(Yes, I know. Manny’s Hall of Fame chances may or may not have been torpedoed with his suspension. Whether or not he actually makes it into the Hall in 2016 or so is beside the point).
Here’s the good news: after a 1-0 victory over Colorado today, the Dodgers just took 2 of 3 from the hottest team in baseball, serving notice that no, they don’t really need to worry about the Rockies. The pitching staff, so maligned in the offseason, is statistically the best in baseball, leading MLB in batting average against and ERA, largely on the strength of the most strikeouts of any staff in the game.
The bad news? You need every last bit of that pitching when you’re scoring just 3 runs in regulation time against the Rockies. If the pitching had been anything less than superior – even if it was just “pretty good”, you’re very likely looking at a sub .500 June.
Looking around the June stats for the club, a few things pop out immediately:
Andre Ethier is trying to be Adam Dunn. 9 homers and a .619 SLG? Yes please. 0 singles in the last 8 games of the month (plus the first one in July) and 23 strikeouts in 26 games? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, Ethier’s power output was more than welcome in a month where everyone else acted like the bats were made of poison, but the fact that so much of it came in bunches (7 homers in 3 games) somewhat mitigated his overall impact.
Juan Pierre deserves the benching he’s about to receive. No, I haven’t forgotten how great Pierre was immediately after Manny was lost – all of the proper respect to Pierre for those first three weeks. But what so many have ignored is that his hot streak came to a screeching halt as May turned into June, because over the month of June he’s been even worse than usual. His .628 June OPS is nearly 100 points lower than his career average, and it’s not even like we loved his career average that much.
You want a reason that the Dodger offense sputtered in June? There’s plenty of fingers to be pointed, but having Pierre leading off every single game is a pretty good place to start.
Any time you want to pitch in, Volume 1: Orlando Hudson and Casey Blake each sputtered out in June – Hudson in particular, getting on base at just a .269 OBP. However, since each of them were so valuable earlier in the season, I’m willing to write this off as a slump, as compared to…
Any time you want to pitch in, Volume 2: Rafael Furcal and Russell Martin… you’re killing me. Martin in particular was somehow worse than he’s been all year, struggling to just a .190/.326/.241 mark. Joe Torre seems to have recognized this, giving A.J. Ellis and Brad Ausmus starts before tomorrow’s off day in hopes of energizing Martin, but geez. At this rate, the only way the return of Manny’s going to do anything for Martin is if Manny swaps out the #99 jersey for #55 each time the catcher’s spot comes up in the order.
Matt Kemp, keep it up. His .823 OPS is within range of his .838 season mark, and his season OPS has him as the 4th best hitting center fielder in the bigs. Considering that Carlos Beltran is hurt and may not be the same upon his return, there’s a pretty solid case to be made that Kemp is the best center fielder in the National League – not even counting his much-improved defense.
All of which brings me back to Manny. How many other struggling teams can say they’re picking up a supreme bat for nothing at the trading deadline, right? Look, is Manny a idiot? No question. Is he a jerk? Probably – I didn’t really like reading that he didn’t buy the spread for his minor league teammates, which is longstanding tradition for rehabbing stars who make approximately eleventy billion times what the kids do. He’s hardly my definition of an upstanding citizen, no matter how childlike and goofy he appears. I’d much rather root for a guy like Kemp or Martin, assuming Martin ever does anything worth cheering for ever again.
All that means, yes, you’re damn right that I will look upon Manny with some apprehension when he returns on Friday. But you know what else? I’m going to cheer when he injects the offense with some life and knocks the ball out of the park, because the only reason I care at all about these people is because of what they do for the team I’ve chosen to follow. What Manny did was disappointing – to say the least – but he’s served the punishment laid upon him, and will likely serve much worse in the public eye.
So call me a hypocrite if you must, because I sure as hell booed Barry Bonds and ridiculed Giants fans for standing by him - though as Jon Weisman said, we all hated Barry Bonds long before steroids came to public light. Fact of the matter is, this team’s offense has been brutal, and it need something. If that something just so happens to be a retarded man-child who can both crush the ball and push Juan Pierre to the bench, that’s fine by me.