Having watched Sunday night’s extra-inning thriller between Los Angeles and Philadelphia, I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s wrong with the Dodgers. Despite banging out 13 hits, the Dodgers managed to score only two runs at the hitter’s haven of Citizens Bank Park. They also blew a ninth-inning lead, effectively capping off their third straight loss at the hands of a good-but-not-great Phillies team.
How is this Dodgers team, with its talent base of established veteran stars and prime young talent, not winning a weak division like the NL West by five or six games? The Dodgers field a lineup that includes two legitimate All-Stars in Russell Martin and Manny Ramirez, two young studs in Matt Kemp and James Loney, and two future Hall of Famers in Ramirez and Jeff Kent, the latter still a productive player. Rounding out the starting nine are Andre Ethier, who leads the team with 16 home runs, and third baseman Casey Blake, who is at least a league-average player. There is only one position that can be called a black hole; that is shortstop, where the Dodgers continue to audition the Angel Berroas of the world because of injuries to Rafael Furcal and Nomar Garciaparra.
In terms of the pitching staff, injuries have taken away Brad Penny and Takashi Saito, but there is still plenty in the way of talented arms. The starting rotation features two solid veterans in Derek Lowe and the newly acquired Greg Maddux, along with the live young arms of Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw. The bullpen is vulnerable without Saito, but still has Jonathan Broxton’s 98 mile-per-hour fastball and a top-shelf left-hander in Joe Biemel. Throw in the unheralded duo of Corey Wade and Hong-Chi Kuo, and a surprisingly good Chan-Ho Park, and you’ve got the makings of a very good bullpen.
And yet, in spite of this assemblage of talent, the Dodgers are now a mediocre 65-65, having lost three straight games to fall three games off the pace in the NL West. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see how this team is still playing only .500 ball with the calendar just a few days shy of September…
When you give up home runs to Brad Ausmus and Darin Erstad in the 10th inning of a tie game, you have to figure that you’re not very good. Mets fans had already come to that conclusion about the New York bullpen prior to Pedro Feliciano’s implosion on Sunday afternoon against the Astros; they’re now absolutely fit to be tied after Feliciano fell victim to Ausmus (he of 78 career home runs in 16 seasons) and Erstad (who hasn’t reached double figures in long balls since 2002).
So what is Jerry Manuel to do? He is facing heat from Mets fans who have criticized his bullpen use (didn’t we hear much of the same about the deposed Willie Randolph), but he doesn’t have any surefire options to lock down the opposition in either the late innings or extra innings. Feliciano is an excellent situational reliever, but has never been asked to assume the role of bullpen ace, which requires the handling of right-handed hitters, too. The same can be said for fellow southpaw Scott Schoeneweis. Aaron Heilman has the best stuff of any Mets reliever, but he is also the most enigmatic, prone to walking batters or giving up tape-measure home runs at inopportune times. Duaner Sanchez has not thrown with consistent velocity since returning from shoulder surgery. And then there’s newcomer Luis Ayala, who has made four scoreless appearances since coming over from the Nationals, but has little experience as a closer (ten saves over five seasons).
Perhaps Manuel should roll the dice with Ayala. His Nationals’ numbers were not good, but he had been a highly effective middle reliever over his first four major league seasons. It might also be time to call up Al “The Taser” Reyes, who is tuning up at Triple-A New Orleans after being signed off the waiver wire. Reyes pitched decently as the Rays’ closer in 2007 before running afoul of the organization because of his involvement in instigating a bar room fight, followed by a stretch of poor pitching. At this point, the Mets may be willing to try anything…
I’m sure I’ll get in trouble with Hunter Wendelstedt again, but that interference call by Doug Eddings against the Rays on Sunday afternoon was highly irregular. Rays third baseman Willy Aybar was called for interfering with the White Sox’ A.J. Pierzynski during a crucial 10th inning rundown, negating what would have been the second out of the inning. I saw the replay twice afterward; it seemed pretty obvious that Pierzynski initiated the contact, which was fairly minimal, with Aybar. Eddings, who made the call against Aybar, should have made no call at all, allowing Pierzynski to suffer a more legitimate fate on the basepaths.