It’s Hard to Hit Without Your Best Hitters. Novel Idea, Right?

2008 Dodgers with Rafael Furcal: 18-13, 5.78 runs/game
2008 Dodgers w/o Rafael Furcal: 1-5, 1.83 runs/game

Obviously, this is a small sample size, and the absence of Rafael Furcal shouldn’t explain why someone like Jeff Kent is 3-for-26 in May thus far (dig this line: .115/.200/.192 this month), but it’s pretty obvious Furcal is the straw that stirs this drink, isn’t it? I mean, he’s only leading the team in BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, hits, runs, doubles, triples, and homers, all while playing well at the hardest defensive position on the field. After all, it’s one thing to say “the team is in an offensive slump”; and it’s quite another to make Brian “I’m 36 and this is my first start in two years” Moehler and Chris “that’s right, I carried a 7.96 ERA into this game” Sampson look like the second comings of Koufax and Maddux.

But it’s okay: most of the weekend we’d heard that Furcal being out was just a precaution, especially with off days around both ends of the Houston series, and that he’d definitely be back on Tuesday in Milwaukee. Right?

Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal, who has been sidelined five straight games with lower back pain, does not know when he will be able to return to the field.

 Dodgers manager Joe Torre was hopeful Furcal could be back to play in the series opener against the Brewers in Milwaukee on Tuesday. Furcal didn’t appear to have the same certainty.

“We have to wait and see how it feels,” Furcal told the Los Angeles Times. “This is the type of thing where it feels fine one day and it doesn’t the next.”

Oh good. Tuesday’s starter for Milwaukee is Carlos Villanueva, who carries in a 6.46 ERA on the season; I get the feeling he cannot wait for the game to start. So, here’s something you almost never see us say around here – the Dodgers need to shell out big money to pay a veteran even though there’s a highly-touted rookie ready to play. Yeah, we’re all about playing the kids here. But since Furcal is young enough (30 this season), productive enough (if you accept the fact that 2007 was an outlier since he was playing on a badly sprained ankle all season, his BA/OBP/SLG numbers have increased four seasons in a row), and most importantly, proven as a Dodger, there’s just no way you can let him go. Spend the money to keep him, figure out a post-Kent solution at 2B (the “move Andy LaRoche to 2B” contingent is picking up steam, and I admit it’s intriguing) and as a bonus, you finally have a highly-ranked prospect in Hu that we’d be okay with trading.

Moving from the infield to the outfield… what’s going on with Andre Ethier? He won the starting LF job, more or less, out of spring training. All he did through the end of April was put up a line of .329/.415/.482 in addition to his usual excellent outfield defense. So what does he get through ten games of May? Only four starts, including his 3-5 outing yesterday. So Andre, justifably, must be kind of upset that he’s getting the short end of the stick despite clearly outplaying Andruw Jones (still hitting .170) and Juan Pierre (who despite his early May hot streak, is still only OPS’ing .686, 162 points lower than Ethier’s .848, and is now 2 for his last 18). Andre?

Sunday’s start was just the third for Ethier since May 2. He played in right field while Matt Kemp moved to center. So he was asked if it was nice to get back in the lineup.

“I have no opinion,” Ethier said.

Is it obviously better than not being in the lineup?

“No opinion,” he repeated.

Dodgers manager Joe Torre has said repeatedly that he is OK if one of his outfielders is mad at him on a daily basis. He prepared himself for as much after ending his first spring training with the Dodgers carrying four capable outfielders into the start of the season.

So can something be read into Ethier’s no comments?

“There’s nothing to read into it and there’s nothing to look into it,” Ethier said. “There’s nothing to look into on anyone’s part.”

Seems pretty clear to me that he’s immensely unhappy about the situation, but is too professional to discuss it in the media. We’ve replaced the “Free Matt Kemp!” cause with a reminder for Andruw; maybe we need to start the “Free Andre Ethier!” campaign next? Because, you know – it’s not like the team is struggling offensively right now or anything. Why would you want to let the guy who’s got the third highest OPS on the team play, especially when the guy with the #1 OPS is out injured?

Scary prediction for the near future: you’ll notice I just said we’re playing without our #1 and #3 OPS leaders on a regular basis recently. You’ll also notice I haven’t yet said who our #2 man is. Think about this: if Furcal is forced to go to the DL – still a possibility – and Ethier is still buried in the OF when Nomar comes back in the next week or so, would it surprise anyone if he’s given the 3B job outright again and Blake DeWitt is benched or sent down? Because, DeWitt is 2nd on this team in OPS (!) at .877 right now. The injury to Furcal aside, what kind of team would play without their three best OPS producers, two of them willingly? This could get worse before it gets better.

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- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

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  1. [...] year we had our disappointments about the lack of playing time at various points for both Kemp and Ethier) but when Kemp and Ethier end up first and fourth, respectively, in at-bats for the team I [...]