Who Needs Pitching and Defense?

Okay, so maybe this team can’t pitch. Maybe they can’t field. Almost certainly, those weaknesses are going to come back to bite them in a big, stinking, painful way. There’s going to be plenty of time to discuss that, but tonight we’re going to focus on what just might be the most high-powered offense any of us have ever seen wearing the Dodger blue. It’s getting to absurd levels, and I mean that in the best way possible. Look at the lineup, and realize that 7 of the 8 regulars are carrying batting averages over .300. 7! And the one who isn’t – Blake DeWitt – merely has a .404 OBP.

Matt Kemp may be the single most dangerous hitter in baseball right now, to the point where I’m getting prettttty close to not issuing my standard “non-Pujols division” disclaimer. He’s tied for the MLB lead in homers, he leads MLB in RBI, and he’s one game short of having a hit on every single day of the season. (And even in that game, on April 9 in Florida, he had a walk and three deep flyballs.) He’s homered in 5 of the last 8 games, and his slugging percentage right now is .750. If that number doesn’t mean anything to you, just know that if he was able to keep it up throughout the season, it’d be tied for the 11th highest mark in baseball. Ever.

Here’s the thing, though. Kemp’s OPS is 1.141. That’s pretty damn good, good enough for 9th in baseball (and yes, I realize that small sample size bells are screaming in my ear. But you watch the pitching staff give up dingers and the defense make errors, and tell me I can’t enjoy this.) But 9th in baseball also makes him 3rd in his own outfield. Andre Ethier, slacking tonight with only 3 hits including a homer, is 7th on that list at 1.149. Manny Ramirez, who only got on base 8 times in a row, is 5th at 1.194. Again, I know it’s early, but Manny’s line right now is .421/.510/.684. Where are all the cries about how he’s no good after his suspension now? It’s almost like exactly what we all said had happened – that the ball he took off the hand from Homer Bailey had injured him – was true. Who’d have thought?

But it’s not just the outfield, which we all knew was going to be great. Russell Martin got two hits tonight, pushing his line to .317/.442/.439. Rafael Furcal, who many of us were worried had seen his best days, had 3 hits and 4 RBI tonight – he’s hitting .362/.439/.483. James Loney still hasn’t homered, but he’s at .306 after his 2 hit, 2 RBI night. And don’t forget Casey Blake, at .319/.373/.532.

The point is, this group is good. Real good - perhaps historically so. So while no, Manny’s not going to hit .421, and Kemp’s not going to keep up the 81-homer pace he’s currently on, we could be in for a hell of a season. At the very least, a lot of 4-hour, 12-8 games, since the pitching and defense will make us want to step in front of a bus.

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I hate to ask, but I have to – particularly because I did on Twitter before it happened. Why, when you’re up 7 runs in a laugher of a game, did Joe Torre need to bring in Jeff Weaver in the 8th? Carlos Monasterios hadn’t pitched since Saturday, and it’s the perfect opportunity to allow him to eat up some low-pressure innings. But no, Torre had to go to Weaver for approximately the billionth time (okay, 9th), and Weaver made it through exactly one batter before straining what looked to be his hamstring. I get that managers don’t like Rule 5 picks, and prefer to avoid them at all costs, but if a 7-run lead in the 8th inning isn’t good enough, what is?

Thanks For Stopping By, Jon Link

After two scoreless innings in his debut last night, Jon Link is headed back to Albuquerque, with Ronald Belisario almost certainly being activated today to take his place. Steve Dilbeck of the LA Times sensibly asks why Link was sent down, yet Ramon Ortiz remains. Link, after all, is young and had a nice debut, while Ortiz is, well, Ramon Ortiz. Yet, I can actually see the logic here. This roster spot – Ortiz or Link - is almost certainly going to go away in the next 2-3 days once Hong-Chih Kuo comes back. If Link’s not available today after throwing two innings yesterday, why not keep the pitcher who can go today (even if it is Ramon Ortiz) while sending the kid back to the minors on a huge high? I get it. (Update: as Sam points out in the comments, Ortiz threw two innings yesterday as well. But who cares if you destroy his arm at this point?)

Fun fact, though: who’s more valuable to the pitching-starved, offense-crazy 2010 Dodgers today? Link’s two scoreless and hitless innings, or the man he was traded for, currently rocking a .192/.263/.192 line in Chicago? That trade looks like a bigger win every day.

In other news, the results of the Chad Billingsley poll from yesterday are in, and with 249 votes, “Let him pitch through it” was the winner, at 46%. “Send him to the minors” (which is sort of a trick question, because I don’t believe that’s doable without exposing him to waivers) came in a distant second, at 20%. This is, of course, the right answer. While you can’t keep running him out there forever, now is not the time to replace him. It’s only been three starts, and the first one was very good. Besides, who are you really replacing him with right now, James McDonald?

Billingsley may or may not turn it around this year. But with the way the rest of the rotation looks, the Dodgers almost certainly aren’t going anywhere unless he does, so denying him the chance to do so in mid-April is just hurting the team in the long run.