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Firing On All Cylinders

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Times are good in Dodgers land and I’m happy – we’ve suffered enough. It’s nice to see the team this close to first (at this moment, the D’Backs lead the Giants 1-0 in the 7th). The reasons for the team’s success? I’d say health, Hanley, Yasiel Puig, but most of all Stan Kasten realizing the bullpen wasn’t working.

That last thing is the most important, even if Hanley hits .500 the rest of the way. The pen giving up games was killing the team, so replacing the stinkers they could with live young arms from the system, was huge. I’d still like to see a few more of the kids get their chance, but patience will be rewarded. Unless some trade gluts the farm, we’re in a better place now than we’ve been in a while, with all sorts of young pitching – and some position players too – in the pipeline.

I want to discuss the outfield, since it’s an interesting situation, in my opinion. We have phenom Puig, whose part figured out by opposing teams and part falling into bad habits. We have Andre Ethier, who’s Mr. Reliable of the veterans, and Mr. Versatile, filling in capably wherever asked since being called out by Donnie (for Kasten and Ned) back in June.

Then you have the rest. The rest include often injured Carl Crawford, who looks today like he may have broken out of his post-DL list slump, and fan favorite supreme Matt Kemp, also of a stockpile of various injuries.

These two have been big letdowns for the team this year, but both should have been expected as such. Crawford, after all, had Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow and has been a mess since signing his multi-million dollar contract. He was the pill the Dodgers had to swallow to get Adrian Gonzalez, so they did.

The nice thing about Crawford is that he’s showing that when healthy/ish he’s able to play a bit like his old self. He’s shown shades of being electrifying since donning Dodgers blue, and who knows; maybe we’re in for the best he has to offer.

Kemp is a sad situation, but after major shoulder surgery and a 2012 marred by badly injured hamstrings, it wasn’t reasonable to think he’d be himself at all in 2013.

He’s shown flashes recently, a few good games before getting hurt before the All Star break, and a nice game today after coming off the DL, only to get injured AGAIN. But you see the pattern. Hamstrings, shoulder, ankle, Kemp is not himself and unable to stay healthy. Today’s freak injury occurred because he was half assing it on a play that should have amounted to Crawford getting his 4th hit of the game, and an RBI. Instead, Kemp strolled home, didn’t hustle, didn’t slide and now has what appears to be a badly sprained ankle. We will see how that plays out.

So unless Kemp is healthy soon, the Dodgers perpetual question of “What do we do with 4 outfielders?” will again have to be put on hold. Every time the question is brought up, it’s immediately dismissed. In fact, the last time they sent Scott Van Slyke out, he was called back before reaching the airport. I think today, however, he actually made it to the airport.

So while baseball writers who barely follow the league or the Dodgers write how healthy the team is, it’s really not. Imagine the team if Crawford and Kemp were fully charged? It would be pretty sick, that’s for sure. But… while the team is not entirely healthy, there are a number of healthy parts, and a cohesive team atmosphere that make the absence of high-cost guys like Crawford and Kemp lessened.

What should the Dodgers do with the outfield? Well, fortunately there is no pressing need for a trade, so I am hoping Kasten does not move Joc Pederson especially, or even Ethier. He can move Crawford’s contract for another big contract if he wants (Cliff Lee?) but I am fine with the configuration as it is now. It gives us trade options for this winter.

As of now I hope Crawford can stay healthy, and that Kemp could manage to do the same. It would be easy enough to keep four outfielders busy, especially since two need a lot of rest, one can’t hit lefthanders, and the other is a rookie with trouble reading pitches.

Assuming though that 2013 continues as it’s gone, more than likely Crawford and Kemp are part time options and each visit the DL some more this year. If this is the case, I’d like to see Van Slyke get more chances, as he’s a better bat and glove option than the senior citizen utility infielders Donnie likes to play out there.

I’d also like to see Pederson make his debut in blue. The kid seems to have everything it takes to be a complete player, and in time I think he could be our lead-off option; maybe not right away, but soon. If Crawford and Kemp are hurt for some time again, I’d call up Pederson and utilize Van Slyke as a backup for everyone, including Gonzalez, a spot starter against tough lefties for Ethier, and a big bat off the bench.

All that said, the Dodgers are looking great and now they head into Toronto to play the underachieving Blue Jays. The Jays are in last place in the AL East and just got swept four games by the surging Rays. There’s no reason to think the Dodgers can’t continue their hot play starting tomorrow night against Josh Johnson, who’s not the same guy he once was (ERA over 5 with just 1 win in 2013).

I like what I’ve been seeing, and really like the reports that the Dodgers will go big on Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. Adding a pitcher like that, without giving up a single prospect, is huge. Gonzalez can relieve for us this season and perhaps in the future, or challenge for a rotation spot in 2014. It brings back the international focus Dan Evans employed so favorably to augment the farm.

Here’s to a last couple months of winning and a bright post-season. Here’s to making East Coast focused baseball writers and journalists being forced to discuss the Dodgers. Here’s to all of us who suffered for 25 or so years and especially under the crappy ownership of both Fox and Frank McCourt. And here’s to whatever talent we acquire in July and August, or don’t. We’re actually in good shape. It’s been a long, long time since a Dodger fan who wasn’t sniffing model airplane glue (remember those?) could say that.

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