If the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to turn things around this season, it may come down to the number four.
Players, that is.
The Dodgers $147 million man, Zack Greinke, returned to the rotation Wednesday night for the first time since April 11th and pitched well in the Dodgers’ 3-1 win over the Nationals. He gave up one run over 5.1 innings of work.
“It’s pretty amazing what this guy was able to do tonight,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said in relation to Greinke’s first start since breaking his collarbone in a brawl with Carlos Quentin of the Padres. Greinke’s return may be just one step in a four step process to get the Dodgers turned around.
Step one, of course, is Clayton Kershaw. And the man delivers in more ways than one. He has given up just two runs in his last four starts and currently leads the National League in ERA and innings pitched. He trails only the Pirates AJ Burnett in strikeouts. The new question isn’t if Kershaw will become a $200 million pitcher; the question is when.
Kershaw is in the second year of a three year, $19 million contract and can become a free agent after the 2014 season. There have been rumblings of a long term contract but nothing of substance. It seems like Kershaw can command more after each start. Justin Verlander’s $180 million deal with the Tigers (an option could bring the final number to $202 million) is simply going to be the starting point for Kershaw.
Part three of the puzzle is Matt Kemp. Without a healthy Kemp, the Dodgers chances of going to the playoffs are slim and none. There was plenty to worry about when Kemp was hitting .206 in mid-April. The thought was Kemp hadn’t recovered from off season shoulder surgery. Although it appears Kemp is still lacking “pop” in his swing as evidenced by his one home run in 2013, he is currently on a 14 game hitting streak and hitting .342 over his last 10 games.
The quartet is rounded out by Andre Ethier. Ethier, like Kemp, struggled in April and was hitting just .244 at month’s end. Fortunately, May is a different story. Ethier is batting .311 for the month and has eight hits in his last five games.
The hitters acquired in last season’s trade with the Red Sox have done reasonably well. Adrian Gonzalez is batting .349 and leads the team in RBI’s with 27. The issue is whether Gonzalez will be able to provide the power hitting the Dodgers thought they were getting. He has hit just 22 home runs dating back to last season after averaging 32 home runs a season the previous five years. My hunch is baseball’s crackdown on PED’s may be a factor in there somewhere.
Outfielder Carl Crawford is currently batting .311 and has become the “spark” at the top of the line-up the Dodgers haven’t had since Rafael Furcal.
Unfortunately, pitcher Josh Beckett looks exactly like the pitcher who Red Sox fans believed lost his desire to pitch when he admitted to golfing on his days off. Beckett is 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA this season and is just 2-8 as a Dodger dating back to last season. Beckett has pitched more than six innings just once in his eight starts this season. He recently went on the 15 day DL with a groin injury and could be relegated to the bullpen upon his return. His “fate” will most likely hinge on how well, or poorly, the current fourth and fifth starters, Chris Capuano and Matt Magill, do.
Capuano gave up just one run in his last start but it was against the Marlins. Magill, a local kid from Simi Valley, California, has been up and down. He pitched well in his debut back on April 27th giving up two runs in 6.2 innings. He followed that up with a horrible start against the Giants surrendering five runs in 1.1 innings. In his last start on May 10th versus the Marlins, Magill was pulled after five innings and the score knotted at three.
But forgetting the former BoSox and the questionable depth at the back end of the rotation, the fact is the Dodgers chances to make it to the final five in October will fall upon the eight shoulders of the current big four.