mattingly’s contract beyond this season and you have a recipe for ownership ready to look at the coaching staff before the players. No one has yet to utter Mattingly’s name as the sole reason for the team’s 8-10 start. The focus, for now, is all on whether or not the Dodgers truly have the talent to be a World Series contender.
Getting beyond struggling stars Matt Kemp(who was batting .206 before a three-hit game versus the Orioles on Sunday) and Andre Ethier(.230), the Dodgers have way too many questions at the back end of the line-up. In Saturday’s early game verus the Orioles, where the DH was used, the number six through nine batters had a combined .122 average. Catcher Ramon Hernandez was at .111, utility player Craig Schumaker at .100, infielders Luis Cruz and Justin Sellers were at .093 and .186 respectively. These guys make Bob Uecker, with his .199 lifetime batting average, look like a superstar.
The starting pitching staff is also in tatters right now. Zack Greinke is out with a broken collarbone, Chad Billingsley went on the DL with another arm problem and might be facing season-ending surgery. Of course, Billingsley has never really lived up to the expectations many foresaw for him when he went 16-10 in 2008 but his injury is highlighting how “shallow” the depth of the rotation might be.
Josh Beckett and rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu have been erratic this season. Beckett gave up six runs in his last start, Ryu five. An injury to Chris Capuano, a starter last year who was relegated to the bullpen until Greinke went down, saw the Dodgers have to reach down into the minors for last Sunday’s starter, Stephen Fife.
Fortunately, Carl Crawford has apparently bounced back from last year’s elbow surgery and is hitting .338. All-Star infielder Hanley Ramirez, who had surgery to repair his injured thumb, is saying he could return sooner than expected. So the hope is the offense can finally live up to their billing.
The injuries and lack of depth has probably staved off those who might want to question if Mattingly is the right guy to get the most from this team. Sports columnist Michael Wilbon recently stated on the ESPN show, “Pardon the Interruption,” that Magic is not blaming Mattingly. Angels owner Arte Moreno hasn’t been quoted by anyone; he has been silent as to Sciosca’s current standing.
So for now, the managers of both Los Angeles teams appear to be as safe and secure as a Los Angeles area weather report in May. Then again, the winds can blow here when you least expect it.