And Now They Get To Go To Minute Maid Park? Hot Damn!

kempslamcelebrate.jpgWith the winning streak now at eight after today’s demolition of Colorado, and the club sitting at #1 atop the latest Baseball Prospectus Hit List, things could not be going much better for the Dodgers. As a fan, it’s phenomenal, because I can’t remember the last time I felt so good about the club. As a blogger, it’s a little hard, because it’s so much easier to criticize or call for a lineup change than it is to say “uh.. yup.. great job.. don’t change anything”, but that’s a problem I will happily live with.

Where do you even start with praise for this crew? They’re outscoring opponents 82-40 this season, and that run differential of 42 is tops in the league by 10. The 82 runs scored is tops in the National League and third in baseball (which really should be second, because Cleveland only made it into second based on scoring 22 runs against the Corpse of Chien-Ming Wang and whatever the hell an “Anthony Claggett” is.) But we all knew this team was going to hit; what’s even more impressive is that the 40 runs allowed is also the best in the National League.

Just look at the stats; I know there’s “small sample size” alarms ringing everywhere, but Andre Ethier, Orlando Hudson, Matt Kemp, and Manny Ramirez are all OPS’ing over 1.000, with each of the three outfielders putting up two-homer days in the last two games. Remember last month when I said this might be the best outfield the Dodgers have had in decades? Yeah, you better believe we’re going to be discussing that again. The pitching staff shows more of the same, with Clayton Kershaw absolutely dominating (his 13 K, 1 H performance against the Giants is currently tied for the 4th best start by any MLB starter so far) and Chad Billingsley leading ESPN’s “Cy Young predictor” for the NL. Even the bullpen, the cause of so much worry in spring training, has been great – Jonathan Broxton might be the most fearsome closer in baseball right now and rookie Ronald Belisario has been an absolutely out of nowhere revelation. All in all, the Dodger staff is limiting the opposition to a .196/.279/.315 line, and if a .594 OPS doesn’t mean anything to you, just know that that falls in between the OPS that two of the worst hitters in baseball put up in 2008 – Willy Taveras’ .604, and Michael Bourne’s .588.

The scary thing is, they’re not even close to running on all cylinders. Russell Martin has struggled all year, hitting just .244/.380/.317 (although he did reach base four times today); Opening Day starter Hiroki Kuroda went on the DL after just one start; Manny Ramirez went 11 games without a homer before parking two on Saturday; and two of last year’s most reliable relievers have either been ineffective (Hong-Chih Kuo) or injured (Cory Wade).

Of course, history is littered with the corpses of teams who were the best in April and then sputtered out before reaching October. So sure, Matt Kemp’s not going to hit in 162 straight games, Andre Ethier’s probably not going to hit 50 homers with 199 RBI (his current pace) and Clayton Kershaw probably isn’t going to finish with 257 strikeouts (his current pace). But when those guys inevitably run into slumps, you hope that by then Martin, Furcal, Blake, and Kuroda have picked up their games to shoulder their share. Plus, though the farm system isn’t as robust as it was when producing the current core of the team, there may still be reinforcements on the way with the likes of Josh Lindblom, Chin-Lung Hu and Xavier Paul – and, with the economy likely forcing some lesser teams to sell more and sooner than every before, it’s not hard to see the last piece of the puzzle (a top starting pitcher) arrive via trade later in the year.

So there it is; the most gushing post I’ve ever written about this club. It makes me feel a little queasy, like I’ve eaten one too many Jagged Metal Krusty-O, but as a fan who barely remembers the last time this team went to the World Series… I think I can manage.

Off-day on Monday, then off to face the old & busted Astros, who are starting – believe it or not – Russ Ortiz on Tuesday against Kershaw. Yes, that Russ Ortiz.

* (one other note. Just more fuel on the “wins are stupid for pitchers!” discussion from the other day. James McDonald started and threw 4.2 shutout innings today. Scott Elbert came in and allowed two homers, and very nearly a third, in his 2.2 innings. Yet, Elbert gets the win because McDonald didn’t go five innings. Cheapest win in MLB history? Has to be close.)

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