The Dodgers started the 2012 season with nine wins and only a single loss. The last time they had that good of a start, they won the 1981 World Series.
It’s the top of the 5th. The count is full, but only due to two foul balls, including the last pitch this lead-off hitter fouled off. A compact 6’2″, 225-pounder, Matt Kemp is staring at an aging Randy Wolf’s slow wind-up. Wolf lets go what looks like a 90 mph slider just low of the strike zone. True in real life to his fantsy strategy when playing as himself in MLB 2012: The Show (the realistic baseball simulation video game for which Matt Kemp is the cover athlete), Matt Kemp lets the ball get deep.
It’s not as if Wolf missed. The pitch was down and away: exactly where he wanted it. Matt Kemp chose to defy convention and drilled it deep to the opposite side of center field. The Dodgers built their lead to 4-2. The bullpen would hold strong and Javy Guerra recorded his sixth save of the young season to continue the Dodgers’ streak of never being swept in a series by the “Brew Crew.” Phew. The Brewers had won the last two games in Milwaukee on walk-offs.
That wasn’t even the play of the game, though. Jerry Hairston Jr., filling in for wrist-injured third baseman Juan Uribe (a horrible hire, in this writer’s opinion), made two incredible clutch defensive plays in a row late in the game for the Dodgers. After ending the 8th inning on an impressive throw made from his knees following an electric diving stop on a ground ball down the line from Alex Gonzalez, Hairston Jr. followed by bare-handing an Ishikawa bunt and throwing him out to start the bottom of the 9th.
The Dodgers started the 2012 season with nine wins and only a single loss. The last time they had that good of a start, they won the 1981 World Series. The Dodgers avoidance of the Brewers’ sweep ties them for the best record in the National League with the Nats (currently losing to Houston at home). Should the Rangers lose in Detroit, the Dodgers will be tied for the best record in the majors.
None of that will matter if the Dodgers don’t finish.
The regular season is nearly worthless outside of getting young players experience, regular practice for the roster and securing home field advantage at some point. The Dodgers also started the season against the woeful Padres and Pirates, thus their 9-1 start is, while excellent, not an entirely accurate portrayal (nor an adequate sample size) of what’s to come. While the Dodgers may not finish with a 9 to 1 win:loss ratio, just because it was against arguably the two worst teams in the National League doesn’t mean it didn’t count. The Dodgers finished last season by winning 25 of their last 35 games to pull just over .500 before the end of the season. They definitely had momentum coming into 2012 and one Matt Kemp is playing even better than last year (except for only one stolen base compared to getting caught twice). Kemp leads the majors in home runs with seven just thirteen games in and is tied for the league-lead in RBI with fellow Dodger Andre Ethier at 18 (5 more than any others at the time I wrote this).
Blue looks strong. Capuano and Harang have solidified the back-end of the rotation along with veteran Ted Lilly, who together with 2011 NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. Though still very early in the season, Billingsley looks very strong and much improved, partially due to pitching coach Rick Honeycutt helping him adjust his leg-kick on his delivery. It seems to have given him a needed confidence-boost. With their strong bullpen, the Dodgers have quietly gathered arguably the best pitching staff in baseball.
With one of the best defenses in the league last season mostly intact (and probably improved), all that’s seemingly missing from the roster is a solid bat in the infield. James Loney’s actual swing is just as disheartening as his .171 batting average. He has an even strikeout:walk ratio, though, so chances are that will improve dramatically (he drew a fantastic eight-pitch walk early in the game). Dee Gordon tries to get bunt singles seemingly every other at-bat. For the Dodgers’ lead-off hitter, he’s hitting only .208 with a .259 on-base percentage (how often he gets on base per each chance). The Dodgers were outbid by the Tigers to get Prince Fielder. Assuming their success continues, however, they are sure candidates to make a big move at the trade deadline if the infield continues to whiff at the plate.
The Dodgers travel to AL-basement-dweller Houston for a 3-game series starting tomorrow before coming back to Chavez Ravine for a homestand against the Braves and Nationals beginning on Monday. The Wednesday, April 25th game against the Nationals will be the Dodgers’ 8th game in as many days.
The Dodgers avoidance of the Brewers’ sweep ties them for the best record in the National League with the Nats (currently losing to Houston at home). Should the Rangers lose in Detroit, the Dodgers will be tied for the best record in the majors.