5 Keys to the Dodgers' Second-Half Success
David Blumenkrantz/Arroyo Seco JournalHanley Ramirez
While the what-goes-up-must-come-down cliché doesn't always apply to baseball, what do you say we use it in reference to the spinning-their-wheels San Francisco Giants anyway, shall we?
The Giants, Reds-faced after losing four straight to Cincinnati and being no-hitted for six innings Sunday, just lost six of seven games on their week-long homestand and 15 of their last 19 in total. Your heroes - the Los Angeles Dodgers - are 17-10 in June, and in an exactly three-week span have erased every last drop of San Francisco's previously-daunting 9 ½ game lead.
So we're back to square one. L.A. and S.F. are tied for the National League West lead with 13 weeks of the 26-week season to go. All that has to happen now is for the Dodgers to continue with what they've been doing while the Giants keep doing what they're doing, and Los Angeles will clinch the division by Labor Day. If only baseball was as neat and predictable as all that, which would be no fun at all.
Here are five keys to the Dodgers' success in the remaining 78 of 162 games on their 2014 schedule.
Shortstop: Stan Conte and his merry medical men and women have somehow managed to keep Hanley Ramirez off the disabled list to date, but there's only so much stitching together to be done if the shortstop continues to play ball, with or without the presence of a Wicked Witch of the East.
Yes, Los Angeles is better defensively with Miguel Rojas in the center of the diamond, but they're of much greater concern to opponents with Ramirez mashing for seven or eight innings a night than not. And Hanley will hit plenty when he's out there, especially if he's given a chance to rest on the DL through the All-Star break, which is being considered. The Dodgers need to be smart here. Invest the 15 days now with the hope of having Ramirez around later.
The Hitters: Andre Ethier hit a clutch three-run home run yesterday, and perhaps that's a sign of a strong second half to come. I have no idea, but he's a streak hitter, so we'll find out soon enough.
Juan Uribe is back after five weeks with a hamstring and should be fine with a day or two off per week. Complicating matters there is another hamstring injury, this one to backup infielder Justin Turner, who's out until at least July 18. He has been great (.400 with 11 RBIs during the month) and will be missed.
Matt Kemp's been raking, hitting .309/.365/.511 with three homers and 13 RBIs in June, and seems primed for a big second half, health permitting. Adrian Gonzalez has had a rough month, but the four-day All-Star break should do wonders. Dee Gordon continues to be a revelation at second base. Yasiel Puig just needs to be Yasiel Puig, and he will be.
The No-Hitters: No, the Dodgers do not need to follow-up Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw with a third or fourth no-hitter in order to succeed the rest of the way, but would it shock you even in the least if they did?
Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Beckett make for as good a top-four of a rotation as any on Earth, and considering the Beckett surprise are even better than expected. Dan Haren is being maligned unnecessarily, and is perfectly acceptable as a number five.
The bullpen, while better lately, needs assistance, and Ned Colletti has already served notice on that score.
The Trades: I expect three things from Colletti on the trade front: relief pitching, bench help and a major deal that no one saw coming.
Prediction: One or more of these relievers will join the club, if not by the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, then by the "second deadline" August 31: Joaquin Benoit, Steve Cishek, Neal Cotts, Mike Dunn, Jason Frasor, LaTroy Hawkins, Oliver Perez, James Russell, Joakin Soria, Wesley Wright and Brad Ziegler.
A bench full of minor leaguers is not the Dodger way, so look for an addition who qualifies as both veteran and versatile. Ben Zobrist certainly fits the description, and while I can't guarantee he'll be the player acquired, I'll bet you a Dodger Dog the front office makes a run at him. Also, Turner didn't cost an arm and a leg (a million bucks and not a single trade chip lost), so maybe they'll just go out and get another guy like Turner. They're out there.
As for the deal no one saw coming, I obviously don't see it so I can't tell you. But either someone exciting is coming or someone prominent is going. Or both. The Dodgers have come back from the dead two years in a row, with all parties, Don Mattingly included, having benefited from the experience of the near-miss World Series of 2013. Colletti isn't about to be disabled with an itchy trigger finger. That much I know.
Head-to-Head: Sure, San Francisco has struggled and we've all had a good laugh at their expense (it's been fucking hilarious now, hasn't it?). But the Giants haven't won half the Fall Classics since 2010 by accident, and they're not going to crawl under a rock for the sake of Southern California's comfort.
The Dodgers have lost seven of the 10 head-to-head 2014 meetings with their dearest rivals, and that simply cannot continue. Nine contests remain: at AT&T July 25-27 and September 12-14, and at Chavez Ravine September 22-24.
You want to assure an October appearance, Dodgers, and not that not-really-a-consolation-prize thing they call a wild card? Win six or seven of the nine versus San Francisco.
And remember, glove conquers all.
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