Gratitude for a .500 team on May 1

I’m really not trying to be a wide-eyed Kenneth when I say that I’m happy the Dodgers are a .500 team at the end of April.

For one thing, I look down the interstate and see a truly dyspeptic team, the 9-17 Angels, and say “There but for the grace of Vin …”

But really, for the Dodgers to spend most of the month without Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley and Hanley Ramirez among their many other injuries, for Luis Cruz to morph from folk hero to Eugenio Velez II (more rapidly than even the most sour pessimists predicted) and for the offense and bullpen in general to sputter, it’s hard to be too disappointed that the team is only 2 1/2 games out of first place and 1 1/2 games behind the defending World Series champions.

You can argue about opportunities lost – a relatively tame early season schedule with one East Coast road trip, a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Giants while Matt Cain (6.49 ERA) and Ryan Vogelsong (6.23) struggle, three home games against the last-place Padres turned into three defeats – but the Dodgers displayed a certain level of resiliency in the face of injuries, slumps and a six-game losing streak. The Dodgers are 6-3 since that terrible stretch, despite a patchwork lineup and rotation.

As bad as players and events have looked at times, there has been plenty of compensatory comfort food.

• Carl Crawford, unlikely when he was acquired last summer to even play in April, has sparked the offense with a .905 OPS and 20 runs in 23 games.

• Fellow former Red Sox Adrian Gonzalez (.871 OPS at first base) and Nick Punto (.916 OPS in reserve) have contributed most generously as well.

• A.J. Ellis is third among major-league catchers in on-base percentage (we won’t talk about who’s No. 1), while Mark Ellis shined on offense and defense at second base before running into a right quadricep issue.

• Juan Uribe, for the time being, has resurrected his career as a reserve, posting an .825 OPS and the best walk rate in the majors.

• Hyun-Jin Ryu (3.35 ERA, 46 strikeouts against 43 baserunners in 37 2/3 innings) has pitched – and hit – beyond expectations.

• Kenley Jansen is his reliable self with a 1.29 ERA and 15 strikeouts against 14 baseunners in 14 innings.

• Clayton Edward Kershaw.

Perhaps no one typifies the Dodgers’ mixed status than Matt Kemp. Because of his labrum surgery, Kemp’s power is going to be the last part of his game to return – and to be sure, it’s unlikely to ever be 39-homer power again – but he is making gains with timing and contact. He should continue to improve … if he can avoid further injury. So goes Los Angeles.

It remains as hard to predict the future of the 2013 Dodgers on May 1 as it was on April 1. Their strengths and vulnerabilities walk hand in hand. They are alive and kicking. Whether they’ll be kicking doors down or at the air like an upside-down beetle, no one can say. It’s not a matter of dreaming small or settling for mediocrity, but right now, I’m just grateful they’re kicking at all.

Remember — the “100 Things Dodgers” booksigning is Saturday in Pasadena.

  • http://twitter.com/Javii86 Javier

    I’ve been to a few games this season, and it’s quite frustrating to listen to fans talk down on Kemp. Last night I heard a season ticket holder of over 40 years say, “There’s another guy in the minors, Puig, personally I think he’s a lot better than Kemp”. I’m sure Puig will eventually be a solid player, but come on. Other times, it’s been a sarcastic “Oh, here goes Kemp.”. The player that has produced most of his career is coming back from surgery, and some fans are quick to turn on him? Not cool.

    • http://web.me.com/kakitadoug/geekblog/Blog/Blog.html DougS

      I guess you can be a longtime fan and a devoted fan and yet not be all that intelligent. :-/ At the same time, I have to admit that I’m keeping my fingers crossed very tightly and hoping against hope that Kemp can return to his old form. I’m afraid that we have another Shaun Green-type situation and that, as Jon says, he’ll never quite be the same power hitter as he was before the torn labrum.

  • Anonymous

    Great, great post. Thank you. You and Vin make being a Dodger fan such a pleasure. Lucky us. (Wore my Dodger-thoughts T to last night’s game. I’m sure it helped with the win!)

  • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

    Not trying to be morbidly curious but just out of empathy and, yeah I guess curiosity, did you/we ever find out how Clayton’s dad passed away? I’m assuming he’s relatively young given Kershaw’s age, must have been a shock unless he was hiding his dad having a terminal illness. At any rate, very sad for him. Selfishly I hope he pitches on Friday, and maybe that’s what he needs, but I’d definitely understand if he needed more time.

  • Anonymous

    1. Glad not to be an Angels fan
    2. Tremendous piece of literature “There but for the grace of Vin…”
    3. Best of luck Saturday.

  • Anonymous

    Well said Jon.

  • Anonymous

    One week with 5 dongs and nobody will ask what happened to Kemp’s power. Dude is just streaky and is bound to go on a power tear any day now.

  • Anonymous

    Once we get everyone (or most) healthy, I think we will be more than just OK (fingers crossed!)

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    NPUT

  • http://www.facebook.com/kimball.jones.92 Kimball Jones

    This Dodger club has major problems!

    1)They miss Ellis and Greinke (and Billingsley!) tremendously.

    2)Beckett is clearly past his prime. He is now 0-4, well on his way to a total

    bomb season.

    3)Kemp is killing us. He has totally lost his plate discipline and is flailing

    at low pitches much as he did his first two years. It really hurt in the 2nd

    inning with men on 2nd and 3rd and he swings at ball four which is in the dirt.

    This may sound silly, but it would almost make sense to ask him to go to the

    Isotopes for a week or two to get his confidence back and bring up Puig for that

    period. Look at Cargo on the Rockies and then look at Kemp and you see why

    Colorado is in 1st place, t he Dodgers in 4th place.

    4)Schumaker and Uribe should not be in the lineup. In fact they shouldn’t be on

    the team. Uribe is hovering around the Mendoza Line, which seems to be all he

    is capable of these days. Why are they so intent on trying to get their 7

    million worth form him this year? And Schumaker is, as Dave said in a recent

    post, an automatic out. I can’t remember the last time he hit a ball hard. You

    can add Sellers to that list. I mean bringing him up as a pinch hitter last

    night? That’s laughable.

    5)Our bullpen is third worst in MLB in their combined ERA. Not only are we

    missing starters, we have a questionable bunch of middle relievers.

    6)Ethier is not getting the job done at the plate, and continues to be pathetic

    against left-handed pitchers. If there is one outfield spot in jeopardy should

    Puig be ready, I think it’s Andre’s spot.

    7)The players seem unusually prone to muscle pulls and tears. I can understand

    it with Ellis who is 36, but Crawford? What’s he doing with a sore hamstring?

    Who’s in charge of stretching and conditioning for these guys?

    8)Lilly is finished. Howie said it well in one of his recent blogs. The guy

    just does not have it any more. Be ready to see him get pounded on Saturday.

    Put this all together and you see a pretty sorry looking ball club — especially

    for one with a 230 million dollar payroll!